by Simon Bernardi, Principal at Simon Bernadi Consulting incorporating The Australian Travel Agent Barometer (ATAB)
Never before has there been more competition and opportunity in the Australian Travel Industry.
A Rapidly Changing Industry
In the past two years the industry has seen the introduction of a deregulated environment, lowering the barriers to entry for new travel businesses to set up. As a consequence of deregulation all travel agents no longer hold consumer protection policies leading to the risk of consumers being out of pocket when booking through unscrupulous operators who enter the industry.
The demise of branded networks such as Harvey World Travel (currently Australia’s second most unprompted recognised retail travel brand), Jetset, and others has created a brand vacuum which has strengthened the wholly owned Flight Centre brand to fill the void for both brand recognition as well as consumer trust.
For individual travel agents this means they cannot rely on branded buying groups alone to generate customers and leads. In a recent ATAB survey 50% of travel agency owners said they received no lead generation from their buying group. In addition, these agents said that their number one business “headache” was how to grow their customer base.
The demand for travel continues to grow globally as does the choice of different channels through which customers can book travel. Travel agents must be proactive and focused on growing their business in order to capture this growth. The key to prospering is having a strong online/mobile presence, a good database, and constant marketing/PR activity to attract new customers.
An important objective is to have a good marketing plan for future growth that covers initiatives in all of these areas. If you are not confident doing it yourself, there are professionals who can assist in designing a strategy for your business.
It is surprising how many agents don’t actively use their databases. It is more effective than putting advertisements in the newspapers (then again most things are), it’s free, targeted and grows the relationship between you and your customers.
By using products such as MailChimp you can measure responses and impact instantly and it gives a quick idea of what works and what doesn’t, across up to 2000 subscribers.
Social media, in particular Instagram and Facebook, can be integrated into your marketing campaigns as well by uploading your existing contact list into your business Facebook account. Social media gives you great targeting capability enabling you to seek new customers eg. people who like river cruising etc. Travel businesses can be active on Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin at little or no cost and the good news is travel and food perform better than most on social media due to their strong visual aspects.
PR is a form of free or “earned” promotion. Many agents do this well through supporting local events and clubs. However if you want to work this channel even more sign up for “Source Bottle” at www.sourcebottle.com.au. This is a website used by the PR industry. You will get daily opportunities to promote your business through writing articles, providing prizes or being interviewed for media.
Have an exceptional online presence
Without a good online and mobile presence it’s difficult to present well to consumers. Australia has the second largest mobile phone uptake in the world and over 47% of consumer’s research travel on it.
A good consumer-facing site with a competitive booking engine is imperative. Your pricing needs to be competitive with OTA’s (Online Travel Agents), as well as supplier sites, in particular Low Cost Carriers if you are targeting leisure. Failure of your site to offer competitive relevant rates can act as a deterrent for consumers to book not only on the site but with the agency generally.
Your site is where to direct your marketing activity for consumers to either book or to contact you. As this is essentially your “call to action” it must be treated the same as your office for consumers to visit you. In particular it needs to be up to date, appealing and look good on a smart phone.
You can have the best website in the world but if you don’t promote through your customer database and the other areas I have mentioned you will end up with a great site and no traffic.
Travel agents need to be marketeers and show customers their point of difference through the experience they can add to the raw product. Through promotion agents can also inspire consumers to travel.