New industry consumer research suggests that travel retailing is
lagging behind other industries amid changing customer needs and
expectations, much of it driven by online purchasing culture.
Speaking during Travelport's recent ‘The Modern Retailing Era’
webinar, chief marketing officer Jen Catto said: “As counter-intuitive
as this may be, retailing is not about selling your products, not in
travel, not in any business. Retailing is about understanding what your
customers need or want, and providing them with the products that make
their lives better."
argued: "Where change is needed is where the most consumers interact
with all the travel possibilities at the agencies. Agencies are the only
places true retail can happen.
Where change is needed is where the most consumers interact with all the travel possibilities at the agencies. Agencies are the only places true retail can happen.
"Carriers might think that they are retailers and they are, in a
limited way reselling their own products, but it's at the agencies,
where there's the opportunity for the full breadth of content choice and
end-to-end customer service, that true retailing occurs."
Catto contrasted the low level of travel agency name recognition with
the most successful global brands in other sectors, such as Apple or
Nike. Travelport's research showed that almost half of leisure
travellers who had booked online could not recall the name of the OTA
used. In corporate travel, 99% of business travellers did not know which
travel management company they had booked through.
Agencies have become overly focused on technology rather than the
customer. Travel agents needed to position themselves "as a service and
not merely as a platform" and "instead of reducing price, agencies need
to add value. And how you add value is by being different from the
competition," she said.
Responding to Travelport's findings, Bryan Koh, divisional vice
president e-commerce & distribution at Singapore Airlines agreed:
"Travel is inherently very complex because we are trying to put many
pieces together to complete a traveller's journey. The complexity is the
confusion we cause our customers because we all try to be different.
But yet we cannot bring that differentiation across in a clear and
transparent manner. I think a lot more can be done to increase
transparency for our customers who are shopping for travel."
Travel is inherently very complex because we are trying to put many pieces together to complete a traveller's journey.... we all try to be different, but yet we cannot bring that differentiation across in a clear and transparent manner.
In Koh's view, one solution is already making an impact. "We are
investing in New Distribution Capability (NDC) because in the NDC data
transmission standard the airlines know who is shopping and therefore we
can return a more relevant offer. We do a lot on our B2C direct
channels such as our website and mobile app and in fact during Covid we
invested a lot in our to better our personalisation engine so that we
are able to differentiate our offers based on who is shopping."
Kyle Moore, Travelport’s Head of Market Insights, outlined what he
saw as the benefits of the company’s solution, Travelport+, which he
said offered “modern retailing tools to truly drive long
term-transformation of the industry”.
Although the research focused on online booking data, Catto noted
that: “Offline agents and TMCs should not be kicking back, thinking that
they've nailed it.” The shift to online purchasing is now well
established that traditional agencies need to respond or risk
“Offline agents, while able to offer a more human experience, really
need to start considering how they will remain relevant to customers who
want to buy online, who want that ease of use, or else they risk going
the way of Blockbuster,” she warned.