domingo, 13 de enero de 2013

THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL AGENTS

In the summer of 2013 I attended an English intensive course. It consisted of spending seven days living with ten native English speakers that had little knowledge of Spain’s language. The cottage we stayed at was located in the middle of a mountain range. There is only one thing you can do there: speak English. During those seven days, the only thing that you can do is talk, hour after hour, about whatever you can think about, and whatever the native English speaker decides to talk about.

The first days you just talk about the same things: the place you live, how your life is, your job, and your culture. The English speakers also do same. This way, apart from practising your English skills like in no other part of the world, you learn to live like them, and you also get to know more about life outside the Spanish borders.

At the cottage, I was living with people from USA, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom, Jersey Island and other parts of the world that I can’t even place on a map (although I have now been a travel agent for more than seven and a half years!)

Most certainly, each one had their own peculiar personality (myself included). Because each person belonged to a different place, we all had different cultures, and it attracted our attention to see all the various aspects of life we had experienced.

I realized an incredible thing, us, Spanish people, have some special characteristics that are not common in any other parts of the world, but you only realise that you have that “speciality” when you are told by people from other countries. And not just one, but all of them.

There were two aspects of myself that most impressed the other participants:
  1. Foreigners could not believe that in Spain it is most common to be born, live and die on the same spot of the planet.
  2. They could not believe that, at the time, I was working at a travel agency that worked and could exist with the model we have in Spain.


What struck me most at first:
They would ask me where I was from, I replied Seville. Then, I was asked where I lived, I replied Seville. Then they would finally ask me where I was born, and I also replied…Seville!

Nobody in the group gave the same answers to the questions above except for me. It was hard for them to believe that a person was born in Seville, lives in Seville and is from Seville. (I live in the UK, but I was living in Seville at that moment)

When they were asked where they were from, they would not reply what their birthplace was, but instead they would tell you about the place they are most drawn to because of their life experiences. This place was, in general, different to the place they were living at that point in time. And also different at the same time, from their birthplaces.  I realised that something they all had in common was that they had lived in various countries. All of them except for me, I was 28 years old at the time, and I had spent 27 of them living in Seville and one of them living in Santander. I had travelled around Europe, but not enough. This is quite common in Spain. There are exceptions, of course, but most people in Spain are looking for total stability: I am born and raised, then I get a degree, pass the open competition exam in order to be a civil servant, then comes the mortgage and family, and then I die .All of this in the same place.

God, or nature, or the conditions of the universe, or science if you please, have created a whole world of fourteen thousand kilometres of diameter and forty thousand kilometres of perimeter to discover beautiful views, different cultures, societies, animals and living creatures, opportunities, people, traditions…
An entire planet completely loaded with all of this. We are given a life chronometer, displaying a countdown, and then we are told: “you have limited time here to discover this planet made for you. Try to discover as much as you can with this limited time frame. It is all for you”. The decision we make many times is to spend all of that time, all our life, on a little spot on the globe. Also knowing that when the countdown finishes, there will never be a new opportunity.


The following also surprised me quite much. Above all, because I already knew in advance the Travel Agency model existing in Spain leads you nowhere. Moreover, It’s not just that I think that the system will disappear, I straightforwardly believe it will. The existing system will disappear.
Does this mean that travel agent’s will disappear? Will they all increase the unemployment rates? Not at all!
What this means is that if you are intelligent, observer, competent, far-sighted, creative and have analytical capacity what will happen is that more jobs will be created. In other words, what has to end is the present system. The current model. The one we see right now.  The option whether to substitute the current system for a more modern one,  (by saying this we are not stating disappearance, but transformation and growth), or letting everything die without taking action, depends on the decision makers of this particular field.  Travel agents are also decision makers. What is clear to me is that not doing anything will only lead you to unemployment.


