Let’s do a reality check, How many of Travel Agencies would still exist 5 years from now? The Answer is only those that are open to Innovate, Learn and ask for help. The problem that Plagues the Travel Industry is Self Medication, Travel Companies are reluctant to ask for help believing we can replicate what successful companies are doing. This is akin to self-medication, Similar symptoms don’t necessarily mean the same medication, but the Sad truth is that is what we do. This would eventually sound the death bell for a lot of companies in the next 5 years.
Change is a constant, the Mighty of yesteryears have fallen hard, really hard and a new breed of travel companies have come up. Some successful some have already faded into oblivion. The way the technology is changing, companies need to keep pace or they would cease to exist.
A decade ago, if you wanted to buy a Flight Ticket you went to your Travel Agent who would help you with the best fare and get you that Package that you wanted. People largely chose from what was on offer. A vast majority of these travelers today can get a better deal online, from the comfort of their dining room without having to step out. Same goes for Holidays as well. The big travel agencies have today shrunk some already closed shop and moved on. Business Models have changed and those who Innovated are still around and as long as they change they would be around.
The Customers / Leads / Potentials today have a plethora of choices and are not restricted to geographies. If we want to buy a Holiday package we don’t have to be content with what is on offer in our own geography itself, we can go online and in the shortest possible time get the best deal we can ask for at a price point we want.
Based on our research there are 2 buying patterns for the customers. 1 is those who are looking for deals (destination is not always of importance) these people would go anywhere as long as they get a deal and the others are the ones who know where they want to travel to and expert advice can help change the budgets. The former who are deal seekers are usually new travelers who are starting out (could be young or old) and over a period of time usually by their 4th or 5th trip they start falling into the latter category where they have experienced how travel has an impact on them and how experiences can transform them.
To Travel is to learn and explore new cultures, collect new experiences and create memories.
During my stint as an Inbound Sales Head for DMC’s, It used to be a Pleasure for me to sell such experiences to my Travel Colleagues in Europe and USA and the reactions you got from the Travellers once they were on the ground and had experienced these, was a reward in itself. Thanks largely to the experiences that I promoted some as a Trip Leader and some as a DMC, I made some amazing connections and a lot of these are still friends with whom I stay in Touch with even today even after 15 years. The thread that joined us was the experiences, and how we all grew collectively as a result of this experience and the time spent in each others company, collecting this experience.
In the Middle East, based on my Interaction with over 1500+ Travel Agents, I see less and less of these experiences being promoted, everyone seems to be in the Rat race for selling me-too travel. This can be best compared to the over the counter medicines that are sold. It’s the Same product but with a few tweaks here and there and then these companies wonder as to why they are not making any money and why the end customers are not loyal to them. First, you offer no new experience to your prospective customers, you show no innovation and then you wonder why they don’t buy from you. It’s easy for a Travel company to blame the customer because then it was something which was outside our control.
Based on the Feedback that I have
A) Personally collected from End Users and
B) Via my client DMC’s,
End users / Travellers / Customers would willingly pay extra if the seller would educate them about the same and saved them the time to do the research. If they saw Value in the end product being sold and the experience was in line with what they wanted. (Listening to what the customer really wants rather than offering what you have)
I take here my favorite feedback that I had collected firsthand in Kenya, June 2017 I was in Kenya on a Safari, we went on a Balloon Ride in Masai Mara National Park (Probably one of the best experiences of my life till date) Each balloon has a capacity of 14 People, In Our Balloon as luck would have we had 12 Ex-Pats from UAE and 2 Kenyans (My Client and her daughter) Now the feedback that I had received in UAE from the Travel Industry was that Balloon experience is a difficult sell as it is expensive. However when talking with the 9 other Ex-pats who were on this Balloon ride, I realized that they valued the experience over the expense. The grievance / Feedback (4 People, Indian Ex-Pats) was that of the over 30+ Travel Agents they had spoken to majority of Travel Agents could only offer them a Cheap holiday packages and knew absolutely nothing of the destination hence they were not considered, Only 2 had the expertise to make suggestions to them but their pricing was way too high and hence the Business went to a Kenyan DMC directly. The best part of the feedback was, If they as customers could do the research and find out what were the must do things, why did the Travel Agents whose very livelihood depends on this, not do the same. Why did they not have differentiated offerings? Made total sense to me.
As I see it, Lack of Innovation and professionalism, willingness to change, and having the attitude, we know it all, would be the death of most of these companies. Instead of blaming Your Clients and other Travel Companies, especially the Online Travel Companies, there is a need to learn from them, I think it is time that the Travel companies start looking at what they can do to become different. Offer more experienced based travel. Innovate what you are selling, Offer products that make them stand out.
If you are selling Georgia (3 Night / 4 Days and covering same cities) and 2000 other travel agencies are selling the exact same thing, there is bound to be a price war. No one benefits, You don’t benefit, the customer doesn’t, the DMC on the ground doesn’t and surely the destination Doesn’t.
We don’t educate our clients to begin with, We expect the Tourism Board to do this, Some tourism boards do some don’t. End Result if no one is doing the educating part, customers have to educate themselves and as it happens where they get the most information from is where they end up buying from.
A Simple example, at Bigfoot Marketing we were not happy with what was being sold for East Africa, rather than hoping that the Tourism Board did something we took a different approach. As a DMC on the Ground we organized training for Travel Agencies in Dubai, We opened it to all (even if they were not working with us, if the destination succeeds we would automatically) We invested in flying people across to educate the Industry. We did this and it has paid for us, we were able to change the Stereotype mindset of what was being promoted. We brought about this change by doing our bit to educate our clients. Today our average booking value has increased by over 20% as compared to before the training. We didn’t accept the explanation that only cheap packages sell for Kenya, we brought the change we wanted to see.
Companies that would Survive and grow would have a few key differentiators:
Product Managers: Regional Product Managers would give these companies the Edge, by not overloading a few people with all the destinations rather each product manager knowing what would make their product Unique.
Investing in Travel: Simply having a Product Manager is not enough, the companies need to invest in making these people visit the destination. There is no substitute to experience the destination first hand, what your 5 senses tell you about the destination is what makes or breaks the product.
Provide Trainings: You experience the destination, acquire the Knowledge, next step is to provide a download to your teams who sell and share, your knowledge, till such time that your Key sellers can travel to the destination your training and hand-holding is what gets the company Business and helps in educating and upselling to your potential customers and converts them. Invest in Soft Skills and Operational excellence, The experience of the customer starts with the first lead dropping in, make it good from the begining and you have a higher chance of converting the lead.
Following a Plan: Vision and Mission are not words that should be written on the company board but should be followed in day to day functioning. Vision is your Long-term Plan and mission is what helps you get there. Define a Goal for the next 5 years, then break it down to 1 Year goals and further into 4 Quarters. This ways it is not overwhelming and small wins lead to the fulfillment of the bigger goal. It should apply to all facets of your Business: Product, Training, Operations & Marketing. Deviations to mission might be necessary but the destination (Vision) should not change.
Right People for the Right job: If you pay peanuts you get Monkeys, is true in every respect when it comes to Hiring in any Industry. In my nearly 3 decades in the Tourism Industry, the biggest difference between successful and mediocre companies has been their hiring policy. There are companies who would always hire based on Salary and not on Talent and then they wonder why the teams don’t have new ideas and Innovate.
Feedback: The Single biggest factor in companies success is it’s Owners/Managers ability to deal with feedback. Some Managers are not Leaders and hence unable to take feedback Objectively. They believe they know everything and don’t need to learn anything new. These people are the biggest roadblocks in company upgrading itself to the Modern Day and age. They choose to live in the past, defy innovation and tend to rule with an iron fist, and are the reason why good employees don’t stick and companies go down.
Content: Best way to educate your customers/leads/Potentials is by sharing quality content. Unfortunately, too much emphasis is placed on Sales pages and not enough on content. The day this is reversed and more effort is placed on content the sales would increase. Blogs, Videos, and experiences when shared in the right way, boost your sales without a hard push.
There is an Urgent need to rethink, consolidate and where necessary get the right help. whether this help is in form of Business Consulting where the whole model needs to be tweaked (A gold brick also need to be put in fire, lose its existing shape to become something of value) or just training. Those companies who are open to changes (internal and external) are the ones who will succeed.