In a business world where companies are adjusting their business model to outsource all but the business critical and core activities, in the consumer world we seem to be increasingly insourcing more and more to meet our value for money aspirations. A good example of this is the way in which many of us plan our holidays or other travel needs.
There are a number of reasons that have combined to allow for such a radical change to the business model from an intermediated business model to a direct business model. The first one is that since the package tour rose in popularity in the 60s and 70s we have become increasingly global travellers. We not only have become used to the idea of going further afield but we are increasingly open to new destinations.
Secondly, anyone with an internet connection can get access to the real time data required to put in place all aspects of our proposed trip. We can also check pretty much every aspect of our trip online before we go.
In summary we have adapted our mindset, and we have access to the toolsets required. Where we may still be lacking is in the area of the skillsets required to integrate and create our travel package. This said many of us no longer ascribe value to this service as we believe that we can do it ourselves. This is further reinforced by the online travel companies who often offer a multi-channel approach in the knowledge that their clients will already have done much of the planning and likely need help with the booking.
All of this puts the traditional bricks and mortar business model in a challenging space and it’s interesting to see the various approaches that the players are taking. There appears to be a conscious drift towards the upper end of the market. The leaders in this move have created a luxury look and feel to their high street presence, comfy seats, and travel oriented fixtures and fittings. An almost ‘by appointment’ feel.
They are, excuse the pun, ‘a world away from’ the more traditional travel agent with the cards showing holidays on offer blocking the windows, wall to wall brochures, and a bureau de change at the back. You can visualise the look and feel, but it all creates barriers to the consumers going into the travel agent’s and if they do then they can grab a brochure and run.
Travel curation vs. travel integration
The overall look and feel will become increasingly important to the consumer ascribing value add in terms of service, however, what is increasingly important are the skills of the travel agents themselves. Are they acting as curators to your trip rather than just integrators? To achieve this the business model will have create an experience that goes further than a guidebook or the internet can take us as consumers.
Whilst it’s rare to find someone who has been everywhere and knows everything, most of the big players in the market do have a presence in most locations and therefore if they can leverage that network then they stand a good chance of creating differentiation.
To do this, however, they will need to adapt their business models to change the corporate culture so that everyone is a member of the high street team.
They will need to change individual behaviours to get people ‘on location’ to be receptive to answering questions from the high street as much as the travellers where they are.
They will need to invest in infrastructure to help enable the social interaction between the high street and the front line on location.
And they will have to change some of their processes to perhaps incentivise ‘on location’ staff to create rich content describing their location and which eclipses what guidebooks can offer.
Whilst the above are a few of the steps that would need to be thought about if the traditional travel agent business model is to move the ‘packaged’ approach of the past to success in the current environment where the online business model is well and truly embedded.