There are over 1,000 ITCs (independent travel consultants) in South Africa. And this number will grow significantly in coming years. With its flexibility and independence, it’s an increasingly attractive career for those new to the travel industry as well as seasoned agents looking for a lifestyle change.
But, it’s not without its challenges. Like most sectors, travel is being “disrupted”. In other words technology is creating new demand for its countless products and services by rethinking old business models and behaviours. Here Rian Bornman, founder of FlightSiteAgent, rounds-up his ten top tech trends that are set to influence travel and how you can adapt.
- The Sharing Economy: On 2014’s New Year’s Eve, 500,000 people stayed in an AirBnB proving the power of peer-to-peer. And while accommodation and taxi services can expect to see these numbers increase as more people become comfortable with the concept, it’s unlikely to affect travel. Why? Because 80% of the R37bn travel industry in South Africa is still booked through a travel agency. Agents add value to the booking process by servicing government, corporates, and small businesses more effectively than they could do themselves. In the leisure space as an ITC you add value by giving expert advice to seasoned as well as first-time travellers. The human touch remains important in the South African market.
- Companies that rethink the customer experience will be more likely to succeed: A recent survey by E&Y shows only 1 in 4 customers are now brand loyal. This indicates that customers are becoming less influenced by traditional brand building, like billboards and TV advertising, and more value is being placed on the overall customer journey. Companies that focus on delivering experiential customer journeys are more likely to build repeat business because customers now buy experiences and not just products.
- Increased interest in the African market: International players like Booking.com see Africa as the last frontier in terms of global expansion so expect to see an explosion of international travel sites in the African market. As our travel market matures we’ll see the emergence of two types of players survive and then dominate: Large OTA’s that compete successfully for the broader market using their size and scale or specialised vendors who focus on a niche segment. Travel agents who cannot compete on a large scale would do well to take a step back and consider specialising within their business. Very few online travel agencies who appeal to the broader market will survive because this will require large resources deployed at a competitive advantage.
- The use of data: We’re producing tons of data and every business, no matter how big or small, that gets to grips with how to use this information is likely to succeed. ITCs that gather information on how their customers book, where they travel, what they book and when they book can speak to their clients in a personalised way, which increases the chance of converting a sale.
- The massive influence of User Generated Marketing: Thanks to the rapid rise of social media, advertising your business is now in the hands of your customer. If they like you, they’ll tell everyone about your business for you via Instagram, Tripadvisor, Facebook, Twitter and now Storie – for free! It’s in your interest to understand these new marketing channels and use them to engage customers on a social level.
- The new walk-in is mobile: Years ago hotels would try and attract walk-ins with last minute specials. Nothing has changed, except now hoteliers target smart phones with same day booking specials. However, this is not to say that the role of the agent is dead. As a PhocusRight study pointed out recently “Mobile devices will certainly not be replacing agents. True, mobile can be a useful tool for on-the-go product research and some of the more simple booking processes, but many bookings are just more easily and conveniently done with the assistance of an experienced, live human being.”
- The rise of meta-search: Meta-searches like Kayak and Momondo.com do a better job than Google in searching for the best fare and then sending the customer to book at the airline or travel agent supplier website. These handy sites will grow in prominence this year in South Africa.
- ITC growth in South Africa: The fastest growing segment of the travel industry remains the Independent Travel Consultant and this will continue as agents value the flexibility of being self employed using great technology to work on the move.
- Desktop decline: Online players need to invest in the best responsive experience possible as users check a price on mobile, research more on a tablet and perhaps book on a laptop or even still a desktop. The only behavioural certainty is that it could be any device and unlikely to be a PC.
- The African traveller: Companies that gain a deeper understanding of how to effectively communicate to the rising black middle class market segment using available technology and data will uncover untapped potential.