THE TRADITIONAL MODEL

At present, there are four defined areas in the Travel Agency Model.
(No specialised big groups)

  1. Offline travel agencies.
  2. E-commerce (mostly holidays)
  3. Business travel
  4. Groups, Conferences, Incentives


It should be pointed out that the scheme does not change because the entrepreneur wants or does not want to. This represents an increasing demand of the market. That is to say, travel agencies have to change no matter what. No other path has to be followed, the market forces the change. This is due to the fact that in business, “you will be what your clients want you to be” and that’s all there is to it.

There is an expression used in Spain: “every baby is born with bread under his arm”. Well, nowadays babies are not born with bread under their arms, but Ipads.

I have used Internet since I was a teenager, I remember that at fifteen years of age, I considered I had advanced knowledge of technology in this area because I was able to change the desktop background and set the one I most liked. Nowadays, a fifteen year old child owns and Iphone, and he can take pictures and modify them on the go, uses a mobile application to add special effects to a video, or buys an e-book from Amazon. This is not considered as advanced knowledge of technology, that’s just the standard.

It’s not that the world has changed; it is changing continuously and at great speed.
Speed is precisely what should be stressed, not the change itself. I will repeat this again because some people just don’t get it: the most important thing is speed.

If a travel agency implements the same procedures that it did twenty years ago, it will be obsolete, because society has changed. But this is not the important fact, what is important to point out is that even if a travel agency serves its clients as it did in 2005, it will also be obsolete. Can you see it? It’s speed!
Please see the picture below, it belongs to the 2005 Proclamation of Pope Benedictus XVI. This is the society of back then, not too long ago. The people you can see in the picture are the ones that bought clothes, perfumes, food, phones books or cameras and travelled in 2005


The next picture (Michael Sohn, CNN) was taken at the proclamation of Pope Francis I, in 2013.

The people you can see in the picture are an example of the people that would travel, buy perfumes, food or books, in 2013.



Please see below the comparison of both pictures:




Does society change in a fast way? Did you realise the speed?

It is obvious that everything changes in eight years. And if you are a travel agent, think about this:
Are the 2005 service procedures the same as they are now? If so, you might have a problem. How can you provide to the 2005 people the exact services as in 2013? I have taken 2013 as a reference, but 2014 has already brought us changes. This is the way we progress.

Yesterday I watched a video on Youtube. A little girl that was approximately two or three years of age was holding a magazine in her hands, on the page that she was looking at there was a cosmetics advertisement. The little girl was trying to get to the next page moving one finger from right to left on top of the page of the magazine, as you would do it nowadays with an Ipad. The little girl was not able to understand what was happening, didn’t know what paper magazines are.

Can you imagine when this little girl grows older, that she has to go to a travel agency where a person will give her brochures, and will explain all the different travel options there are and will help her make the reservation. What? I can’t manage to imagine how long that girl could be laughing at you when you explain this!

But the little girl will say: ok, and what do I get in exchange for that work I have to carry out? Because it implies work on her side, because going to a travel agency IMPLIES working. She could also ask how much will you pay her.

If travel agencies continue to offer their services as if we still lived in the eighties, one of these days, you’re bound to have clients that will come to you and show YOU  how a reservation is made, because by then, the travel agency will have no clue, but the customer will. And he or she will say: Hi, could I have your QR code for the Android app so I can make my reservations “on the go”, please?

Before he or she says please, you will find yourself panicking or simply wishing for the ground beneath your feet to swallow you up, or even worse, they could offer some help, because they will be able to.


The change in the model must be implemented in the previously mentioned areas:
1.Offline travel agencies.
2.E-commerce (mostly holidays)
3.Business travel
4.Groups, Conferences, Incentives.

If the business is taking into account the possibility of changing the scheme, but only in certain fields, for example E-commerce or business travel, then, the company is at risk.
Changes must be applied to all the areas of the company. Quite often companies dedicate much time to applications and web design, but what about the offline agency? It is highly important to not forget that all aspects of the business must be updated, if those who are involved in, for example, the offline agency, are not requested feedback for updates, again, your company could be at risk.


