Ellie Gauci, executive strategy director at marketing agency Psona, explains how agents can improve their value proposition while strengthening the position of their brand
With the growing dominance of online travel aggregators, apps like Hopper and Google Trips – which is poised to transform the way people plan, book and experience holidays – where does that leave travel agents?
It’s more important than ever to know what matters to your customers so that you can make the whole travel experience feel differentiated and secure, offering continued value for your brand.
Although price is the primary driver, our precious time has the biggest price tag. According to
Mintel, 44% of people agree that travel agency stores save a lot of time and effort when researching and booking a holiday.
Our research found that only one in four travel brands is delivering against the consumer’s most basic expectations around these “time and effort” parameters.
People want brands to create a frictionless booking and travel experience. This means getting the little things right, such as sending timely updates in the countdown to travel, providing useful information at the right moments – both in transit and indestination – and taking stress out of the equation.
Having a well-organised customer database and the ability to send automated – or at least timely – communications is the first step in achieving this desired seamlessness.
For example, Virgin Atlantic turned what could have been a generic “countdown to travel” email programme into a magical pre-trip experience. The Ready To Fly countdown emails offer bespoke content, clicking through to a personal trip page with options for customers to check in and request ancillary product.
This approach not only helps clients get more out of their trip but it’s the first of a series of experiences that will secure the brand’s place in customers’ holidays.
After travelling with luxury agency Black Tomato, I was very impressed with their welcome home Back to Reality kit. It contained a letter, DVD, a book about Iceland, an iTunes voucher and a copy of The Week.
Days later I received a personal email from our travel agent welcoming us home and reflecting on some of our experiences.
Another example is tour company The Flash Pack, which is quite specifically built around the needs of solo travellers in their 30s and 40s.
In the spirit of showing a true understanding of their customers’ needs, they have created “miniexperiences” in London, acting as a sort of taster before taking a big trip abroad, and a way to meet like-minded people.
Expertise is, of course, our greatest weapon: according to Mintel, 22% of consumers say that when travel agents plan trips, it results in a better experience.
Based on our research, customers expect “empathetic expertise”. Today, expertise is generally still defined by destination.
But imagine a travel agent who is also a former stunt man arranging your Iceland adventure, a mum of toddlers arranging your family holiday, or an agent with accessible needs who can recommend wheelchair-friendly ways to explore New York. That level of expertise is priceless.
Here are some examples of travel brands creating value through the customer experience by recognising what matters to them. They prove that the best solutions start with customer insight, which is key to defining a strong value proposition.
1. STA Travel’s concept store has an amphitheatre space where its Travel Assistants host events and give talks to inspire its millennial customers for their next trip.
2. Thomas Cook is making VR commercially viable as a cruise discovery tool, reporting that Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship video led to a 45% increase in bookings.
3. VisitScotland created an Instagram Travel Agency in London, enabling people to create their holiday based on images, knowing that beautiful natural scenery is a big driver.
4. Princess Cruises’ new Ocean Medallion provides clients with wearable technology that records their preferences and allows them to make onboard payments.
5. Thomas Cook’s travel insurance lets customers connect to a GP by video while on holiday, giving extra peace of mind to travellers and removing a potential holiday stress point.