When we first commissioned our travel report, we expected to find a decline in high-street popularity, so we weren’t shocked by the idea that just 9% of today’s UK holidaymakers head to their local travel agent. We were surprised to find that this extended to the over 65s sector though, where only 18% ventured onto the high-street to book a trip away.
However, those classic brands clearly still resonate strongly with the public; almost two fifths (39%) of British travellers still search for getaways online through a travel agent’s website.
So, if people still love their traditional travel brands, what’s driving this high-street decline across the industry?
The Three C’s
Convenience, content and comparison. These are just three of the key influencers that keep the public away from the high street – but why?
Whether it’s commuters searching for flight deals to make their early mornings more entertaining, or people spending lunch breaks scouting for hotel discounts, people now have access to travel agent information, at any time, from any location.
This user trend hasn’t just meant that travel companies must consider mobile-responsive websites and the viability of apps, but also forced their hand towards searching for a new purpose for their physical stores.
These days, holidaymakers can quickly consult genuine reviews via social media, or travel-specific review platforms like Tripadvisor.com, as well as satisfy their voracious appetite for video with YouTube hotel tours and travel vlogs.
This is just one of the reasons why innovative travel companies are investing in the likes of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Air France have realised the potential of these technologies, turning their flights into private movie theatres via VR headsets which show “3D and 2D films or series in isolation from the rest of the cabin”.
With all this readily-available information to hand, holidaymakers are taking charge of the booking process too. With just a handful of Google searches, users can compare everything from their favourite hotels to dream destinations, compiling shortlists along the way.
Even for lazy users the process has become a lot easier, as holiday comparison websites have been built specifically to filter user preferences to the point where their perfect holiday can be theirs in just a few clicks.
Bringing Customers Back to the High Street
Enough of the doom and gloom though – let’s stop focussing on what travel agents can’t do, and start looking at what they can do …
Travel decisions are based on emotion, and technology offers the perfect opportunity to use this to your advantage. Champagne on arrival gives the customer that exclusive feel, before your consultant narrows down their needs. Then the technology takes over, and they can travel to their ideal location via VR.
According to recent figures released by Thomas Cook, they owe a boost in bookings to this strategy. While sales of New York helicopter tours increased by 28% after holidaymakers experienced the virtual reality version, Royal Caribbean cruise bookings increased by 45%. Clearly, the persuasive nature of VR is just too strong to for customers to dismiss.
A showcase of expertise goes hand-in-hand with customer service; the more knowledgeable and helpful your staff, the more memorable the experience and the more likely you are to create customer loyalty.
It’s clear from our survey that people still valued that brand expertise, especially amongst 18 to 24 year olds, as 53% of them prefer to book via a travel agent website. Promote the fact that your travel agents know exactly where to go to find the best value, highlighting how your consultants can save the user money as well as time wasted in front of a screen.
There are plenty of other ways that emerging technologies can help improve your customer’s overall experience – artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are great examples.
Let the chat bots make that immediate contact with a new user, asking a series of generic, qualifying questions. This information can then be fed through to a travel agent who can pick up with the new client – a seamless user journey and tailored experience all in one.
Don’t forget the most important reason why people would choose the high-street: the personal touch. Customers like to be treated like an individual, so if you can provide that perfect blend of human and technology, it will give you a huge competitive advantage.
Travel Counsellors did just that with their new app; as a high-end holiday service, they didn’t want to lose the appeal of having a dedicated travel counsellor. So, while customers booked all holiday elements via a person, the app continued the user journey, storing digital documentation, allowing social sharing and so on.
Don’t Forget Your Download…
Less people might be visiting the high-street, but we know customers are still visiting tried-and-tested brands, just via a different medium. So, the question isn’t about the death of the high-street, but about the regeneration of it – how can travel companies give their stores a new purpose?
The answer is, by marrying face-to-face interactions with technology, which will bring those feelings of excitement and escapism back into high-street travel agents.
If you’d like to check out our full travel report on transforming travel through mobile technology, download it here for free now.