Book direct, but what if…?

The latest travel supplier to attract the ire of travel agents the world over is international hotel chain Marriott with their latest advertising campaign aimed at encouraging travellers to bypass intermediaries.

The #ItPaysToBookDirect video campaign features an American celebrity Grace Helbig talking about the financial advantages of booking direct with the chain; benefits that include access to rates and the most accurate information about a property.  Check it out here

Our American counterparts have come out strongly against the advertising campaign questioning whether it is legal and truthful. The American Society of Travel Agents says it is “disparaging to travel agents, but also misleading to the travelling public”.

So while we all know what the benefits of customers booking direct would be to Marriott, an interesting article in Forbes this week asked customers to think about what’s in it for them. Particularly since the access to rates and accurate information, claims ASTA, aren’t any better than what a customer would receive from a travel agent selling the chain.

In his article “If You Like Good Service, Here’s Why You Need A Good Travel Advisor”, Forbes contributor Doug Gollan, presents the “what if” case.

“What if you book via the website or an online travel agency, you get to the hotel, and something goes wrong. Let’s say you are not one of Marriott Rewards’ top members who spend 100 plus nights a year. Yet, it’s your long-awaited, hard-earned vacation with family and loved ones. Let’s say you bought in at the best, or lowest rates, and you aren’t a regular customer for the company, and it’s your first time to this hotel. How much clout do you think you will have to get whatever your problem is resolved?”

Doug ends of his very eloquent article saying: “For the travelling public, the best way to make sure your vacation goes off without a hitch, or that if there is a problem, it gets corrected, is to have a good travel advisor a phone call away to make the phone call you need.  One thing I will bet on, is if there is a problem, you won’t be able to get ahold of Grace Helbig.”

So what do you think of Marriott’s new campaign? Misplaced or brilliant?

 

The Future of Travel

Where were you five years ago? And where was your business? If you’re in the same place you were five years ago, spare a thought for how the global travel industry has actually evolved in the past five years… The rise of Uber and AirBNB, New Distribution Capability and dare we say it… unabridged birth certificates!

Travel research firm Skift looks at the next five years and the nub of it is that travel companies have to be “fanatically focused” on the changing consumer behaviours across all sectors.

The research paper says brands should build a business around helping travellers connect with their immediate surroundings and people around them rather than just digital connectivity. Skift says you must be Smart, Sharp, Surgical and Strategic.

The most forward thinking travel brands are delivering deeper experiences to travellers by focusing on three things above everything else: Inspiration, Personalisation and a path towards self-discovery.

Further highlights in the next five years, travel firms have to look forward to, include:

  • The Rise of the Silent Traveller: A new kind of traveller who is adept at all available online and mobile tools and uses them to jump across all industry-defined silos. People are going ‘silent’ and self-reliant because they don’t want to be sold to anymore.
  • Millennial Mindset Modern Traveller: The psyche of Millennials maps perfectly on to what the modern travellers want from travel products.
  • Travel innovation is everywhere: Don’t just look for it exclusively in the travel startup or tech world.
  • The future of travel is in cities: Caring for locals first means being better on the global stage. The rise of smart cities is creating the rise of the smart mobility era.
  • Alternative travel is a reality: Fueled by the marketplace model, which has taken the best of online, mobile and social to create travel products that allow people to find rides or alternative accommodations with ease. Transactions are easier, discovery is faster and feedback is transparent, according to Skift.
  • On demand economy: Will lead to further unbundling of travel services, especially hospitality. Full-service hotels in dense urban environments will be affected most.
  • Smart travel brands: Will integrate the right on-demand service, make them seamless for users to access and use.

In essence… in 2020, expect the unbundling of everything, the on-demandification of everything and the mobility of everything!

 

Home Affairs vs Tourism… battle lines drawn!

The battle lines have finally been drawn in public between the Departments of Home Affairs and Tourism, and this time the debate is whirling around the job losses that the new immigration regulations will likely cause for the South African economy.

The latest Tourism Business Index of the Tourism Business Council of SA business performance levels indicate that business performance levels across the tourism value chain have dropped from 99.9 points in the first quarter to 83.6 points in the second quarter, the lowest performance level since the third quarter of 2011. The drop is largely due to the impact of new visa regulations on overseas tourists, especially those sourced from China and India. President Zuma promised a review of the regulations in February, but as yet there has been no public announcement of any change to the regulations.

