Why the days of offering limited choice are over for travel agents… and what you should do about it

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In days gone by, the only place you could buy travel was in your high street. Researching travel was not really possible and so you relied on your travel agent to provide you with your options. We weren’t as widely travelled as we are now and so the business was somewhat easier to manage.

A similar scenario happened with Insurance Companies selling in the High Street. A lot of the shops disappeared but what happened to the remaining Independent insurance agents? Or Financial Advisors – how are they surviving? In the main by showcasing their expertise and selling ‘whole of market’

Estate Agents, have survived in mass numbers still ( partly due to the property boom), but also because of the way that selling of houses has developed ( all successful agents rely heavily on RightMove as well as showing ALL their product online on their own sites.

The transformation of the travel industry is taking longer to work out than those other industries. While people may be baffled by insurance and financial advice, in the most, insurance is a relatively cheap product and the difference in price and cover elements will not break the bank. The major comparison sites that have grown up in place of the small shops offer the consumer some research tools so that a consumer can get a broad opinion now of cost and cover. Travel is not cheap and often complicated ( and prices further complicated between the law on showing what is included in the price – which makes selling packages and ‘flight + hotel’ on websites very tricky.

The Evolution of the Independent Travel Agent

In the main, outside of commodity products such as hotels and flights, consumers still like to book their travel having had a conversation. Be that with an OTA or a traditional agent ( 90% of all booking site sales are transacted after/on a call) , the consumer is looking for advice as to where to spend their hard earned cash. So the consumer is researching online and before they even decide to make an enquiry with a travel agent they will check out the travel agent website and the product they sell. It is at this point that your marketing spend turns into cash or a waste of time.

You don’t know what the consumer is looking for, so your number one priority must be to decide what sort of business you want to attract in the future – find your niche. But having decided on your niche, you need to make sure that your website fully showcases the niche and that the product you have showing is as wide a choice as possible. The user is only ever one click and search away from finding more product somewhere else so your site has to reflect your business raison d’être.

You may have preferred relationships with Operators and of course that is a good thing. Relationships with Operators means that your clients get well looked after and your commission is sufficient. Switch selling clients when they are in your sales funnel ( or shop) is a great way to develop a business with trusted partners. But showing online that you limit choice is never going to get the numbers of clients returning to you.

The Key sales tools

The key selling tool ( which has not changed all that much over the years) is to hook customers with being the expert with access to ‘whole of market’ and then once you have that customer, tailor their holiday to your preferred travel partners. Far from disadvantaging the consumer, the enables you to provide the best holiday the consumer can get. But if a customer is looking for a certain kind of trip and your regular ‘suppliers’ don’t offer it, or don’t have availability do you send the consumer on their way or do you try and sell them a package from another provider (or tailor make your own). The latter of course is true and so that should be the marketing action you take on your website.

Independent Travel Agents can no longer flourish without relevant content that will nurture clients to make an enquiry. They may survive for a few more years with existing older clients that are happy to keep booking the way they always have, but it won’t last forever. As for agents that take their online channel seriously ( and we mean those that see their website being at the centre of their marketing and sales funnels) will not only survive but thrive as consumer choice widens and consumers become more baffled and search for experts in their fields to help them make a choice.