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Published on Monday, February 1, 2010

Operators urged to adopt online sales – but “jury out” on selling via mobile


Customers will book elsewhere if operators fail to provide an online sales channel, the trade is warned today.
Paul Richer, senior partner at travel technology consultancy Genesys, says there has been “considerable growth” in the number of technology suppliers providing e-commerce solutions. 
“It appears that selling online has become a 'must-do' activity for every tour operator. There are no longer any excuses,” he said. 
“Saying that your product is too complex, too tailor-made or too expensive to sell online simply won't wash with the consumer. 
“If you cannot close the deal online there and then, you run the risk of your customer booking elsewhere.”
He was speaking as the company published its latest Tour Operator Technology Review, which highlights significant trends that may affect the way tour operators do business.
The review highlights several technology suppliers that can get operators selling online at very low cost. It provides details of 60 tour operator technology suppliers across 170 pages.
The new entrants into the tour operator systems market are using the latest development languages to construct straightforward yet reasonably comprehensive reservation systems that are specifically designed for online tour operator sales, according to the review 
“Selling online need no longer be an expensive exercise,” said Richer. 
“In fact, one system supplier is offering tour operators use of its system completely free for the first 50 bookings. 
“There has never been a better time for smaller operators to compete on a level playing field with their larger competitors who can more easily afford heavy investment in technology.”
Another trend is the ability for systems to connect electronically to bed banks and other third party suppliers to offer real-time availability and booking. 
“Virtually every system supplier is offering operators the ability to sell far more than their own stock,” said Richer. 
“Systems now offer seamless connectivity to bed banks, transfers, flights and other products.”
But he warned: "There is a danger that with universal connectivity to relatively few bed banks, tour operators will all end up selling the same stock, so commoditising the industry. 
“It is very important for operators to maintain their own unique identity and remain competitive by continuing to negotiate contracts directly with the hotels which they sell most. They should only use third parties to supplement their own stock, so widening the range of product on-sale but maintaining a unique core.”
The Genesys' review includes mobile solution providers for the first time, although there are just three out of the 60 suppliers featured. 
“There is tremendous hype surrounding m-commerce - selling via mobile - yet right now there is only a trivial amount of sales being made via this channel,” said Richer. 
“Whilst the mobile juggernaut is now gathering steam for location-based services such as navigation and mapping, locating tourist attractions and finding a local restaurant, the jury is still out on whether mobile will be a mass-market sales channel for holidays and other leisure travel products. 
“A holiday is a big ticket item for most consumers and they may well prefer the comfort of viewing hotels and destinations on a larger screen.” 
Asked to consider whether mobile can simply be ignored by tour operators for now, Richer added: “Whilst there may only be a small payback to investment in mobile technology, I think it is vitally important for operators to view their own websites on mobile devices to make sure that they are still readable. 
“Many consumers are now using small screened devices such as net-books and Apple's newly launched iPad. 
“They are also surfing the web on their even smaller screened mobiles. You need to make sure your website is still readable on these devices even if you do not specifically invest in mobile technology.”
*The Genesys 2010/2011 Tour Operator Technology Review can be bought from Genesys at for £69.50 plus shipping. 
by Phil Davies 

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