Unable to make an online purchase? Ping for a live chat.

Technical issues with the website? Reach for the phone.

If you think the offline sales channel is a mere ‘failure demand’ backup means for OTAs, think again. There are far more compelling reasons why offline sales channels cannot be ignored.

A Culture of Geography

Take the geographical factor for one. Technology adaptation and reach differ across the globe and for the few billion individuals who cannot get online the offline channel becomes the primary sales medium for travel companies.

Neither can we ignore the cultural factor and landscape of the target market. It plays a significant, and sometimes critical, role in choosing the right channel strategy. The Asian market to a large extent, and the Chinese in particular, prefer to book trips in groups – the personal offline touch is widely needed in this region. A host of OTAs in the Asian market operate a combination of offline channels - 24/7 contact centers, offline sales call numbers and live chat functions – even as they upgrade their technology.

And what about the customer segment that lacks awareness of the Internet and its content and services? Or the group that is disinclined to use online channels? Offline channel is the answer again.

The Demographic Twist

In spite of a 2015 Pew research that shows 58 percent of the holidaymakers aged 65+ access the internet, according to a Deloitte research, this segment is the least likely to use comparison websites. They go purely by past experience and a business’s reputation. It is the offline sales channel that provides both the reputation and experience to this demographic cluster.

Redeeming Abandoned Carts

The most important boost that the offline sales channel can provide the OTA (and not as a back-up for sure) lies in reducing the crippling numbers of abandoned cart rates. 81 percent - this is the figure for OTAs as compared to just 68 percent across other online retail. Just imagine an offline connect that can give a helping hand to travelers to progress further through the purchasing process – it will lead to a significant increase in sales.

Sales, Not Mere Service, Profits, Not Mere Costs

Offline sales channels aredefinitemodels for additional revenue generation. They are powerful forces of influence, even if the consumer makes the final purchase online. They open signicant opportunities for cross-sell and upsell and they are huge collection repositories of data on consumers. In short they are profit centers of sales – rather than cost centers of service.

The customer-experience journey for the trvaveler will continue to evolve, and rapidly so. The ability of brands to link their product, marketing and digital strategies to accurate behavioral understanding will be the key differentiator. Even as travel search and discovery become more digital, and even as service robots and artificially intelligent agents pervade the scene, it will not be long before they will be considered ‘mass market’. The role for a human concierge providing a human-touch to the travel experience will thus never lose relevance.

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