Travellers now need agents more than ever.
But agents need to get the message out to a wary travelling public that it is safe to travel and if they need the right advice from an expert, they should consult a travel agent.
For seasoned travel marketers, that means self-promotion, mostly through social media channels, and providing a level of service which customers will value, and which can’t be automated or found online. Word-of-mouth promotion will follow.
Back to basics
Travel-industry consultant and former ceo of ASATA, and former ceo of Travelport in Southern Africa, Robyn Christie, encouraged retail agents to concentrate on developing new business streams and work on the art of consulting. Comprehensive traveller profiles help with quoting these clients, she said. Agents can win over very cautious travellers by anticipating their needs and actively helping them navigate new travel rules. “Good agents will be able to do that. They’ll be the client’s saviour,” Christie said. “Leisure travellers are going to be cautious because of the risk of being stranded due to lockdowns, flight changes, and so on. They will want to know if they’ve got the right insurance. Travellers need travel agents now more than ever.”
Natalia Rosa, founder and director of Big Ambitions, a specialist travel marketing and content company agreed. “Now, more than ever, travel is complicated. Using a travel consultant who is attentive, experienced and 100% homed-in on what the traveller’s personal needs are, has never been more important,” she said.
Build brand awareness
How can agents become their own brand ambassadors during this time of recovery? Rosa said it takes knowing your customer, their needs, and your own point of differentiation.
“Ask yourself - or them - what they need, what their pain points are, how do you help them become a better version of themselves? Where do they get their information from? What kind of information do they like? If you can intersect what it is that makes you special, with what your customer wants, you have found your point of relevance and all your marketing and communications must leverage that.”
Rosa said: “If your customers are young families and they care about getting away with each other to spend quality time together in a safe environment, and you specialise in leisure holidays in the Indian Ocean Islands, how can you, in all the marketing you do, take this expertise and deliver the ‘safety’ and ‘inspiration’ this customer is seeking in? What information can you provide that will make them feel secure and inspired? And where will you share this information? On platforms that young families look at, of course!”
What is your message?
“A business that lost ground to do-it-yourself online travel booking is back with the added complications of cancellations, border restrictions and testing requirements,” wrote the Wall Street Journal recently. (Travel agencies are having a moment amid Covid-19 chaos - September 1, 2021)
According to the World Travel Agents Associations Alliance (WTAAA), leisure travel is leading travel’s recovery, but the majority of people (around 60%) are still uncertain about whether or not they are ready to travel. The WTAAA has predicted only 20% of people will choose to travel regionally or close to home in the near-term, and warned that intercontinental travel will only recover in time.
WTAAA Chairman, Lars Thykier, who participated in a Big Connect panel discussion, hosted by Big Ambitions this month, said agents needed to get the notion out that it is safe to travel in order to boost their business and aid travel’s recovery. Most people would still need a lot of convincing in the coming years, Thykier said.
Andrew Stark, Flight Centre gm Middle East and Africa, (soon to be global md of the company), said in the same panel discussion that the majority of customer queries at the moment were around routings, travel requirements and other complexities. “Every hour the situation is changing. We have got to be on top of our game. Countries still aren’t issuing visas.”
Where to begin
Instead of staffing up with administrative personnel, Christie encouraged retailers to use technology to their advantage and to automate repetitive tasks. “Permanently employ someone to promote your business on social media, to promote your blog. A Facebook page is great, but it is not enough.”
Social media has huge untapped potential to mine new customers, Christie said. “If you’re looking for new customers, believe me, you do it through Facebook, and you do it through TikTok.”
With a proper social media strategy in place, customer engagement increases, which boosts brand awareness, brand loyalty and, ultimately, the potential for future bookings.
But, what about other forms of effective self promotion? Rosa offered her top three tips:
- “Really understand your target market and get clear on their needs, pain points, what inspires them, etc”
- “Really understand what your point of differentiation is. Why are you unique?”
- “Intersect these to understand why you are relevant to this target market and make sure that all your marketing comms, etc, is distinctive because it very specifically taps into this point of relevance. You have to flip your mindset from buying to belonging. You want to build a ‘tribe’ of loyal advocates who talk about you positively when you’re not in the room.”
Otto de Vries, ASATA CEO told Travel News that the association was updating its 21st Century Travel Agent study, and would look to release the latest iteration in Q4. The original study, first published in 2015 and revised in 2019, offers insights into the demands of corporate and leisure travellers.