Travel Agents: Don't Ignore Them

By Robert King General Manager, Travel & Hospitality, ClickSquared | March 20, 2010

Weren't travel agents supposed to have disappeared by now, gone the way of the dinosaur and the VCR? At least that's what travel experts have been prognosticating for the past decade. After all, how can a travel agent compete against the likes of Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak, Trip Advisor, and other "do-it-yourself" sites? To be sure, the number of agencies has declined during this past decade – close to 50% based on ARC retail locations.

But to a travel industry marketer it's far more meaningful to determine what portion of the market this channel still represents. In Phocuswright's 2008 Travel Agency Distribution Landscape, travel professionals still accounted for a substantial portion of the market, including:

85% of cruises
70% of all tours and packages
50% of all airline
30% of all hotels
25% of all car rentals

Source: 2008 PhoCusWright Travel Agency Distribution Landscape Report

While the percentage of indirect bookings can vary by organization depending on geography, target market, business/leisure mix, and brand strength, the travel agency segment still matters. Their impact is even more substantial when you include group and meeting planners. In fact, for many travel & hospitality providers, travel agencies still represent a major – if not the largest – channel for guest bookings. Your indirect bookings may be larger than you think.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.