A personal perspective by Andrew J Wood President SKÅL International Bangkok
Bangkok, Thailand - With the dramatic announcement of the sale of retail travel giant Thomas Cook following the loss of £1.5 billion brings the blight of the travel agent community into the news once more. Last week Wall Street bank Citigroup advised investors to sell shares in the travel company.
Confidence that travel agents can survive in the age of DIY bookings online is paper thin.
The sheer convenience and ease of being able to book flights and holidays online, with loved ones participating in the process AND at a time and place convenient to yourself, is very attractive to most of us.
Gone are the days when you make a trip to the travel agent on the high street during office hours.
It was the only way to book a holiday in the bad old days. Booking travel online then was a complex, mystical and stressful experience with lots of jargon we didn’t understand. On top of that booking a flight was only possible on airline-backed computer systems using special codes and trained staff. Most of us didn’t know where to start.
Now it’s out with the laptop, sitting in bed in your pajamas at home, or on the settee with a cup of tea and it’s as easy as 1-2-3.
My family own a travel company. Business is nothing what it used to be. My friends work in DMCs - they certainly aren’t what they used to be.
A high-profile BBC journalist speaking at a travel industry event, recently warned the travel industry that large, well-established brands no longer have the trust they once enjoyed. That is certainly true.
"We are living through a crisis of trust," the journalist warned.
Today instead of listening to 'experts' or 'institutions', we now now put more faith in the opinions of our colleagues, or friends on Facebook.
The BBC journalist also said, "We live in an age where feelings resonate more than facts. People now value empathy over expertise. We all need to work out what this means about how we should talk to customers."
So it’s clear that selling travel has fundamentally changed, as was forecast more than 10 years ago. I fear during this time that this advice has largely been brushed under the carpet and as an industry, we have been largely unsuccessful in making these changes. The example of Thomas Cook demonstrates that even big travel hasn’t worked it out neither. We all need to talk to our customers in a way that appeals to them. There's a danger for any industry that doesn't adapt quickly enough to new audiences — remember Kodak?
Thomas Cook looks like the latest failure.
In the last 18 months there have been more retail failures than since the start of the century. Many brands have lost the art of communicating with the marketplace. They don't know how to engage with customers.
My family are already talking about diversifying and moving into other areas of tourism and travel. I hope it’s not too late.