Maxim Sevastianov, CEO of Traveknowledgy, looks at the factors travel businesses need to consider before deciding on automation, and whether automation is right for their business or not.
It’s a no-brainer that businesses should automate, right? Whether an OTA, TMC, travel agent or indeed any business operating in the travel industry, automation saves time and allows resources to be diverted elsewhere. Companies can be run more efficiently; they are more agile, they can free up resources and of course, reduce costs.
If only business decisions were that simple, but unfortunately, they are not. There are myriad factors to consider when implementing new systems and with automation, it’s no different.
Ask most operations people about automation and they will naturally focus on how it will impact the business and the value it will bring. That’s completely understandable, but there is a lot more to think about before you dive in.
Take a good look at the nature of your business. How does it operate? What exactly are your processes and what are the business objectives? Answers to this will have a large bearing on which software package to opt for and help to decide which of your business processes should or should not be automated. To automate intelligently, resulting in the greatest long-term impact, you should consider these four steps:
- Link your automation strategy to your business priorities.
- Review your organisation and prioritise potential automation projects.
- Identify resource needs and skill gaps.
- Build a partner plan to unlock the right talent and technologies.
OTAs and TMCs – Drill down on your processes
Take a look at the multiple stages of the business and assess the impact of automation across pricing automation and the booking process, pre-trip arrangements, and post-booking.
Automating the pricing strategy
Today’s online travel marketplace is super competitive, with price-savvy consumers looking to find the best deals on flights, hotel rooms and travel packages. In an online world, pricing matters. Travel companies that offer comprehensive content at competitive prices will stand out, including, of course, offers and promotions.
Pricing strategies are complex, however. Creating and promoting them is time-consuming, especially through direct channels and meta channels. Customers are eager to compare your prices with your competitors, so setting random prices across your product range, or ignoring your competitors’ pricing strategies altogether, is not a good idea.
Understanding your position in the market by analysing your competitor’s pricing behaviour should be one of your highest priorities. Look at automated price tracking software. These solutions let your businesses track competitor prices automatically, gain market intelligence and set dynamic pricing. However, bear in mind that if you fail to feed in proper, accurate data, automated pricing tools become less effective. They can give the wrong price and turn your customers away.
The booking process
Take a look at your booking process. Is it easy to navigate? Are too many customers leaving without buying? Getting the booking process right is key for travel companies which suffer from some of the highest basket abandonment rates of any industry. According to Annex Cloud, travel carts are abandoned 82 per cent of the time, which is the highest rate after finance and non-profit sectors.
Use an automation tool that monitors the performance of your website. Tools like Site24x7 monitor the experience of real users accessing websites and applications from desktop and mobile devices. These automation tools help you figure out why users are leaving without buying and enable you to be more proactive when figuring out how to fix the problem. Customers will value the effort and improved service, making them more likely to become a direct customer next time (non-meta).
The post-booking process is long, complicated and costly. Think client communication, queue management, ticketing, fare comparison before and after the ticket has been issued, and many more tasks that are usually performed by members of the team. These processes are labour intensive and complex, and you may want to consider automating them. Make that decision based on the assessment of your business priorities.
Choose a tool that is scalable and supports all major GDSs. You don’t want to go through the same process again once it’s time to change or add another GDS to your business.
Quality control is also something that is often overlooked. Checking reservations for accuracy and policy compliance is labour intensive and can be a costly experience if something fails. Automating this process makes it easy and prevents costly human factor mistakes.
This takes us onto the pre-trip arrangements. Agents are required to offer their clients with exciting travel offerings and important trip notifications. This crucial part of the traveller experience can require a high level of travel tech for automation and efficient post-booking processes by using a number of internal and external smart applications. Technology such as destination guides can be displayed through user-friendly interfaces and help to sell add-ons and ancillaries, but make sure you’ve got the infrastructure internally to support these.
Automate – Yes or No?
Let’s be clear, automation does not work for every company. The problem is that if you automate too quickly, you may find that it doesn’t work and that could be because the business wasn’t ready. You end up with ineffective software for which you’ve invested a big chunk of your budget and resources and find the whole project has been a failure.
The same principle applies to marketing automation which only becomes an effective ROI machine if you can provide enough visitors. So, focus on SEO, Conversion Rate Optimisation, and blogging. When these inbound marketing campaigns start driving a decent amount of traffic to your site, you can go ahead and choose a successful automation software that works for you. There are many to choose from, such as HubSpot and Marketo, and marketing automation road-mapping tools can help with the process. There is a useful article on road mapping from Larry Long at Forbes.
Are there skill gaps you need to fill and members of the staff who need to be convinced? You may find there are opportunities for implementing low risk, inexpensive solutions that will immediately improve efficiency. Knowing where the process is on the automation path and determining where you would eventually like to be is essential. Once you’ve decided to automate the post-booking process, let your team test and implement solutions – we find it essential with clients we work with.
Find the best automation tool and assign a team in charge of testing and implementing it gradually. Fully understand the process you’re automating and, if necessary, change it. Then help your team adopt the new automated process.
There are a lot of reasons to automate your business processes. Think business priorities, automation objectives, skill gaps and the right technologies. This will maximise the impact and benefits that automation will have on your business, its relevance, and its ultimate success.