Technology

How much do travellers rely on OTAs?

Hannah Edensor

The latest white paper from Amadeus dives deep into the traveller’s brain, asking them what they value and why.

And while it was shown that technological advancements absolutely does not spell “death” for travel agents, there was some chatter about how people use OTAs.

According to the report, the immense leaps and bounds we’ve taken with technology has led many businesses to move away from presenting their customers with something physical that they can hold, assess and consider before they buy.

Instead, travellers will rely on their digital sense to make their assessment, it claims.

As a result, brands across all industries are discovering new ways to inspire consumers online, with more methods than ever before for reaching new audiences.

Not to be complacent though, now online travel brands need to have an even stronger idea of what they represent, and how to utilise the digital realm to build emotional connections with travellers, and to stand out among the digital noise.

According to Fliggy Vice President Wells Zheng, Fliggy tries to identify travellers’ online personas.

“We are not an Online Travel Agency (OTA), we are an Online Travel Platform (OTP). We bring the customer to the supplier so they can touch base directly, with no intermediate in sight.

“Because we are part of Alibaba’s ecosystem, we not only have the data about a person’s travel, we have the data for their whole online persona.

“If we know a customer has bought a bikini, for example, we know they are going to the beach, and I can push relevant products to them.

“When someone buys nappies online, we know they have a baby, and then when we have a product that is relevant for a family, we can push that too. This ecosystem can provide such powerful data.”

The fact that air travel consumers are continuing to seek advice from multiple sources highlights the importance of maintaining an omni-channel approach to customer service.

As the report states, this is particularly true when a customer is booking more than solely a flight during a transaction.

Though only 14 per cent of survey respondents may seek advice from traditional travel agents for flights alone, they are more likely to seek professional advice if they are planning, say, a 10-day tour around Vietnam, or a business trip to Toronto – of which the flight is an important component.

“Quite often, the human brain produces unstructured questions, such as ‘I’ve got a break some time between June and July, and I can spend £1,000, where should I fly to?’” said Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, Director of the eTourism Lab at the School of Tourism at Bournemouth University.

“But most of our current technology systems don’t deal with unstructured questions; they deal with a demand like ‘I need to book a flight to Miami next Friday’ – very structured, data-driven enquiries.”

With companies never having had such access to the brains and feelings of their customers, an emotional relationship over the internet is becoming easier to achieve.

“I think [air travel sales] are going to creep into Instagram and WhatsApp,” said Michael Bayle, Head of Mobile, Amadeus IT Group.

“We are beginning to see experiments where these channels become a portal for purchasing travel.”

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