The first time I used a virtual reality (VR) headset was with Azamara Club Cruises. The line was trialling the technology to showcase its sailings and onboard experience to both agents and customers...
I was transported to the ship, able to explore it both onboard and from the ocean as I sailed around in a speedboat.
I’m not sure whether the experience was enjoyed more by myself or my colleagues, who took great delight in filming me as I got to grips with it! But since then I’ve noticed VR becoming increasingly more mainstream, especially in sectors such as travel.
In fact, it seems there isn’t a day goes by where the subject of how agents can use technology in their business doesn’t crop up in conversation. We touched upon it at the Advantage Conference earlier in the year and again at World Travel Market London, but it seems that we are only just scratching the surface.
For customers booking in-store, VR is the perfect sales tool. It treats customers to an immersive view of a hotel or destination, whetting their appetite and leaving them wanting more (and hopefully then booking that hotel or destination). Videos offering 360-degree views are equally beneficial, and I would urge agents with smaller budgets to utilise their own – or their consortium’s – connections with tourist boards and hotels to request the use of their assets.
Adapting to technology doesn’t have to cost the earth though. I am regularly asked by members what we can do to engage new or existing customers. How can we benefit our business through technology to encourage growth?
As always of course, this depends on the amount the agent has to invest – in both time and resources. Social media is the cheapest and easiest channel to use for inspiring and influencing holidaymakers, and not just Facebook. Twitter can also be useful, and Instagram lends itself perfectly to inspirational destination shots.
But the most important step companies and individuals should take to raise awareness of their business is in recognising the value of SEO (search engine optimisation), creating meaningful backlinks (incoming links) and mobile friendly websites. We recently completed an audit of all our members’ sites and provided handy steps to help them capitalise and master the artistry of Google rankings.
Now more than ever, technology is used to engage customers throughout the booking journey, and I would urge agents to think about the process holistically. Do you have live chat on your website? If not, introduce it. Bring yourself – the personable travel agent – into the customer’s front room.
Both consumers and travel agents are becoming more time-poor than ever. Saving both yourself and your customer time and making the choosing and booking process slick will strengthen their loyalty as a result (and give you time to try out your own VR headset).
Julia Lo Bue-Said is managing director of The Advantage Travel Partnership