Published on Monday, February 2, 2015

Travel firms admit that bypassing travel agents isn't easy

Travel companies admit that trying to capture bookings direct from the public, bypassing traditional travel agents, is turning into an increasingly expensive headache.

As the number of devices from which customers access their websites grows, so too is the amount they must spend capturing their business.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion organised by digital advertising company Criteo, Travel Republic chief marketing officer Elliot Pritchard said travel firms can find themselves paying four times to acquire one customer, who might access its site from a mobile, a tablet, a laptop and a desktop computer.

He said customers were browsing for longer than in the past, typically visiting a website eight times to make one booking. "It's a headache," he said.

Tracking customers between different devices is also a challenge for companies, said TUI digital marketing general manager Christian Armond, and working out where to target marketing spend was also tricky. However, he said TUI would be spending increasing amounts advertising on mobile devices, even though he admitted customers are still not comfortable booking holidays on their smartphones.

Armond said the company was spending money on advertising to people on their phone as an act of faith, hoping - but not knowing - that this would feed through to bookings on other devices.

Travelzoo managing director Joel Brandon-Bravo admitted that travel companies, which were amongst the early adopters of the internet, have not done well curating 'the mass of stuff that is out there' to make it easier for customers to find what they're looking for.

As a result, he said, they are expecting customers 'to have the expertise of a travel agent'. This is why TravelZoo, which emails to its members a curated list of  the best deals, has been successful, said Brandon-Bravo.

Email campaigns are still very successful at driving bookings, especially if the offers are personalised for the audience, he said, but he admitted that there is already concern within the industry about how they'll target the younger generation, which has moved away from email to instant messaging apps such as snapchat and whatsapp, when they become consumers.

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