There’s no way out. The Social Web is not only changing the way we use the internet and interact with one another, but also changing the travel industry profoundly. If travel agents were until recently key in the sector, customers are now queuing at websites’ and apps’ access doors, rather than at a travel agency’s entrance door.
The web, made social, is shifting the way we look for information, not only for research or updated data, but mostly for the activities we perform every day. From a running track to a cooking recipe, to an alternate route to avoid the morning traffic.
When it comes to the travel industry, people are majorly relying on accurate and unique crowd-sourced material from the social web.
The Role of a Travel Agent: Then and Now
As a travel agent you would suggest flight options and best connections, hotels around the preferred location, and even an entire destination, if the traveller was undecided.
You were the one who knew about the attractions to sign-up for in the area. You were managing the agreements with the local facilities to offer clients the best activities.
You were the lead star of a traveller’s journey plan. Countless businesses have been relying on travel agents to promote and to sell, face to face, their products. Travel agents were the local outpost for a company, reaching potential customers each business could not get to individually.
But all that has fundamentally changed with the arrival of the web, and now with the social web.
Apps Come Into Play for Disruption
The internet has pushed businesses in the travel industry to reinvent themselves. Customers now have access not only to all their products in great detail, but also have the easiness to compare them with competitors’ offering, and see for themselves any valuable difference.
The growth in the mobile web usage has empowered a great number of mobile apps to appear. Aimed at making the life of a traveller easier during various phases of a journey, apps now exist for inspiration, selection and booking of an entire trip. And during the journey, mobile users browse the social web in search of best restaurants or attractions, nearby their location. Research from New Media Trend Watch shows that 74% of travellers use social media during their vacation.
This number, backed up by Nielsen Research findings (adoption of travel apps is the highest for any industry, with 116% growth in 2012 compared to the previous year), shows the power of the social web and mobile apps available to virtually any traveller today.
Travellers want, above all, a great experience. Travel apps deliver the discoveries and adventures of peer tourists, information that’s most valued when looking for a certain atmosphere in a destination. In contrast, travel agents are still focusing on getting the client the “best deals”. Low prices are now easy to find anywhere on the web, but experiences can only be shared by and learned from previous travellers.
There is a divide between the approach of travel agents and the travellers’ wishes.
Changing Shifts for Staying in Business
So where does all this leave you, the travel agents? What is your value if customers now can get access to the same products as a professional? How can you reinvent yourselves and your role in order to stay in business?
The only option is to stop selling deals and to start selling unique experiences.
Developing your online and offline image as experts will attract more prospects looking for information. To do this, your communication style needs to shift from promotional to informational. Create content specific to your niche and make it accessible online. Grow your social media presence, where you share your knowledge and connect continuously with potential clients or current travellers.
People who choose a travel agent today don’t have enough time to swim and search in the ocean of travel related information. If you offer a personalized service, filled with valuable tips, your reputation will improve, and you will raise the chances that travellers come to you.
Highly specialize and share your knowledge to stay afloat in today’s travel industry, filled with crowd-sourced data. Like, for example travel agents who are dedicated to volcano tourism in Alaska; or others, focusing on adventure tracks to Machu Picchu. You’ll have fewer competition and more travellers knocking at your virtual door.