Where are the Expedias among traditional ASEAN agents?

OPPORTUNITIES abound for traditional travel agents in ASEAN to be the online leader in their respective markets, but they need to change their approach, several panelists at yesterday’s ASEAN eTravel Mart in Bangkok said.

With travel e-commerce poised to increase in ASEAN as infrastructure that supports online transactions – from broadband to payment regulations – improves, the space will remain fragmented and not at all saturated, with lots of opportunities for everyone.

“No traditional agency has become a big online travel agency in ASEAN – not in Indonesia, not in the Philippines. In Singapore, there’s ZUJI or Asiatravel (both did not emerge from traditional agencies), or in the hotel space, there’s Agoda, Asiarooms, etc, but in the OTA space, there’s nobody (from the traditional agencies). A lot of agents are dipping their toes into the water, but to me, the effort is half-hearted,” observed Wego CEO, Martin Symes.

“Yet, traditional agencies could leverage their product and supplier relationship, which is critical in this part of the world where it’s not a free market and you can’t get it all from the GDS. For God’s sake, set up a separate team (to do the online business) because the metrics measured are completely different, the way you look at the business is completely different, the way you want to interact with your customers is completely different, so you just need to have dedicated people who are passionate about the Internet and live and breathe it,” he said.

But Alexander Rayner, e-Business advisor to PATA, said that the traditional agent should not be underestimated. “A whole range of tools is now available to them to make them more effective. Technology is enabling agents and they are becoming more clever, effective and efficient,” Rayner said.

Christian Lukey, COO and director of sales of Web Sawasdee, said the barrier to entry for online was low and in the end, it was still about people and delivering reliable travel. “Anyone can set up a website easily, but at the the end of the day, it can be lost in space. What makes a difference is ensuring the customers are comfortable and confident about your ability to deliver reliable travel.”

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