The global travel and tourism industry is reeling under the biggest setback since the downturn post 9/11 and the SARS outbreak of early 2000. The Coronavirus has almost entirely hijacked the thoughts and minds of people in the travel industry – with most glued to their handsets anxiously awaiting the next update.
Indeed, this will and has dented the spirits of the world travel community. MICE and Outbound operators are among the most affected with a host of cancellations, not to mention, the looming cloud of uncertainty around their immediate future. As the narrative of fear and hysteria reaches its culmination, one can’t help but wonder– what’s next?
While cutting cost may get you through for now, how prepared are you for what comes next? And NO, I don’t refer to some deadly virus strain. But to the existential threat to traditional brick and mortar tour operators who haven’t kept up with the times and the changing expectations of the traveller.
In this era of consolidation (read EBIX Travel), OTAs, self-booking tools, direct to the customer distribution channel, the smart and exposed travellers – can one still afford to think short-term and not prepare against the impending danger of stagnation?
As an offline tour operator, it is a common belief that price is the only differentiator. But with increasing awareness and availability of choices, differentiating on price point alone is simply not enough. Tour operators need to think beyond conversion and actively shift focus towards retention and product innovation. A conscious strategy towards offering a superior experience and internal processes directed towards building loyalties is perhaps the way forward.
In this blog, we outline the different ways a tour operator can leverage technology to be more relevant to the smartphone-toting travellers, bring down overheads, increase retention rates, and be future-ready.
Step 1: Create a high-quality website: First and foremost, tour operators need to invest in a dynamic website. People are impressionable and will judge your business based on your website. Moreover, the content needs to be constantly updated to reflect seriousness.
Pro tip: Keep a testimonial section that is updated regularly, preferably with customer pictures. Maintain a count of the bookings which tells people that they are not alone and that others are travelling with them.
Step 2: Be active on social media (include a blog): Maintain active pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Work to a plan and stay consistent with it. Quality of the creatives and the content should be high and help further your credibility. Brownie points for originality of content and creatives.
Pro tip: Save cost by hiring freelancers for SEO and to manage web properties. Use the ‘Share Experience’ feature available on the ‘travelexic customer solution’ and get your customers to post picture testimonials directly on FB. It will #yourcompanyname.
Step 3: Engage with your captive audience : Use tools such as bulk mailing and Whatsapp messages to keep your customers engaged. Create value through targeted alerts such as passport expiry reminders, birthday and anniversary greetings, inspiring emails, travel hacks etc
Pro tip: Make use of free trial plans offered by most bulk mailing services around example MailChimp, EasySendy etc and check delivery rate and ease of use before upgrading to their paid plans
Step 3: Create a strong back-office process: Being process-oriented will ensure you don’t miss leads in time of surges and can ensure high productivity of your team. Thereby, keeping your overheads optimum.
Pro tip: Invest in a strong lead management system that will help you track the performance of your executives and ensure no leads are wasted.
Step 4: Use a lead management system: Days of manual follow ups are long gone. Encourage your team to use a lead management system to record leads, update interactions, schedule reminders, prioritize follow ups in order to best utilize their time.
Pro tip: A travel management software will help bring down repetitive tasks thereby freeing up time to focus on follow-ups. Request for a weekly trial of any solution before finalizing. This will allow you to check if it fits-in with your internal processes and ensure early adoption.
Step 5: Track your turn around time: In this world of diminishing attention spans and patience, it’s important to be prompt and ‘strike when the iron is hot’. Invest in building strong relationships with vendors and play to your strengths so the responses can happen ASAP.
Pro tip: Use a quality CRM for travel agencies that can track the turn-around time and regularly intervene to ensure an average TAT of 2-4 hrs.
Step 6: Ensure your quotation/itinerary is pleasing to the eye: This, in most cases, will be your first point of contact with the traveller. Make it count! Use a pre-defined template and use images to enhance the appeal. Customers appreciate the effort and will view this as a sign of professionalism and reliability
Pro tip: Use a pre-existing travel itinerary builder like the Travelexic Lead2Repeat solution or get one customized.
Step 7: Be data-driven while making decisions: The human mind can be easily fooled. That is why data is so important. While answering questions such as employee productivity, performance, executive wise average TAT, conversion rates, approval ratings, etc.; use the support of data.
Pro tip: Invest in a quality travel management solution that offers MIS reports such as Travelexic Lead2repeat solution and train employees to work exclusively on the same.
Step 8: Automate profitability analysis: Invest in a user-friendly accounting system that preferably plugs in your sales and operations team so they can seamlessly collaborate. Moreover, individual incentive structures can be linked to their contributions in creating value for the organization.
Pro tip: Ideally, adopt a solution that makes it easier for you to track the financial health of your organization on a real-time basis. It will allow you to make better business decisions and gauge the ROI of your executives.
Step 9: Put customer experience front and centre: A study by American Express found that 86% of customers are willing to pay a premium for superior customer experience. Another study by Oracle suggested a superior customer experience increases your chances of loyalty by 74%.
Pro tip: Consider a solution that helps you standardize customer communication and offers a workflow that ensures executives don’t skip steps. Moreover, use of a post booking solution such as the Travelexic customer experience solution – will let you pre-schedule engagement notifications, tour reminders and daily check-ins.
Step 10: Take the time to understand your customers: This exercise is crucial if you want to create a strong customer-experience journey. The idea is to create potential customer personas and build out a customer experience around that. Example: Rohan is 35-years-old; he likes new technology and does his research before travelling; whereas Rajesh (50-years-old) likes personal attention and needs clarity on every little detail. He needs help with pretty much everything.
Pro tip: Invest in a dedicated CRM for travel agencies to maintain customer data that can then be utilized once the profiles are in place.
Step 11: Collect feedback and respond aggressively in the event of a goof-up: Build a strong mechanism to collect feedback since it will allow you to assess how customers are responding to your services. Additionally, it will tell your customers that you care and will allow you to manage your vendors better.
According to Lee Resources, a customer is 70% more likely to do business with a brand, if a complaint is resolved in their favour. In other words, you can retain users even after an occasional goof up just by being empathetic and attentive to their problem.
Pro tip: Best time to solicit feedback is when the customer is still on the trip, preferably on the last day. It becomes difficult to get feedback once he is back. Use travelexic customer solution to pre-schedule a feedback notification.
Step 12: Have a retention strategy in place: Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits anywhere from 25% to 95%. Retaining a customer is a combination of great service or empathy in the event of a goof up and being top of the mind, especially at the time of their next purchase cycle.
Pro tip: Great way to do this is to collect customer data such as birthdays and anniversaries, passport expiry dates. Wishes and information that are in their interest are more likely to be viewed favourably and keep you in their minds. Moreover, build a loyalty program structured around offering room upgrades, and a strong referral program.
Additionally, you could consider using the Travelexic agenda APP that stays active well past a tour and can be used to push notifications. Additionally, the app leaves the itinerary and YOUR agency contact behind, so they may retain the APP.
Step 13: Constantly up-skill your team: Last but not the least, closely inspect your team members and their performances. You’d want to especially note the customer approval ratings and address the problems as and when they appear. Upgrade their destination knowledge and help them build a customer-oriented mindset. That may involve giving up on short term gains and being focused on long-term customer life-time value.
To sum it up, the prioritization of the above suggestions will depend greatly on the stage of development of your business. There are technology solutions in the market that can potentially help you achieve the above objectives that range from lead management systems, travel CRM, Post booking agenda APPs, and even comprehensive travel management software that covers all or some of the above functions. Spend your time and do your research since, in most cases, this will have a direct impact on the longevity and sustainability of your business.