How can travel agents stay competitive in the world of online holiday booking?

By Chris Lee

Holidaymakers now have unprecedented levels of information and offers at their fingertips, which is causing a significant shift in how they research and book their trips, with a particular focus on getting the best price. This is the view of James Maley, travel expert at Tradedoubler, an affiliate network.

Holidaymakers are not just shifting from offline travel agents to their online equivalents; they are increasingly seeking out the best deals by using the latest price-focused loyalty and reward, voucher code, cash back or price comparison sites and apps, Maley warns.

“Travel agents need to adapt to the new ways in which consumers are researching and comparing their holiday options before buying,” Maley told NMK.

Maley provided five key tips for travel companies to capitalise on the new era of tech-savvy holidaymakers:

  1. Deploy an effective, accessible mobile presence: “One in five consumers now book a holiday via their mobile, a figure that grows amongst younger holidaymakers – 28 per cent of mobile-savvy 25-34 year olds. Having a mobile presence is crucial, but so too is working with mobile partners who already have an engaged mobile consumer base and are delivering price comparison, loyalty and reward or cash back options for holidaymakers,” Maley advised.
  2. Let go of outdated models: “Consumers’ priorities have fundamentally changed when it comes to booking a holiday and technology is helping to support new models of buying behaviour,” he added. “62 per cent of holidaymakers now prefer to put their own itinerary together, choosing flights and hotels separately, rather than using a travel agent. Far fewer opt for traditional cost-saving, one-stop options such as package holidays (41 per cent) or all-inclusive trips (20 per cent). Travel agents must respond to new way consumers are increasingly using to buy their holidays or face becoming extinct.”
  3. Adapt to new consumer priorities: “The recent global economic downturn has conditioned consumers to seek out the maximum value on everything they purchase – travel included,” Maley said. Tradedoubler’s most recent research found that the majority of people use price-focused channels for travel and hospitality purposes: 59 per cent to book holidays; 57 per cent to book hotels and 53 per cent to book flights. “The consumer appetite for value applies to a holiday just as much as it does to a new pair of shoes and travel agents must ensure that they communicate messages of value to price-sensitive consumers throughout their sales and marketing strategies,” Maley added.
  4. Help consumers at the research stage: “The culture of information means that people now want to know everything they can about a potential purchase far-ahead of completing the transaction and they’re increasingly going to price comparison, loyalty, and reward and cash back sites rather than online travel agents for this information,” according to Maley. At the research stage of choosing a holiday destination, 44 per cent of travellers are now using these price-focused sites – almost as many as those that seek out ideas and information via online travel agents (50 per cent). “Ensuring a presence across price comparison sites and apps can help guarantee those travel agents’ brands and their offers are front of holidaymakers’ minds,” he added
  5. Respond to new consumer behaviour: “The use of channels like price comparison sites to guide travel planning is no longer incidental, occasional, or triggered only by the need to find a bargain. It’s become a fully established habit, shown in the frequency with which holidaymakers return to these sites,” Maley said. Whereas frequent flyer schemes persuade only 38 per cent of travellers to always book using the same carrier, 71 per cent say they always look at price comparison sites to ensure that they are getting the best possible deal, so travel agents need to ensure that they have an effective and impactful presence on these sites and apps, according to Maley.

For more insights into Europe’s connected consumers, Tradedoubler has produced a research paper, Performance Marketing: Travellers & Purchase Paths.

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