Arun Bagaria, Co-founder, TravClan shares his expertise with the readers
In 2019, the year before the pandemic, Indians went on over 25 million international trips and over 1.8 billion domestic trips. COVID-19 has been a huge body blow for the travel industry. However, as more people get fully vaccinated, there will be significant demand for travel all over the world. There are major changes which act as an opportunity for travel agents to regain prominence in the minds of the traveller.
Keep an eye on latest changes and unfolding
The role of a travel agent is evolving from ticketing to advising. Today, travel agents act as travel planners just like a financial planner. Just like a financial planner, advises his/her client over the ups and downs in the financial market, today, there are lot more of frequent changes in travel regulations, entry requirements and facilities. Things could change 360 degrees between the time of booking to the date of boarding the flight. Online platforms are not built to handle these complexities and hence are not able to advise their customers. That is the reason why several customers are now preferring to use travel agents. Depending on destinations, travel agents need to stay updated regarding the actual travel restrictions and be capable of providing prompt answers to any queries and concerns of the travellers. Good travel advisors are able to share verified and latest news and information, and dispel rumours and avoid hearsay.
Strengthen online presence
In case as a travel business you haven’t already joined the online world, now is a great time to create a robust presence in the form of a website and social media presence. With mandatory requirements such as valid hotel bookings and approvals even for domestic tourism, online presence and booking infrastructure is a must. Social media is going to be crucial in connecting with the customers and building brand reliability through credible and consistent messaging.
As a travel brand, it is important for agents to build a reliable online/offline communication. Whether someone calls, messages on WhatsApp or posts a comment on social media, the response has to be prompt, coordinated and consistent. This will generate trust among the target audience and lead to greater business opportunities.
As travellers are still going to be wary of the pandemic and many of them would be travelling after a long gap, there are going to be a lot of queries throughout the journey. Agents need to expertly and empathetically answer each query and work with the tourists as a guide and as an advisor. The quality of response is going to lift the customer experience and is the most definite way way to ensure recurring business as well as word of mouth referrals.
Customise your services
While most of the travellers will still be budget conscious and keen to get best prices, we are seeing that customers are understanding that services will be costlier. The priority for most travellers will be to get a safe and memorable experience without any hassles and unpleasant surprises. Personalised accommodations, private vehicles, custom food and sight-seeing opportunities as well as flexible itineraries are going to be sought after value-additions. It is extremely important to provide timely quotations to your customers in a professional manner with your own personalised travel branding and touch.
Travel agents will have to be ready for out-of-course requests, on-the-go changes in travel plans, and travel logistics uncertainties. The reputation of a travel organiser will hinge on the ability to anticipate and accommodate such changes without causing discomfort or risks to the travellers.
Travel providers going forward will need to be willing to be flexible in terms of advance payments, mode of payments, refunds for cancelled or unused services etc. For instance, if due to any reason, a traveller doesn’t board the flight or doesn’t use all the services in the package, the agents need to be considerate and willing to charge less or refund wherever possible.
There is no doubt that travel will bounce back strongly and the time is not far. However, travel agents need to adopt technology, work with quality suppliers and offer flexible terms to customers. High customer orientation enabled with technology is essential to thrive in the times to come.