Grant Thornton Advisory Services, cited in the Times, says R1.6bn has already been lost in the first quarter. “This is really a catastrophe — we haven’t experienced this decline in tourism in the past 21 years,” said Lee-Anne Bac, a partner and director at the company. “It’s such an important industry to our economy — it creates jobs, it’s an easy entry for entrepreneurship and it is dominated by small business. It’s a key part of the growth potential of our economy, and we are giving it away to our competitors.”

TBCSA CEO Mmatsatsi Ramawela says: “Hotel rooms are empty, jobs are on the line. The long-term effect will be irreparable for South Africa if we do not come up soon with a solution which both protects South Africa’s security and the industry — it would be devastating.”

This week, the opposition DA called on Home Minister Malusi Gigaba to take heed of the private sector’s concerns regarding the decline in tourist numbers. Beverley Schäfer, DA Western Cape spokesperson on economic opportunities, tourism and agriculture, said: “These [visa] regulations can potentially destroy 22 000 jobs, split families and prevent people from entering SA that could positively contribute to our economy.”

Schäfer is reported have said: “The goal in the National Development Plan (NDP) is to create an additional one million jobs in the tourism sector, which Minister Gigaba has put at risk in his refusal to back down and his department’s recent denial of a negative impact on tourism.”

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom has also finally added his voice to the furore this week saying he was worried about the impact the regulations were having on the tourism industry. Minister Hanekom said the number of visitors from China had dropped by nearly 40% and the picture for other markets was similar. He also questioned Gigaba’s basis for imposing these regulations during an interview on Radio 702.

Minister Gigaba hit back almost immediately saying he found it “offensive” that the tourism industry was placing profits above children, also criticising Minister Hanekom for going outside normal cabinet procedures.

And so the battle ensues…

Sharing is caring… or is it?

Travel agents take note. The Sharing Economy has hit travel and it’s here with a vengeance; so much so that Airbnb is being touted as the largest hotel chain in the world (without any of their own rooms) and Uber, the largest car rental company (without any of their own cars of course).

Business travel is getting their full attention, with this week’s announcement that Airbnb is launching a full product suite aimed at making Airbnb “easier” to use for companies.

From this week, companies around the world can now sign in to Airbnb and have access to a range of features to support business trips. Says a press release on the site: “The suite of tools provides visibility into employee travel itineraries booked through Airbnb, financial reporting data, and central billing to improve the business travel experience for travellers and travel managers.”

Airbnb further wants to reinvent the notion of business travel with the global expansion of a programme that would sleep colleagues in a private home under one roof, instead of a hotel room.

Since launching last summer, more than 250 companies have joined the company’s Business Travel programme, including Google and SoundCloud.

What do you think about the impact this will have on the travel industry as we know it?

What to Expect From the Travel Agent of the Future

Interesting research report from global travel research firm Skift this week that talks about what customers can expect from the travel agent of the future.

ASATA has launched its own study on the 21st Century Travel agent and will be continuing its research expanding the study to capture elements of leisure travel trends so we were very interested to read this report by Skift which talks about the fact that agents should invest time and energy after the travel experience is over to understand their customer fully.

According to Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso: The most valuable thing agents are doing today to boost their business volume is in-depth follow-up phone calls, because that’s when the travel agent (or travel advisor) can learn more about their client’s particular travel preferences. That’s a shift in the traditional value proposition for agents, who have typically positioned themselves foremost as expert sources of travel destination knowledge.

However, because consumers can access such a large amount of up-to-date travel destination information online, Virtuoso is positioning agents as a kind of travel psychoanalyst. The thinking goes, the better the agent knows the customer’s wishes and whims down to the smallest detail, the more likely the customer will return to the agent for future travel advice and services. So Virtuoso is placing more of a priority on educating member agents about the value of building long term relationships, as much as learning about the newest travel trends and products.

If the agent can develop a certain level of what Upchurch calls “attunement” into the client’s travel mindset, that can create a degree of trust where the customer will more likely use the agent to book future business, even if the agent has never been to the intended destination. That’s because good travel agents are aggressively networking with other agents who are experts on destinations they’re unfamiliar with. In effect, the best individual travel agents today are acting as their own individual travel agencies.

Read the full report here and let us know what you think!