Opportunity knocks Down Under - travel agents eyeing social media and mobileNewsBy Karthick Prabu | June 17, 2013Share This article was originally published on A recent PhoCusWright report (supported by Sabre Pacific) brings out various travel technology trends in the Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) markets.It argues that opportunities exist for agents to service travellers better if they take a deeper dive into new technologies and processes, such as mobile and social media.Major trends impacting travel agencies in ANZ todayFirst, the web brought transparency to the travel process by dramatically improving access to information and enabling consumers to compare prices.Now, the always-connected traveller is changing the way travel is planned, purchased and serviced. Mobile technology is untethering the planning process, providing a new opportunity for travel agents to actively support the planning process.The business traveller has been an early adopter of mobile technology. Though the trip goals are quite different between leisure and business travel, the access to immediate information enabled by mobile devices provides an opportunity to travel agencies and TMCs (travel management companies) to offer new services to business travellers.The common denominator across both segments is the need to have both comprehensive content and the ability to leverage the travel agent’s expertise to augment the travel planning process and in-destination experience.Delivering personalised content and services to smart devices is a key strategy for travel agents to prosper in this always-connected age. Travel agents now have an excellent opportunity to extend personalised services by providing relevant and proactive information and support to the traveller’s smart device.Whether by providing in-destination guides or ground transportation to business travellers, smart devices have ushered in a new era of personalised digital communication.Providing location-based services helps travel agents extend their businesses, enhancing the travel experience for the traveller and offering new revenue opportunities.Opportunities for travel agents with technology changesKeeping up with the pace of technological change is a daunting task for anyone. The rate of this change is accelerating since the introduction of smart mobile devices.The travel industry is particularly impacted by mobile-based innovation, as travel, by its very nature, involves mobility. Any device that is portable can automatically be part of the travel experience.The opportunity for the travel agent is to insert the offline channel into this mobile, digital environment to provide expertise and added value to the travel experience.The impact of social mediaUser-generated content increasingly drives consumer behaviour with regard to supplier choice, especially when it comes to hotels and traveller reviews.Corporate tools that allow social interaction between company employees have a similar effect, but are often only accessible on the corporate network.As reviews become more pervasive for both leisure and corporate travellers, travel agents have an opportunity to balance user-generated content with trusted travel agent advice to ensure that the traveller’s needs are met.A superior room to one individual may be considered substandard by another client. The key is to understand each individual’s requirements so they can be matched with the amenities offered by the property.Opportunities specific to the Australian / New Zealand marketOnline penetration in ANZ will reach 41% of the total travel market for bookings of air, car rental and hotel in aggregate by 2013 – one of the highest penetration rates in the Asia Pacific region and globally.The penetration of smartphones within the total population is at over 50% in Australia and over 40% in New Zealand.There is typically a great deal of overlap between travellers and mobile device owners. Therefore, penetration of smartphone ownership among Australian and New Zealand travellers is likely to be much higher than among the general population.Tablet ownership is also high and adoption is growing rapidly. 20% of Australians between the ages of 15 and 65 currently own a tablet, and 33% of all Australian households include at least one tablet owner. The highest level of ownership is in the 25-44 age group.The lesson here is simple. Australians and New Zealanders have embraced online travel and are early adopters of mobile technology.[caption id="attachment_117131" align="aligncenter" width="550" caption="ANZ Total Travel Market (US $B) and Online Penetration (%), 2009-2013"][/caption][caption id="attachment_117132" align="aligncenter" width="550" caption="Smartphone Penetration in ANZ, 2012"][/caption]Travel agencies must adapt their businesses to support emerging platforms and evolving traveller behaviour. Mobile represents a new communication channel for travel agents to connect with their customers.The opportunity to cross-sell and upsell products based on the traveller’s location is significant. Travel agents can also partner with local providers to offer location-based sales for restaurants, tours and entertainment.Online travel agencies (OTAs) and suppliers have been quick to embrace mobile as a booking channel.PhoCusWright’s Asia Pacific Online Travel Overview Fifth Edition says: "As the OTA space becomes more crowded, mobile distribution is also up for grabs. Between January 2010 and December 2011, traffic to Wotif’s mobile website shot up 366% and its mobile bookings jumped 228%. Webjet estimated mobile traffic would represent 25% of all its traffic in July 2012."Share this quote Clearly, OTAs understand the importance of mobile.Tracking future trendsAs mobile technology evolves into wearable devices and intelligent assistants, inserting travel agent expertise and advice into the digital process presents an enhanced opportunity to provide relevant and meaningful services to all types of travellers.This new level of competition is all about the delivery of smart services that are relevant to the traveller.No agency – whether a traditional travel agency, a TMC, or an OTA – can survive if customers believe they have better information than the agency, but access to unlimited information does not translate into travel expertise.Travel agents, who have deep knowledge of destinations, need to use this knowledge to provide expert insight into the travel planning process and deliver location-based services that enhance the travel experience.Travel agents will survive and prosper if they are able to demonstrate their value to the consumer. In the mobile age, that value must translate into flexible, rapid response that marries the always-connected traveller with information that matches the traveller’s personal preferences and is tailored to the traveller’s location.Strategies to benefit from emerging trendsa) Integrating consumer web and mobile travel planning with agent expertiseAs more travel planning moves to web and mobile platforms, travel agents need to embrace the always-connected reality of their customers.The key is to recognise that the traveller may be planning online at any time of day on multiple devices; supporting that planning process is critical.Providing a mobile web-optimised tool for smartphones and tablets can help customers organise their searches and save travel elements for review by the travel agent. This is an excellent strategy to embrace and meet this unrestrained travel planning phenomenon.b) In-destination servicesTravel agent’s role no longer ends with the issuing of documents. Progressive travel agents are in ongoing communication with their customers and offer tips and suggestions across the entire trip life cycle through web and mobile channels.This communication not only provides relevant services to the customer, but enhances the bond between agent and traveller.Itinerary aggregation tools will also provide a joint platform for travel agents to provide their customers with in-destination suggestions backed by agent expertise.c) Social media for promotionsThe prevalence of travel agencies, both offline and online, promoting specials of all types via social media will continue to gain momentum.Whether by creating a Facebook fan page or a Twitter following, successful travel agents will embrace both a broadcast model to offer promotions as well as a segmentation strategy that provides promotions to select followers based on their social media preferences. d) Social media for customer serviceWith mobility allowing social media postings during the trip, progressive travel agents will monitor traveller activity and proactively provide customer service when something goes wrong and is expressed via social media.e) Social media to provide user-generated hotel ratingTravel agencies must embrace user-generated reviews and encourage customers to rate their travel experiences with hotels, cruises and tours. Agencies must also be open to allowing customers to rate agencies’ own services.Deploying a user-generated platform for the ratings to be shared either on the web or mobile devices is becoming a requirement.User-generated reviews from a travel agency’s actual customers can be more influential than reviews from unverified sources, and the travel agent can ensure that only actual travellers have the ability to create a review. As a result, other agency customers are more likely to trust the reviews.