CHANGING THE BUSINESS MODEL

When businesses talk about change, we generally hear about internet,  new apps, social media and technology. This is all quite acceptable, but actually these changes are taken for granted.
 Apart from creating new mobile applications, using social media technology, creating a Youtube channel, having strong technological resources for the e-commerce web page, and a specialised area for businesses. (Including their own web browser and booking tools) apart from the already mentioned changes, my question would be: what else are you going to do? In other words, what are the changes in the business model that you want to apply?


Thinking about People

The change must be applied by whom most knowledge has. Who knows most? The CEO? The human resources dept? No! Who most knowledge has is everybody, all the employees. Each of them will know more than the others for different specific tasks. The CEO might be good at organising and leading, but it is the Travel Agent who will know the client best and how they tend to behave, as well as the sales procedure. (Although many top executives may not admit it).

If I am a travel agent, I will surely know more than you about the sales procedure, what the market demands or not, and how it is demanded. No matter how many diplomas hang from your wall in your top executive office.
Similarly, employees from the Marketing department will have greater knowledge in this field than other employees of the company that belong to different departments. This is because of the work experience. Our work experience tells us more than any other thing in the world. Also, each person has a mind of his or her own, where creativity can be developed at all levels. Implementing changes without taking into account the collective creativity is impossible, and quite frankly, very difficult to understand from my point of view.

Trying to implement changes without having the employees actively participating in them will be a complete failure.

And this is what happens in the most traditional companies, that have an organisation chart that is out of date and function- based, were everything is defined by the person above you on the chart (Generally, Spanish old companies).
So basically you just do what you are told and that’s the end of it. If you decide to give in more than asked, or you are more creative than others, you will be ignored, and seen as strange and unexpected event.
People have to be involved, and changes have to be properly implemented. Teamwork and collaboration from all the people in the company are decisive. It is very important also for the leaders and top executives of the corporation to accept they don’t know it all. Not even the ones at the bottom of the chart know it all. They must admit they are all professionals, and they all have great knowledge in their field. Shared knowledge is stronger than any CEO you might think of.


Changing the offline agencies

We must be able to innovate the business model with the power of creativity. Create an innovative product that the customer really wants. We must not settle for the following strategies: product specialisation, (for instance, Cruises agencies) market segment specialisation, (VIP, GAY, singles). Being something that is not a “travel agency”, but a different thing that also does travel booking and is attractive to customers, because the agency is not.
That means a new model will have to be built together, and it has to be different from the model that is being used at present, able to attract the customer to the place where bookings for travel take place, but not just because of the fact of booking travel, but for other reasons, because arranging your reservations does not attract customers.

Lets consider the following questions:
  • Why do the “not customers” not come to the offline agency? List the reasons and make them disappear.
  • Why do the customers to do come, come? List the reasons and keep them.
  • If we think about other sectors, why do customers go to the premises? List the reasons and ask yourself: Can you incorporate those reasons to your model?

Think about a different sector, for example, a cafeteria. Everybody owns a coffee machine at home. They have that option. However, people go to the cafeteria. Why doesn’t the coffee machine at home compete with the cafeteria? Why does the Internet take customers away from the offline agencies?

In other words, imagine Borja’s Café, were I offer coffee to my clients. But my clients can obtain coffee at home with their coffee machines; however, they decide to come to Borja’s Café. WHY? Obviously, it’s not just the coffee! If my Café had the same features that customers have in their kitchens, the same coffee machine, no music, no people, etc,  they would not come. This is because I am offering a different reason to come rather than coffee. Such as: going out for a while, being somewhere pleasant, talking to friends and family… it’s not about the coffee! In fact, they will probably not even order coffee, maybe juice, or water, or maybe nothing.

I believe this is what the travel agency is not able to realise. You are offering to the customers exactly the same they have at home. They keep on believing that what attracts the customer is travel. No! Your customer must come for more that just the travel. Think about it and create a valuable proposal that is attractive for itself, and think that your product is not just travel, but … what else? Create something new. You must give the customer reasons to go to the premises of the agency, different from travel. This would be innovating the model. What is perfectly clear to me is that the old model were you basically go inside the agency and ask about travel, being asked to sit down while you wait…is a mistake.

