Skift Take

With dozens of online sources available to consumers, travel consultants need the ability to clearly articulate the benefits of consulting an expert.

This sponsored content was created in collaboration with a Skift partner.

Skift recently reported that Travel Agents Struggle to Market Against Online Travel Giants. With the looming threat of direct booking sites and online booking providers, travel agencies need to be able to clearly articulate the advantages consumers get when they work with a travel consultant. That being said, for travel consultants to provide consumers with the level of personal service they seek when working with a professional, they must automate certain standard functions. This frees the consultant’s time, which allows them to focus on providing a much higher level of personalized attention to their clients.

With the number of hats a travel consultant may have to wear — from marketing manager to sales lead — they essentially can’t afford “go it alone.” Today, many travel consultants align themselves with a consortium to help them manage some of the pieces. A consortium is an organization made up of independent travel consultants and agencies that offers members access to benefits like marketing assistance, technology and tools, and ongoing training.

One such consortium is Signature Travel Network. Signature focuses on facilitating relationships between travel agency members and their clients — but that isn’t usually apparent to the end consumer. Signature’s philosophy is to stay in the background and let the agency/consultant own the client relationship.

Staying in the background involves implementing complex technology that allows the travel agency member to maintain their own branding in all marketing communications. Those communications originate from Signature’s vast database of client information, which also houses white labeled marketing collateral, and is accessible to all members. This wasn’t always the case. Even back in 1991, Signature’s then president, Michelle Morgan, had a vision for a consolidated database of member client data. Such a thing simply didn’t exist.

Today, Signature members have access to technology that allows them to record client information and preferences, which all feeds back into a consolidated database. That information, which is input via a digital tool called a Res Card, is updated each day via a database sync. The program automatically analyzes and validates each Res Card for a minimum required set of information. Once a Res Card has been validated as complete, a series of email messages are queued and customized for each traveler’s unique itinerary. All communications are also 100% agency branded.

Booking giants have the advantage of significant data and automation capabilities, but it’s not always responsive and certainly not personal. However, Signature’s agency members have the benefit of establishing and maintaining human relationships based on personal communication, as well as access to tools that will automate certain communication and marketing efforts. For example, 24 hours after a Res Card is issued, a “thank you” email is automatically deployed. That message can be tailored to the unique voice of the travel consultant and customized to be agency branded. Additionally, the system will also deploy a reminder to purchase travel insurance 7 days after the Res Card is issued. However, this message is automatically suppressed if an insurance reservation is detected as a part of the booking.

Additionally, travel consultants have the opportunity to capitalize on a vast database of consumer information and send marketing messages to potential clients who may be interested in, say cruising. From there they can send relevant deals about a specific destination that is of interest to the client.

While it may be true that travel booking sites are taking market share from travel consultants, the service they offer will always be in demand. That service comes back to one thing: the human element. In a marketplace inundated with calls to action from travel companies, it’s important for consumers to understand that there’s another option where a human being will listen to their likes, dislikes, and expectations, and propose expert recommendations for travel and accommodations. It’s also equally important that travel consultants and agencies can automate certain marketing and reservation communications so that they can focus on the personal aspects of sales and customer satisfaction.

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Tags: otas, travel agents

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