Why don’t high street travel agents inspire customers?

14 Jul

Travel Agent Customer Experience

My girlfriend and I always seem to have real trouble finding a holiday, mainly because the brochures never seem to tell us what we actually want to know, like is the resort likely to be full of Brits abroad, Irish Pubs and McDonalds or can we find a bit of traditional food and culture here.

This time we decided to go for the easier route. So we decided on a budget, we picked a couple of dates we could both do and we set off to our local travel agent. Excited, we sat down in front of a friendly travel consultant and announced that we wanted a holiday in a quiet resort, self-catering, with a pool, around the first two weeks in September. We looked at the travel agent expectantly, she responded with a tired look and asked which resort and apartments we wanted to go to. Right here is where my experience breaks down, and I’m sure so does the experience for many other customers.

Improving travel agent customer experience is key to survival

I don’t want to have to paw through several brochures reading the same old marketing speak which makes every resort sound the same. I want to go to a ‘consultant’ for inspiration and advice. How hard can it be to recommend a quiet resort with self catering? I appreciate there are hundreds, but that’s what you get paid for isn’t it? Otherwise I can do all this independently on the internet and cut you guys out of the picture. Oh wait, that’s what consumers are doing.

For some time now industry experts have predicted the death of the high street travel agent. The stats seem to agree, with one report suggestion that only 7% of us are using the high street to book holidays abroad. If they are to survive, particularly in an uncertain economic climate, travel agents must provide an experience to really compete with the online channel.

The current in-store customer experience only works when customers know exactly what they want

Many of the high-street retail staff are called ‘travel consultants’. A dictionary definition of a consultant is “one who gives expert or professional advice” which is not the experience customers are offered when they are unsure where to go. Instead, they’re handed brochures, told to choose a resort and a couple of hotels and then come back. This places the travel consultant more in the role of a glorified booking agent.

High street travel agents need to adopt a more active role in recommending and inspiring

To improve customer experience travel agents need to be trained to recognise the customers need and provide a service that matches. When customers have vague ideas of what they want, travel agents should recognise the need to play a more inspirational role to match the customer needs to a few different choices and guide them through the process to make a final decision. It’s no surprise that they are losing potential customers to online agents when customers are forced to research the holidays themselves.

Are you responding to your customers needs?


Related services: Customer requirements capture, and Customer experience research



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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

  • http://www.crete-hotels-rooms.com/ Lina Zaproudi

    Damian, it is interesting to hear about the experience you've had with the high street agent – and not surprising.

    I think high street travel agents have it very hard these days, what they are offering and the way they are offering it is stale, uninspiring for most people who want to travel.

    What we have thought is the best way to serve people who want to travel:
    - First we specialize in one area that we know really well (Greece & Crete)
    - Then we provide in-depth destination information (not "boilerplate" introductions), including what a place "feels like", how to get there (air/ferry/bus schedules) and all sorts of other updated practical information.
    - When a customer has some idea of things they would like to see or do, or has home in on some hotels but wants to discuss differences and choices (so they make sure they make the right decision), we are there to help by answering ALL their questions.
    It's really like having a friend who knows you very well, but also knows the place you want to travel to, so he/she can advise you and suggest what would be best for you.
    Not just where to stay, but what itinerary would fit your wishes, what you must see, what to avoid etc. (and certainly if a place is packed with "package" tourists – which is not what our customers are looking for).

    So it is a "marriage" of the traditional, face-to-face, travel agent rapport, with the convenience of online easy-to-browse information and email communication.
    Our customers truly appreciate this, and our only hope is that they all realize they CAN ask us any questions. This way we ensure they will love what they book.

    Closing, an example of delivering superb customer experience in this way:
    Recently a customer (or as we call them "guest") mentioned in her enquiry that they would love to see the spring flowers.
    Remembering that we had taken photographs of some beautiful wild flowers in the area where they would stay, including an endemic flower, I searched my photos, looked up the flower name in a plant book and send her the photos and instructions about where to go to find it.
    Do you think she was amazed? Of course she was!

    It is just great when we can help people in this personal, meaningful way, even via email.
    (better than the bored travel agent at the shop!)