Time for travel agencies in North Asia to consider a symbiotic relationship
Lai further added, “Generally, travel agents in North Asian countries are showing similar travel sentiments across the board during the current crisis. One difference though is that in markets like Hong Kong where the financial sector is significantly affected by the downturn some international TMCs have to resort to more drastic cost saving measures like no-pay leave and staff lay-offs.”
It may be one continent, but considering its diversity and structure geographically,
This obviously has surfaced as a major hurdle for any organization in the travel distribution business, offline or online, to expand their business in more than one territory.
Within the region, are there any signs of clubbing various markets in
As a travel facilitator, Abacus backs the same and that, too, with certain statistics and trends.
“It is interesting to see how interdependent the travel industry in
To stress on his observation, Lai referred to the historic direct weekend charter flights between mainland
Agents, too, show similar sentiments across North Asia
Abacus International surveyed more than 40 leading travel agents from
It was found that 30% of the companies surveyed saw automation as a key way to survive the financial crisis.
“Based on a recent survey we did with our key agency customers in mainland
Lai further added, “Generally, travel agents in North Asian countries are showing similar travel sentiments across the board during the current crisis. One difference though is that in markets like
Abacus found that travel agents in mainland
“Internet penetration was at 15.9% and stood at 210 million users in 2007 (Travel Distribution China Report). The number of online travel agencies is increasing in mainland
The traditional agents are also starting to become more aware of the need for automation especially for their internal front, mid and back- office operations. A lot of them have also started to enrich the services offered in their websites.
“While the adoption of such technologies is not at an advanced stage when compared to other markets, we have seen increasing adoption of such technologies by our subscribers in the last couple of years,” he said.
Agents continue to be the centre of attraction
Agents are being increasingly targeted by online consolidators, online travel agents and new booking engines offered by travel technology specialists for partnerships.
Lai agrees and says the number of companies offering such online consolidation and partnerships is indeed increasing.
“Travel agents need to consider factors such as the organisation’s reputation, content being offered as well as the level of service and support that are extended to them before taking up any of the offers,” he said. “GDSs like Abacus provide the benefits of an extensive network of a full range of travel suppliers and expert advice on the travel market. Travel agencies in many markets have come to realise the efficiencies and cost effectiveness that GDSs can offer. To-date, Abacus has partnerships with over 450 airlines and 80,000 hotels. As a result, GDSs continue to serve as the major and in many cases the only booking engine for online as well as offline travel agencies across the world.”
Agents, web and technology
Abacus has also created products such as Abacus WebStart and Abacus Create, offering travel agents a low cost and efficient way to develop an online business without having to invest in a lot of resources and hardware. Travel agents who are traditionally brick and mortar are exploring options of making their services available to the growing number of travelers who are interested in self research and booking.
“At this stage, travel agents going online still rely on a large amount of offline work to complete the whole transaction, but we believe that with the increased Internet adoption and penetration of online payment solutions the online channel will become essential to both the online and offline agents. We have already seen the rapid progress of the online channel in domestic travel, and this trend will soon spread to international travel as well,” said Lai.
In some markets, agents have already started using a range of Web 2.0 options such an image gallery, discussion forums, events calendar, third party applications such as blogs to engage with customers online.
But Lai says
“However, there are quite a few online agencies who are leading the scene such as Eztravel and Yatra; both agencies have a blog. Another online agency, MakeMyTrip.com has a travel stories site. It will be great to see more travel agencies making further use of the available technology to stay engaged with their customers and also to market themselves. E.g. Putting up a focused travel group on Facebook.”
Abacus has already termed mobile phones as the most pervasive form of technology and harnessing the new technology available for the mobile platform must be a central part of travel agents’ strategy for growth.
Lai says the travel industry has the opportunity to drive greater innovation in the mobile marketplace as consumer needs and corporate wants are very much aligned for the sector.
“There are key areas to look at to enhance the overall travel experience: Planning, Promotion, Transaction and Information. Some of these services are already made available to the travelers, e. g., real-time updates and information on flight schedules etc. Some airlines have also made boarding pass available on the mobile devices, especially in the
Lai further added that mobile as a travel tool is still a very context sensitive channel.
Most business and leisure travelers currently use mobile to receive real-time updates and information such as flight delays, gate information and directions.
“The Abacus VirtuallyThere currently offers such services to the travel agent and allows the travel agent to ensure that their customers are kept in the know while on the go. While the capability obviously exists, there is not yet a universal demand for using a mobile to book the next family holiday or corporate trip,” said Lai. “
To capitalize on the technology, travel agents need to think about what they want to achieve with this medium and what their consumers are able and willing to use their mobile phones for.
Benefiting from alliances going forward
Abacus International’s President and CEO Robert Bailey, in the recent past, said travel agencies from relatively mature markets know the real benefits of forming strategic partnerships. They have expressed keen interest in forming alliances with overseas travel agencies and suppliers to strengthen the dynamics of their inbound and outbound business.
Answering a question related to how agents in
“Endowed with a huge geography and diverse sub-cultures,
All of these markets, according to Lai, have become more closely integrated not just in terms of economic links but also socially and culturally, and it is becoming not only an opportunity but a necessity for travel agencies across these markets to establish strategic as well as operational relationship with their counterparts.