Tales of travel fraud have once again hit the press this week with ITC Elize Raath making headlines for allegedly taking payment for and failing to book a group of Krugersdorp school children on a tour of Ireland, Spain and Portugal.
Earlier this year, a bogus travel agent was involved in an online discount air ticket scam and was charged for conspiracy to commit fraud. And in December last year, hundreds of South Africans, most of them expats living in London, were caught in an e-ticketing scam allegedly perpetrated by Kim Robbertse, an independent travel agent in Polokwane.
Travellers’ preferred travel booking methods hinge greatly on the trust they they have in the booking channel they’re using and fraudsters, whether they are posing as travel agents, or are in fact travel agents, bring the entire travel industry into disrepute and weaken the trust that travellers have in travel agents as a booking channel.
In the midst of this bad publicity, now more than ever it falls to ASATA and its members to drive the mantra of ‘Travel with Peace of Mind’ when booking with an ASATA member. Our new slogan and consumer campaign is being rolled out and a new marketing toolkit with collateral will be available on the website for members to use soon.
One must remember that as an unregulated industry, anyone can start a so-called travel agency. ASATA remains a voluntary body and it is therefore crucial that our members stand behind the ASATA brand, promote it and proudly display it in their communications and marking strategies. We need to tell our customers what being an ASATA member means for them.
A key selling point of using an ASATA member is that they comply with a strict code of conduct that enforces proper business practices and it is essential that members use this credibility to communicate that they are a trustworthy booking channel because of the stringent requirements placed on our members to run legitimate travel businesses.
It must be noted that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of enquiries our office receives on a daily basis, asking if the agency they are about to engage is an ASATA member. Our awareness in the consumer space is growing, to the benefit of our members and the consumers.
As excellent as social media and review sites can be to get your brand out there, they are just as effective, and speedy, at damaging it.
Sticking your head in the sand will certainly not make negative publicity go away. Customer-facing organisations like banks and retail chains pay thousands to maintain a positive brand reputation. It takes loads of listening, constant engagement and proactive communication to get it right.
In a world where travellers go online to check the reputation and status of companies with which they’d like to do business, it is essential that you paint a positive brand picture and encourage those who do business with you to do the same so that when a customer finds you online, they feel overwhelmingly positive about the prospect of having you assist with their travel arrangements.
And are 5 handy tips, without spending a fortune, to do this:
- Are they talking about you? What are they saying?
Assess what the current perception is of your brand. What online channels are your customers using to talk about you? Hello Peter? Facebook? TripAdvisor? What are they consistently saying? You can use tools like Social Mention and Google Alerts and Hootsuite to monitor any mentions that are made about your company.
- Is their perception accurate?
Are the perceptions accurate? If customers continuously slate your brand for poor customer service, perhaps they have a point? No amount of damage control is going to work if the fundamental issues your customers are complaining about are not fixed. Appoint a task team comprising staff from all areas within your organisation, e.g. to identify what these are, how to fix them, and who will be responsible for what? This team should meet weekly to ensure concrete steps are being taken to solve the issues.
- Listen, learn and engage.
Monitor conversations and respond quickly to concerns raised. Your messages should be empathetic, not robotic, with a genuine tone of ‘wanting to assist’. That said, a quick, brief reply is better than a late reply with lots of information, or no reply at all. Consistency is key. Monitoring and engagement should happen continuously, not as a once off when you start your image management initiative. Learn from your mistakes, give feedback to the ‘offending’ parties that have caused the criticism. Engage with the customer till the situation is as resolved as it can be.
- Your online business card
Treat every online brand presence as your business card: Google’s search results can be influenced by brilliant Search Engine Optimisation so ensure your meta-descriptions, keywords, etc. are well selected and written; Ensure that happy customers post positive reviews on Facebook and Hello Peter; Generate positive PR about what you do and why you can be trusted; Position yourself as an expert in your niche by creating and distributing online useful, engaging and informative content about what you do to enhance your credibility, e.g. safari specialists providing content on tips for travelling on safari with children.
- Repeat and referral rocks
Have a clear repeat and referral strategy that encourages ‘happy’ customers to proactively talk about their experience with friends and family. Ask for a referral or review on Hello Peter or Facebook, proactively ask for feedback on how you can improve their experience. And once you have the referral or review, thank them for giving it.
And there you have it, 5 easy steps to polishing your online persona. Remember it’s a journey not a destination, but as long as you keep listening, engaging and improving your positive reputation will make you famous.
ASATA will be rolling out two consumer campaigns over the coming months and is asking its members for feedback and advice to inform these.
The association’s new slogan “Travel with Peace of Mind” will be incorporated in to a variety of messages that will be added to ASATA’s Marketing Toolkit in a variety of formats for members’ use.
Examples of some of the messages members will be able to use across their marketing platforms include:
The second campaign is centred around demystifying travel aimed at explaining the idiosyncrasies of travel that consumers often do not know about, as well as highlighting the need for consumers to use an ASATA travel agent to navigate the world of travel.
ASATA travel agents are encouraged to share their stories about common consumer misconceptions around travel, e.g. changing a name on an air ticket is not as easy as simply changing a name.
The two campaigns are being devised currently based on the feedback of ASATA members and will be launched in the coming months.