How consumers plan and purchase travel has rapidly evolved in the last 10 years, and the pace of change is accelerating. Ten years ago, there was no TripAdvisor, no Kayak, and no luxury “private sale” websites like Jetsetter.com, says Brian Tan, founder and CEO of Zicasso.com, in an interview with Travel Agent.
Tan urges travel agents – including independent agents – to rethink their approach to their web sites and offers practical tips for making agents websites work for them and for their clients. A travel agents website is critical – its an agents face to the world – and should be a profitable investment even for the smallest agency, he says.
“Ten years ago, clients walked into brick-and-mortar agencies – today, they primarily get on the Internet, either with their computers or their mobile devices,” Tan says. “While the Internet is now filled with travel deals and booking engines, we believe that there’ll always be a market segment of clients who want personalized service and expert guidance, i.e. they want to work with an expert travel specialist. Unfortunately, many travel agents’ websites are not well positioned for what consumers want or need to see. Their websites are simply unattractive, unappealing, and do not convey a sense of confidence that the agents are true experts who can add value beyond what consumers can book themselves.
“Many agents even put in booking engines for consumers to search and book packages or deals themselves,” Tan continued. “That is counter intuitive – if travelers want to search and book deals themselves, there are many highly sophisticated online travel websites for them to do that and they do not need a travel agent in the first place. Travelers visit a travel agent’s website to look for a human expert who can provide them personalized service – putting a booking engine on your website sends the message that you too are about automation and not about personalized service.”
Tan believes the key goals of a travel agent’s website should be:
* Build your brand: The messages and images on the site should clearly position what the agents business is about, and what differentiates you.
* Convey expertise in the destinations, activities, or special interests you sell. This comes from presenting good content about your areas of expertise. If your focus is Europe, write about unique travel experiences to a few key European countries; show a few sample custom itineraries, etc.
* Make a great impression with its beauty and elegance in design. Travel is an emotional sell, so capture emotions with beautiful, stunning photos. And please, Tan says, no loud colors or flashing animation that screams for attention.
* Build trust – Have an “About Us” section. Tell people who you are, your expertise, experience, and why you’re passionate about it all. Include a professional photo of yourself so clients can connect at a more personal level.
* Make the site easy for you as an agent to make content edits yourselves, e.g. changing text and photos, without the need of a programmer. Last but not least, the site should be affordable and easy to maintain.
When agents plan their website strategy, Tan recommends a two step process. “First, agents should first be very clear,” he said. “What is your business about and what market or markets are you serving? Are you going to be well positioned for the next 10 years? To me, the market trend is very clear. With online travel sites getting more and more sophisticated and easy to use, consumers will be booking most simple trips themselves (say, San Francisco to Las Vegas and back). The same holds true for those seeking bargains and deals and budget trips. Increasingly, leisure travelers will only want to use the services of travel agents if the trip is complex (e.g. longer international vacations), or if the trip involves complex decisions (e.g. cruises), or if it’s luxury oriented (i.e. the segment that has more money than time and thus value personalized service). If you also believe these trends to be true, agents should ask if their business is well positioned for them.”
Second, travel agents should develop their websites to position themselves for the market(s) they want to serve (markets which hopefully will have demand for the long term, such as the ones mentioned above).
For those who have large budgets and a lot of resources, another goal would be to get found on search engines. Since travel is highly, even intensely, competitive on the Internet, that’s a very challenging goal.
Agents whose websites meet the above six goals have a solution that’s way above average. Now here’s some good news: It’s easier than you think to get a great website built and it’s a lot more affordable now than 10 years ago, Tan says.
Zicasso.com was featured as one of the industry’s “Best Travel Websites” of 2010” and recipient of the Web Marketing Association’s Travel Standard of Excellence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Web Development. Tan received his MBA and MS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT.