Agent training with Wilem Neimijier

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Technology helps us to sift through large amounts of data and present it in a way that makes sense to us. The Internet makes the results available to billions. The travel industry is heading this way too, with the mushrooming of ‘travel platforms’, all seeking to replace the tour operator or travel agent.

On current evidence this isn’t going to happen. Here’s why.

Allowing the consumer to be in touché with the service provider is the ultimate goal. But isn’t adding value the basis of any successful business? With online travel platforms, offering a lower price is usually the only add-on they can come up with.

We’ve seen this before with hotel booking platforms, which took the industry by surprise and reduced good hotel sales people to commodity peddlers. According to the platforms, the only differentiating factors between hotels are price, star rating and a bevy of facilities. This may be true for the time-poor business traveller on a specific budget, but not for the leisure traveller. For them it’s all about the experience. A choice of 1,396 hotels in Bangkok doesn’t help the experience seeker.

It makes little sense then, to take the online platform model and try to force it on to travel experiences that combine hotels, guided tours and recommended ‘do-it-yourself’ discoveries. It doesn’t work because local, authentic encounters and personalised attention are still the measure of a good holiday on the ground.

Travel platforms that have knocked on the doors of Khiri Travel, our destination management company, with offers to replace its traditional clients (tour operators and travel agents) with the ‘opportunity’ to connect to travellers direct are making an essential mistake. These online do not add value for the customer. They merely offer a tonne of produces for them choose from. And unlike the hotel booking platforms, it’s very hard – or even impossible – for the holidaymaker to see if they even get a price advantage.

Conversion rates are a solid way to test the success of online travel platforms.

Dig a bit deeper and you have the answer why nearly all platforms are knocking on everyone’s door saying, “Please upload your products. We’ll take just a little commission.”

They are using technology to let dumb volume replace relevance and efficiency. In other words, if you have 10,000 products and a very small percentage of them attract one or two bookings a day, is that being successful or inefficiency?

Delivering the perfect travel product to the informed customer needs a radical rethink. It’s imperative for tour operators and tour agents to stay on top of local developments in their destinations. Some already do so by shifting their product management to trusted suppliers, leaving them to focus on customer needs.

In the travel industry, delivering on promises isn’t good enough. It’s about exceeding expectations. That is complicated as most travel produced are used once y clients, then expected again or a variation of it in a separate country for next year’s holiday.

However, successful tour operators and their network of suppliers can and do deliver on this as they have a deep understanding of their clients which is built on trust, experience, and in-depth local knowledge of the local possibility available.

The challenge is open for technology to improve on the quality and efficiency this DMC network delivers.