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How Can Travel Businesses Compete With OTAs?

How Automation and Personalisation in your Technology is the Answer if you want to Compete with OTAs.

By Claire Matheson

For traditional travel agents and tour operators, providing travellers with premium, personalised service remains the best way to compete with OTA large scale enterprises. But in this battle, exceptional service alone is no longer enough. Your greatest ally lies in digital transformation.

According to STR’s 2019 Traveller Panel survey the top reasons travellers choose to book through an OTA are convenience, access to discounts and promotions, and the ability to compare deals. Yet while price and convenience are driving factors in determining how travellers book a holiday, customer service experiences and word of mouth recommendations are where smaller competitors can win the war. And this is where technology can help travel agencies and tour operators stand out and compete with OTAs.

Online shopping outlets are putting many retailers out of business, regardless of industry. Thomas Cook’s closure is further evidence of the shifts in consumer behaviour in the travel industry. But this challenge presents a powerful opportunity to compete with OTAs. It is a chance to change, adapt and improve.

So how can travel agencies and tour operators compete with such large scale online companies? Ironically, the answer lies in online technologies.

Accessible anywhere, anytime, the right cloud based solution can add value, give you better insights into your business, and help you gain efficiencies. The right technology can not only help travel businesses compete with OTA big players, but also win the loyalty of their customers. With the right solution, you can build your brand, and grow your revenue.

Successfully automate

The Role of Automation

The key to a successful digital transformation is automation. And to successfully automate, your system needs to be able to insert the right information where and when needed. Which processes in your business are unnecessarily manual? Are they taking your attention away from your customers? Are there steps that could be done more quickly? Could you eliminate them altogether? And how can you insert personalised touches in your automation to make your customers feel valued and understood in a way that OTAs cannot? 

Make the Complex Simple

True automation which increases your productivity requires a sleek, all inclusive technology solution. Errors and glitches are more common with multiple data entry points or if your platforms have problems talking to each other. An end to end solution with built-in CRM capabilities is the best way to simplify your processes and cut out unnecessary actions. To compete with OTA giants, travel agencies and tour operators need more automation in all areas of their business. Your tech should help  to generate and assign leads, respond to enquiries, quickly build itineraries and handle customer bookings. It should also help you to manage your suppliers and inventory, organise your payments, and report everything back to your team. Above all, it should be easy to use.

Online and mobile

Link Your Online and Mobile Bookings

Criteo’s 2018 Summer Travel Report shows OTAs growing foothold over the market is in large part due to increases in mobile bookings. Mobile bookings make up 39% of OTA sales, compared with only 10% for other suppliers and agents. In fact, 80% of all last-minute bookings are made from a mobile. EMarketer predicts online travel sales will exceed $817 billion by 2020. And mobile sales will make up a big slice of the pie. If you’re not online and mobile, you’re not in the game.

To be effective and compete with OTAs, your CRM and backend systems should be linked to your online booking systems, mobile apps and marketing campaigns. This means greater convenience not only to your customer but also to you. If you can track your customers’ preferences and online spending habits, you can find better ways to engage them. Assigning leads to your team automatically means you can follow up before they go cold.

Maximise Personalised Engagement

Anticipation is king when it comes to customer service. Making your customer relationships stronger comes down to understanding what your customers really want. Information is power, and the more chances for meaningful, personalised interactions, the better. In an end to end system, automated communications can be sent not only during enquiry, quote and booking stages but also throughout the customer’s travel journey. More chances to connect means more chances to impress your customers. 

Automatically including individual customer information makes your interactions seem more heartfelt, tailored and authentic. Emails and mobile messages should not be limited to thank yous, notifications of received payments, and well wishes for a good trip. Additional advice on visas, vaccinations, packing lists or even weather forecasts can help turn their trip into a fantastic one. 

Checking in on your guests during and immediately after their travel is an effective way to tap into future repeat sales. British studies find most people begin looking for their next holiday only 17 days after returning from their last one. This is also a good time to promote loyalty offers with 25% of travellers choosing to book in part because of a loyalty or rewards scheme according to Hotel News Now.

The Magic Behind the Curtain

In the workflow of any business, there are repetitive tasks that are either unnecessary or time consuming. What grunt work is taking up too much of your time? Which tasks could be performed by your system instead? Queueing and scheduling payments, communicating with suppliers, updating inventory, and providing notifications are essential in cleaning up your back of house. Ideally, your technology should also allow you to automatically set KPIs, show dashboard insights and generate reports. However, the real time-saving efficiencies for travel agents and tour operators lie in creating itineraries. 

An automated itinerary builder can effortlessly keep track of your recommendations. This is a real advantage when competing with OTAs. Choosing accommodation, activities and add ons from your preferred suppliers can be done in seconds. All information can be inserted by the system into branded, personalised itineraries that can be accessed online, via mobile app, or downloaded so that your guests don’t need to worry about wifi. How much time would this task normally take you? How much time would you prefer it to take?

_Automation doesn't need to be robotic. It can ber personalised, customised and powerful._

An Automatic Advantage

Technology should be convenient. It should be clean, simple and make life easier. And not just for you, for your customers too. In STR’s 2019 survey, 48% of travellers cited convenience and ease of use as their number one reason for booking with an OTA. Travel businesses which “Allow customers to secure their accommodation with as few clicks, swipes and details entered as possible,” have the greatest advantage. 

Automation lies at the heart of improving your workflows. It can make all aspects of your business more convenient and accessible to your customers. But it doesn’t need to be robotic. It can be personalised, customised and powerful. When linked to a strong, specialised CRM system, automated technology can create individually tailored experiences for more engaged customers. Guests travelling with your company will feel valued. 

By spending less time on the tasks that can be automated, you can focus your efforts on delivering exceptional customer service. Without hiring additional staff, you can achieve the ultimate travel business goal – saving time and money while turning your customers into loyal ambassadors for your brand. And this is key if you want to compete with OTAs.

Do you have questions? Would like to see the powerful Sugati system in action? Call or email us, or click the request a demo button at the top of the page.