After a tumultuous phase that saw countries imposing strict guidelines to contain the COVID-19 spread, domestic and international travel is witnessing an upsurge. Travelers are hitting the road and sky with a vengeance and making up for time lost to the pandemic through “revenge travel.” A recent US-based survey revealed that 66 percent of the respondents who traveled internationally over the past 14 months expressed a keen desire for revenge travel. 80 percent felt they needed a vacation in 2023 more than ever before.
However, this exponential surge in travel demand also implies increased customized requirements from travelers. This is where travel advisors have a vital role to play. Pandemic-driven rules and protocols have complicated travel, and more than ever, customers need trusted advisors who can simplify planning and executing vacations.
Unsurprisingly, travel advisors have experienced a dramatic increase in business due to the global pandemic. New or first-time customers are driving a significant chunk of this business. A global poll by the American Society of Travel Advisors revealed that while 76 percent of travel advisors witnessed an increase in customers compared to the pre-pandemic phase, 81 percent interacted with customers who had never used advisors in the past. InteleTravel, a global travel advisor network, reported a 35 percent rise in business in 2021 vis-à-vis 2019.
What Makes Travel Advisors Indispensable
Even as Do-It-Yourself (DIY) travel becomes increasingly popular, the importance of personalized human intervention to precisely plan leisure and corporate trips is not lost upon customers.
Travel advisors can offer better deals on bookings and priority services and cater to any last-minute changes, which is a critical requirement for business travelers. Moreover, the pandemic has created new dynamics that have made even other customer segments seek travel advisors. These factors include:
Travel complexities in the new normal: Navigating constant changes in rules and protocols is a nightmare for travelers. More than 70 percent of customers feel that traveling has become more complex in the new normal. In a scenario like this, the role of travel advisors becomes critical – empowering customers with up-to-the-minute information and the dos and don’ts and ensuring a hassle-free journey. A travel advisor’s role has evolved from merely booking to managing travel crises and counseling customers. Notably, a recent survey found that 72 percent of travelers who frequently use travel advisors are more ready to travel in the next three months, compared to only 47 percent of those who don’t rely on travel advisors.
Trust: A study revealed that only 46 percent of customers trust the travel industry, while over 70 percent have had their trust broken by a travel company. If trust was a crucial element in a customer’s buying decisions and overall loyalty in the pre-pandemic era, it has assumed paramount importance post-pandemic. Travel advisors act as reliable intermediaries, creating a foundation of trust. More than 40 percent of customers are likely to opt for upgrades and add-ons if they trust the company.
Experience and Perks: 55 percent of travelers who have never used travel advisors will most likely use one if it gives them access to unique relationships or perks. Seasoned travel advisors can make their experience and relationships count to help customers at different stages of their journey, including visa processing and immigration, to name a few. Importantly, exigency support provided by travel advisors during baggage loss and missed flights is critical.
Travel advisors can offer package deals that, at times, are lower priced than a customer might get via direct booking channels. Relationships built by travel advisors with end providers such as hotel managers, cab company owners or officials at a government department become critical in delivering the experience customers expect from a trip.
Unleashing Digital Transformation with Strategic Partnerships
As travel advisors experience a surge in business, the requirement for personalized customer service backed by technology is at an all-time high. Moreover, the increasing popularity of DIY tools means that travel advisors must re-imagine customer experience. It is imperative to leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytics to create intelligent, insight-driven and contextual customer conversations in a landscape where customer loyalty is on the wane.
While many small and midsize players realize the importance of digitally re-inventing their business, they may not be in a position to go the whole hog on digitization due to the pandemic adversely affecting their revenues.
Travel advisors must therefore collaborate with strategic partners who combine their industry, data and digital expertise to drive the right outcomes – without the need for significant capital investment. Such partners can leverage their analytical and artificial intelligence prowess to empower companies with digital tools that can transform inventory, pricing and payments.
Not surprisingly, the demand for subscription-based platform-driven ecosystems continues to increase as they enable companies to access cutting-edge digital tools and capabilities at low costs. These digital platforms will be key to travel advisors solidifying their role and driving curated travel experiences in the new normal.