Automation is not a change. Automation is a CHANCE!
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
Operating in a survival mode and with some signals of market recovery, travel agencies together with industry suppliers need to adapt quickly if they want to lead the way during recovery and become stronger or more adaptable than before. Automation provides the edge travel agencies need to become more competitive and build a more resilient business for the new waves of travelers to serve.
A chance for travel agencies
to work smarter, not harder.
Where did automation start? In 1750, Great Britain textile industry was importing 2.5 million pounds of raw cotton. 50 years later, this number multiplied 20 times, up to 52 million pounds, and in the next 50 years, the industry reached an astonishing figure of 588 million pounds of imports. In the same time frame of 50 years, we’ve witnessed 2 different evolutions: 50 million pounds growth vs. 526 million pounds growth.
Why this difference? The answer is automation. Demand drove production. Production need had forced capacity. And just as the 18th century represented the beginning of the first industrial revolution. Change was driven by the market and the environment at that time. The pandemic created by COVID 19 might represent the start of a new Automation Revolution for our time.
Before the 20th century, automation was used in industrial domains, however in the past decades it has been introduced IT and tech and services industries consumed differently than the ones producing goods. The causes and the need for automation technology, have somehow been the same before this new normal.
Then, it was a matter of capacity. For industrial automation, the purpose is well-defined: to improve the efficiency of manufacturing a multitude of particular & different goods. It takes away the complexity of managing capacity and resources. Referring to services automation, the goal is to improve efficiency by implementing a process that is autonomous and replaces an individual’s manual labor in specific parts that are routine-based. It relieves the service provider of the repetitive tasks that require time but do not add value to his work or enhance the customer experience.
How does this apply to the travel services?
Now, after a year in a pandemic, as we speak of the entire tourism industry, the most hit industry without a question, we acknowledge that we are facing still a shocking decrease in demand for travel services due to government restrictions, destination uncertainty, and lack of travelers’ mobility. Lack of demand is forcing the industry to focus on the few people that can travel or on the destinations that still allow to get in. Quarantine is the nemesis of travel. Business travel continues to face the most challenges as governments lack vision and are not aligned in decisions.
In order to restore traveler confidence all suppliers involved in the travel supply chain will need to work together in order to get new business coming in. It will not come by itself.
How do we justify the need for automation in travel now?
The travel agency of today plays a bigger role in the travel supply chain than before. Selling travel is harder today than it was before the pandemic changed the way we travel. So, this means the travel agency is becoming not only an entry point for the purchase to happen but is shifting to a more active role as an advisor and counselor for the traveler.
The amount of information and data that a travel consultant needs to possess about the product has increased tremendously. Now they need to give information about the destination, about the conditions, restrictions, government policies, transport supplier requirements, services available for health, documents needed to travel, the journey itself. The way they convey this information to the traveler and the tools they use to do this are another story.
Customer behavior demands supplier behavior. Some will seize the opportunities the new wave of travelers will bring, others will be left behind. As we were saying in a previous article, this is a triathlon and only some will win in the long run.
However, this does not mean travel suppliers and travel agencies are not busy in the meantime. Work in travel has changed as traveler needs have changed. Low demand puts a lot of pressure on travel businesses financials and cash-flow but also pushed them to reduce their teams, their main resource.
If we consider that increase in capacity & volume drove the need to automate in other industries, how do we justify the need for automation in travel now? Capacity in travel had to be reduced in a drastic manner due to the low level of revenue and the need to cut costs rapidly. Resources are now working at survival level in travel agencies barely making break-even between commission level and expenses level. Travel agencies must deliver more with less and... faster.
The “be prepared for anything” scenario & last-minute scenario
Organizations are now much slimmer in travel businesses which means capacity was lost, but moreover, skills and expertise were lost. And there is a certain gap that organizations in travel will need to cover fast when demand will pick up.
Seasonality has changed in travel.
Traveler behavior is not as it used to be before 2020. Work from anywhere and remote offices have changed patterns for good. There are shifts in customer acquisition behavior that forces travel businesses to be prepared for the anything scenario. Customers expect faster answers as they are making decisions last minute due to changes in the working environment.
Let’s take an example. A new employee starts to produce 3-6 months after he joins. If they have some past experience. While the rise of demand for a certain destination or type of travel service is now. Travel agencies need to stay ahead of the curve and deliver faster than they did before with new skills. They need to be more agile and steer the wheel based on the actual skills & capacity.
What are the alternatives for travel agencies?
Travel agencies have two options: keep doing the same things they have done before the pandemic, “If this provided us success before, why shouldn’t provide it again” or challenge the “status quo”.
