Over the past 20 years, the power of the internet has hugely impacted how we travel. With the world very literally at our fingertips, we have seen technology alter the distribution routes of the travel industry, writes John Donnelly.
With access to all means of accommodation and low cost airlines, the appeal of the pre-packaged holiday was lost on the consumer, who feel more equipped than ever to assemble their own trips.
Although its roots are based in the tailor-made holiday model, dynamic packaging was a concept that kept travel agents in the conversation with consumers, whilst also challenging the traditional packaged holiday for market share. But it is this conversation – between agent and customer – that seems to be increasingly under pressure as time and technology move on.
Home-based agents, in particular, have found themselves having to move towards 24/7 service provision; without the shield of general retail operating hours, they often find that time zones and geography are no longer an acceptable boundary for problem-solving.
In years gone by, if a customer had a problem whilst abroad, they would often speak to their travel agent representative when available, providing some form of evidence to support their complaint upon their return – photographs or receipts were commonplace requests.
Today, enabled by social media and online interactions, there is almost no such thing as someone being unavailable when it comes to customer service. The customer has the power to act immediately and, understandably, they often expect travel agents to act with the same urgency.
But whilst travel agents – driven by their pursuit of high-level customer service – seem to be make strides in evolving to 24/7 access, can the same be said for travel product suppliers?
Many suppliers offer round-the-clock sales opportunities, particularly online, but when it comes to problems either with booking administration or in resorts, broader business hours are often totally undermanned and not supported. This causes immense problems for the travel agents who are live reacting to customer issues. Of course, some suppliers are better than others, but the system and response times needs changing when it comes to problem and complaints with clear, supported escalation processes in place.
There is an absolute need for product suppliers to be able to support those travel agents that are increasingly accessible to customers. Suppliers who recognise and react to this business need will benefit from increased confidence from travel staff, leading to market opportunities and promoted product use.
In the current industry climate, agents’ faith is not to be underestimated; product suppliers invest heavily in promoting their wares to consumers. Confidence in a service and product is invaluable from a sales perspective.
Unless product suppliers join the wider travel sector’s journey towards 24/7/365 service, they will become a limitation to their industry’s evolution.
John Donnelly is FSC’s Travel and Tourism Insight Director