Let’s Get Personal: Online Travel Agents

by T3 Marketing

Long gone are the days of walking into your local travel agent’s office. Today, brick and mortar agencies have been replaced with online travel agents (OTAs), price comparison engines that are used to maximize a consumer’s ability to get the best price, while simultaneously allowing travel brands to maximize revenue and reduce idle inventory. From Priceline to Expedia, these OTAs are slightly ahead of the curve compared to other verticals in our Travel and Hospitality Brand Report. While the greatest strength for these brands is in customer empowerment, customer feedback points to a greater need for personalization.

The war over who can give you the best price for the fastest without stopping to explain exactly who is behind the offer is just one example of a lack of personalization. A key principle of building a useful brand, along with overall performance, is relationship development. Consumers have a natural impulse to want to do business with a brand repeatedly. By building trust, a person will become inclined to become brand loyal. Levels of friendliness, association, and trust are almost identical among travel agents. By creating a public persona in addition to offering more personalized experiences, brands can begin to set themselves apart from the competition.

Embracing customer needs can be done through a “service plus” business model that focuses on demonstrations of customer intimacy. Here are three ways we think OTAs can get a little more personal:

  1. Service + Gesture – Potentially in the form of a localization tool, a travel management application or partnership with a local navigator such as Eater.com.
  2. Service + Gesture + Personalized Rewards – Modernizing your loyalty program beyond just points or punches is also a significant untapped opportunity.
  3. Service + Gesture + Emerging platforms – Facebook’s recent signal that it’s entering the travel space should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat. Social commerce is a rapidly emerging platform that can serve as both a source of business and a means by which to build a more relatable public persona.

Download the full Travel and Hospitality Report to see how 24 airlines, hotels, car rental companies, and online travel agents stack up.