There’s an argument that technology dehumanises customer service. It’s not entirely true, but you can’t blame people for thinking that way. Take retail as an example: we can enter a store to try something on and use our phones to purchase clothes without talking to anyone – or we can go online and bypass physical retail outlets altogether. It used to be that people relied on a salesperson’s expertise to advise them on what to buy; today’s shoppers tend to do their own research and rely on the opinions of their peers.
It’s a scenario that isn’t dissimilar to what’s happening in the travel industry. Where travel agents used to be the gatekeepers of travel information from schedules to pricing, today’s travellers can plan their own journeys and book directly with airlines or hotels. However, for many people, travel agents still have a vital role to play in planning the perfect trip.
With the help of YouGov we recently surveyed over 2,000 adults in the UK about their travel habits. Some findings came as no surprise: the most popular airline ancillary purchased was seat reservations (43% of travellers); or 18-24 year olds were more likely to prefer booking directly with an airline over a travel agency than any other age group.
Despite this, people do still look to travel agents for their expertise when it comes to advice about add-on services. When looking at booking ancillaries overall, 13% of travellers said they prefer to book through a travel agency, while 36% prefer booking directly with an airline. But the really interesting point is that a plurality of respondents (38%) has no strong preference. What this means is they may not ask you for an ancillary service but if you ask them, you’ll probably get the sale.
If we break it down even further, looking at specific ancillaries, that plurality holds true for travel insurance (47%), airport parking (44%), pet travel (34%), and musical instruments luggage allowance (36%). In other words, for all these ancillaries more people have no strong preference for who they book with than prefer to book through an airline.
Why go anywhere else?
Travel agencies who actively offer ancillary services along with flight bookings can take advantage of what has until now, been a relatively untapped potential. Travel insurance, in particular, is one ancillary travellers are most likely to turn to travel agents for their expertise before purchasing: 17% have a strong preference for purchasing insurance from travel agents.
It is common to hear that today’s travellers are looking for instant gratification, to go online and book their trip in a self-service fashion. However, many travellers are still looking for simplicity: to book everything in one place, including buying ancillaries along with their flights. Today they may buy ancillary services via the airline website, not because they have a strong preference, but because they don’t know they can buy them through their trusted travel agent.
Technology doesn’t have to dehumanise the services provided by offline travel agents. Far from it. Where ancillary services can be instantly booked at the click of a mouse and at the same time as the flights are confirmed and priced, technology enables travel consultants to concentrate on getting to know their customers’ preferences and deliver a service that takes care of everything. So it’s peak booking period in January but don’t miss a trick. Today there is a great opportunity for travel professionals to sell ancillary services to 51% of UK travellers.
For more information and to see the results of our survey, click here.
For a helpful guide to which ancillary services are available to book in Amadeus for which airline visit www.merchandising.amadeus.com