Steve Jones’ Say: Nov 2017

Travel agents have had much to contend with in the digital age. They have faced suppliers pursuing direct to consumer strategies, watched the rise of OTAs and (reluctantly no doubt) learned to live with aggregators. All have relentlessly chipped away at the once-dominant position they held as the go-to travel planner.

Even the largest groups have occasionally looked like rabbits in the headlights. Those that have made moves have had limited success to say the least — as evidenced by Helloworld’s ill-fated deal with Orbitz.

Yet not all appear to have endured such teeth-gnashing frustration. Take Travellers Choice. For some time now, the group has been steadily developing a digital strategy that has armed its members with tools to participate in the tech age.

Web solutions through Site Builder, email marketing, and social media and digital marketing support services have all been developed to help agents navigate the digital minefield.

But it’s most intriguing initiative has emerged in the shape of a formal commercial deal with online agency TripADeal.

A bricks and mortar agency group in bed with an OTA? For the most part, the traditional end of town and their online competitors have endured extremely uneasy cohabitation in the retail space, each only too happy to point out the foibles of the other.

The deal enables customers to book a TripADeal package through any Travellers Choice store, with bespoke product developed for exclusive sale through the network. It will, Travellers Choice managing director Christian Hunter predicted, generate new business “rather than continually competing to shift customers from one channel to another”.

If nothing else, it’s a genuinely interesting move and demonstrates a willingness of Travellers Choice, and TripADeal, to experiment.

But will it be mutually beneficial? Will it, as Hunter suggests it might, represent a pioneering convergence of offline and online distribution channels?

It’s possible. I don’t see the partnership driving a huge number of bookings for Travellers Choice, but it certainly has the potential to deliver incremental business.

To some extent, it depends how clever the marketing is. If as a consumer you’ve taken the time and effort to get through to the booking stage on TripADeal, chances are you’ll complete the transaction online or contact the OTA’s call centre if you’re still a little edgy. You’d be unlikely to abort at that stage and visit a physical store.

But if there is strong joint marketing online and in print before the consumer reaches the TripADeal website, it has the potential to drive people in-store.

It will be fascinating to see what eventuates from this partnership. Whatever happens, it’s forward-thinking and shows the flexibility and imaginative approach that can be adopted in a complex and dynamic business environment.

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