Travel Agents

“Offline needs to differentiate from online”: Travelport MD talks apps, fragmentation and OTAs

Ali Coulton

It’s no secret that Aussie travellers are increasingly relying on technology for almost every aspect of their travel experiences.

From researching to booking to the bombardment of Instagram photos to make your friends jealous, tech platforms are becoming more prominent in the travel experience, and industry, every day.

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New research from Travelport has shown that travellers rely on technology for not only a smooth booking process experience but are also confident that booking online would ensure them getting the best deal available in the market.

Travelport’s Travel Prospensity Study revealed that a whopping 83 per cent of respondents are confident that they will get the best deal when booking online.

We asked Travelport’s managing director for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, Scott Barber what the implications of this research are for agents.

Barber told us that what he found most interesting about the research was that the second highest stat revealed that a majority of people want a one-stop-shop above all else.

“It’s not just about booking the cheapest flight with that one website they are actually looking for somebody to take care of them in totality,” Barber told us. 

For me a travel agent is still your best one-stop-shop. They’re selling a depth and breadth of content no one supplier will be able to supply.

“And then the one-stop-shop isn’t just about the booking the trip, it’s the entire lifecycle. That’s where people don’t value travel agents enough because they think once the booking’s done that’s the end of the service, very often people only realise the value of travel agents when things go wrong.”

Barber said the real value of booking through an agent becomes plain when bad weather or cancellations hit and travellers are able to pick up the phone and talk to a real life person who can do all the rebooking for them.

If you booked it directly through the website and try to rebook yourself, you’re either in a long hold queue or a long queue at the airport,” he said. 

But that doesn’t mean brick and mortar agents are out of the woods when it comes to their fierce competition with OTAs.

“The OTA space is expected to grow from 12 to 15 per cent by 2021 so we will see growth in the online sector in Australia,” Barber said. 

“Interestingly the supplier direct will stay static so the ones that are gonna shrink a little bit is the offline agents. That said they’ll still account for 58 per cent of the market.”

“There’s absolutely space for the offline agents, but you do need to be aware that online if growing and it’s coming from the offline sector so if there are offline agencies that don’t have a strong online presence they need to think about that, similarly if you haven’t thought about mobile strategy, you need to think about that also.”

According to Barber, the biggest challenge in the industry right now is fragmentation. Everybody wants a piece of the traveller.

Once their trip is booked, they will typically be bombarded by all these different players asking if they’ve thought about insurance, their transfers, lounge access, tours, the list goes on.

Directly above view of man using smartphone and drinking tea at desk with world map

“The trick is to take the total trip, the home to hotel and back again, as being your opportunity,” he said. 

“Maybe six months ago when [the traveller] were looking at their flight they weren’t interested in the extra legroom or the extra bag, but now two days before they’re packing they might decide they need that extra bag.

“Unless you’re talking to your client throughout that entire lifecycle, somebody else is.”

That’s why Travelport bought Dublin based mobile company MTT and turned them into Travelport Digital. The company now builds itinerary applications to allow their travel agency partners to speak to their travellers throughout the entire trip.

So it’s the travel agency that’s maintaining the relationship and that goes back to the brand, you’re then building out your brand as being very trusted throughout the entire trip,” Barber told us. 

When you think about it, said Barber, online is generally perceived as giving travellers more access. After all, you can have it anywhere, on any device at any time of day.

“It gives you some transparency. You’re seeing lots of different options that maybe you wouldn’t have got if you’d have walked into a travel agent because the screens not facing you,” Barber said.

“Online is growing for very good reasons so if I was an offline agency I would be thinking of ways to differentiate from online and I think it’s value in experience.”

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