Where has all the Inspiration gone?

Amadeus recently commissioned a Phocuswright study into Online Search habits, across both developed and developing nations, in order to create the framework for a set of round table debates, which I have been moderating.

The report highlighted that 50% of customers do not know which destination they want to go to at the beginning of their holiday search and are frustrated by both tour operators and OTA’s search tools. The vast majority of these require the customer to know what they want before they have even searched e.g. what departure airport, destination or dates.

In the old days customers popped into a Travel Agency and picked up holiday brochures, which allowed them to flick through a wide range of destinations and gain inspiration about where to go on holiday.

In the move to online booking we seem to have lost sight of this initial requirement and although I am sure many companies will respond to this blog claiming that their “Special offer sections” or regular email shots serve to inspire their customers, I remain unconvinced.

In my opinion, the online community is doing a poor job at “inspiring” customers or allowing them to search across destination boundaries and it’s certainly a focus I will be trying to apply to my own sites moving forward.

The channels best placed to service the need for inspiration or destination recommendation are undoubtedly the retail shop and homeworking communities. However, these channels often face the prospect of customers using their services free of charge and then proceeding to book online, either to take advantage of the lower prices for the same holiday or the extra convenience offered by online channels.

It’s a perennial problem, which explains the continued focus of companies like Thomas Cook on delivering a multi-channel approach to travel retailing, in order to service the customers with the appropriate tools at each stage of their holiday booking journey.

However, the fundamental problem is the requirement to offer competitive prices online, whilst carrying the extra overhead of the service delivered in the shop network.

Sooner or later, all multichannel retailers, we will need to have the same price’s offline as online and charge customers a service fee, if they want the expert advice travel agents can provide.

During the round table debate on luxury this week the words “Trusted Advisors” came to the fore. Experts in the luxury field felt that the key to success, was gaining the trust of clients to rely on their recommendation and expertise in pulling together a portfolio of “Luxury” product for them. All players saw the web as little more than a lead generator and call qualifier for their expert staff, based either in call centres or high street shops.

Although I understand and support this approach, I do agree with criticism made by Distributes Giles Parnell, that it’s actually very hard to research “Luxury” holidays online. Giles also criticised luxury players for not engaging with comparison sites or creating a “Luxury” portal to allow customers to shop across destinations or operators.

At the moment I think it’s the often-criticised “Flash Sale” sites such as Travelzoo and Secret Escapes, which are doing the best job of inspiring customers by offering a wide range of luxury holidays at affordable prices. I know I have booked a few trips via them that would otherwise not have occurred to me.

Anyway, a big thank you to WTM and Amadeus for giving me free access to some great experts, who certainly left me inspired and with a few ideas on how to tackle the luxury sector.