Imagine that Borja’s Café adds to all his tables a laptop or a tablet, from which you can access all the tour operators’ websites, with the agency’s passwords already introduced in all of them and also a few agents would be at the Café to help any customer that might need it. Now think of you as a customer, you want to organise a trip with your friends. Where would you go? Obviously you would meet up with all your friends to have a cup of coffee at Borja´s meanwhile you look into bookings and dates. At the end, if you done your booking, great! If not, you enjoyed coffee and cakes.

Think about what could happen if the big companies should put all of their employees working on this, taking into account the collective creativity and the development of their ideas… If you have four employees, it might not bee to important, but if you have 4,500 employees. Would it not be a competitive advantage to count with 4,500 thinking minds?



FREELANCE AGENTS

Freelance agents must create online communities. Technology is vital. You already saw the pictures of the popes proclamations, didn’t you? The customer demands technology.

Please imagine the following: I am an independent freelance agent (I have access to wholesale prices) and I carry out the following actions:
  • I create a blog dedicated to travel and destination. In it, I introduce myself as a travel agent, providing my contact details for quotations and personalised attention. I do two weekly publications, talking about different destinations every time, adding interesting facts in relation to the different destinations.
  • I design and create a corporate image, a tailored brand.
  • I register a Youtube channel and upload videos to it.
  • I create profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, where I upload pictures and comments about destinations, guides, tips, etc…
  • I link the abovementioned accounts, encouraging people to watch the youtube videos from my Facebook profile, asking them to post comments on my blog or my different profiles.
  • Adding to my blog my personal details, email address, telephone, Whatsapp and Hangouts channels to request information or quotes.
  • Recommending customers to subscribe to my blog, creating lists.
  • I begin to do marketing via email, information brochures sent out by email.
  • Preparing small PDF guides that are available to download them free of charge from the blog. The content of the guide must be high quality.
  • Arranging online advertisements, banners…
  • Once all the previous steps have been carried out, I summon all this information on a business card, and then, I start looking for customers. (How long have we been going on about this idea of “start looking for customers”, years maybe? Has anyone actually taken the decision of doing it at last, or shall we keep on waiting for a miracle to solve all of our problems?).

Before I am able to realise, I have created a community of hundreds, thousands of users that visit the different channels, and subscribe to my lists. I obtain all of those users thanks to the fact that all the content that I have created is FREE. Thanks to the pleasant environment created, the creativity, the position and image that I have created, and using the databases that I already have control of, I begin to receive hundreds of requests for tips, information regarding destination, quotations and sales. Effectively, before I can realise I am selling and doing dozens of daily bookings. I am the personal “freelance agent” for the customer.
This model exists in many sectors, and it works quite well on the online market. In my opinion, this would really be what providing good service to the” babies born with an Ipad under their arm “ means.


INNOVATE INNOVATE INNOVATE

I would like to point out that it is not only the business model we have to innovate, as I have described up until now, but it is also important to focus on the structure of the company, the chart organisation, the human resources procedures, marketing, etc… We have to be different, we have to “dismantle” the structures and functions that are obsolete, in order to truly connect with today’s existing customers. In relation to this, I must tell you bout a Marketing innovation that has called my attention. It consists in the viral marketing campaign that has just been launched by Carrefour’s Travel Agency. The “all included” series. (In spanish). It is a famous series about the funny stories and anecdotes we the travel agents usually undergo at work.  How many travel agents (Carrefour’s or other competitors) are doing free marketing while sharing their videos? This is what happens when you connect with the public. The video is watched sixty million times on youtube.

This way, instead of having many jobless Travel Agents, employment is created.

In order to obtain more information on how to implement changes on business strategies, I recommend the following post, ;-) (in spanish)
What’s your opinion? Are you a travel agent? Has your experience been similar to mine?

Please post you comments below. If you would like to contact me, you can do it at borjaperianez@gmail.com 

Un Abrazo y hasta la próxima ;-)
See you!

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