Changing may mean finding new ways to increase work efficiency and improve productivity while keeping the costs down with the help of new tools like automation technology. Changing may mean a shift of focus. We shall need more time spent on the sale than on the technical part of our job. Change may mean we need to do better certain aspects of the job that are more related to traveler communication.
Looking at the travel industry we can talk about basic automation like:
Business Process Automation and Robotic process automation,
Process Automation like Auto-Invoice and Workflow automation,
Integration Automation like connecting own systems to share data between them,
Artificial Intelligence Automation if we are thinking of using chatbots for providing basic customer service.
Depending on the structure of each travel agency, the outcome provided by automation may vary and may impact the business in different ways. However, the agencies will benefit from a better quality of service and consistency with an enhanced customer service. They will save time for agents so they can focus on value-added services, and improved operational efficiency that will also bring visibility on specific performance metrics, and a lower cost of doing business by servicing more customers with a reduced team.
Many people are saying that the travel industry is complex and it is. Some can say this is the beauty of it. For the whole product to be sold or even consumed, you need at least 3 suppliers involved and you do need a central point to cover everything.
Whenever processes are complex, automation is the solution for streaming the operational model. What makes it more interesting is that the current pandemic provided in a forced manner, both the time and the need for the travel industry to change.
What changed for travel agencies?
Traveler needs have changed.
The need for security and safety trump other needs. Maybe this is an opportunity for the travelers, as well, to step away from their previous transaction-based relationships driven by price and to look for more caring suppliers focused on their safety, wellbeing, or experience. Travelers will need more information to make a decision and they will need to trust their supplier is doing everything for them to be safe. Customer service and post-booking assistance are playing a bigger role now in the whole process. This is an opportunity that travel agencies need to seize and take advantage of the tools that can make their life easier.
Customers now have different expectations from their provider and the challenge is that the time spent on delivering on them will press the travel agent to joggle between customer, supplier, and new travel conditions. Speed in providing answers and customer support will be an important brand differentiator for this new normal.
Trust, in the travel agency brand cemented by the travel consultant, and the constant delivery of professional services will weigh a lot for an anxious traveler. Emergencies will be the new normal and experts in solving tough situations will retain customers for the long run.
Why should a travel agency use automation?
Travel consultants need to spend more on the customer now than before. Their previous expertise is priceless and their know-how will help them overcome some of the challenges. However, they need more focus and time to spend with the traveler. Communication channels are multiple and sometimes overlap. They need technology to work for them. So, they can free time of the technical processes they have been doing themselves for years and years. As service providers, they need to spend more time with the customer than with their systems. Automation gives them the edge they need in order to make the jump to the next level as professionals and as consultants.
Automation has been helping service providers for some years now. The quest for greater efficiency, better productivity, and lowering the costs represent key drivers in today’s world. Why shouldn’t we make use of the latest technologies and streamline the operational model in the travel industry?
Automation-led efficiency can be condensed into three essential areas:
And these are very important aspects of service-based businesses that need to be taken into account by travel agencies.
Bill Gates is famous for saying: “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Service providers like travel agencies are well-set to leverage their experience and gain from the productivity boost that results from automating technical aspects of their business. It grants them flexibility to shift energy, resources and focus, from ordinary routine tasks to more important aspects of the customer relationship development. It is just a matter of want and focus. Automation doesn't get the job done by itself and cannot work without the vast expertise of travel agents who know the processes and the show-stoppers to their productivity.
Travel agencies are accountable for the professional delivery of their services. They are also responsible for making the service delivery over a longer period of time – either flight, hotel room or transfer booking - in such a way that all their services form a unified product entity. Services or orders from a single customer are often split between multi-expertise people within the agency who are cooperating with tens of suppliers. Successful service delivery requires smooth collaboration across different team roles and multiple systems.
Automation tools and technology ensure an efficient delivery of travel services without unplanned interruptions. Services are delivered according to the travel agency standards, business Key Performance Indicators and customer contracted Service Level Agreements.
Service consolidation supervises the service quality and is responsible for unifying and harmonizing service processes across multiple touchpoints and a multitude of service providers.
Businesses that resist streamlining their processes and don't adopt the discipline of well-delivered service will always struggle to provide a good experience for customers. Businesses that are not paying attention to the way they work going forward will be suffering.
As the metaphor goes, steering a small boat is easy. However, when your boat grows into a ship, things get trickier. Now the volumes are at a level when bringing a new tool onboard may be easier than when your volumes are higher. Preparation will pay off when growth is targeted and survival mode will be left behind.
Give us a call @ 0040 742 67 47 14 and we will show you in a demo the benefits of using automation for your travel agency. Or leave us a message @ firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.