In an era where everything is just a click away and access to relevant information is quick, consumers do have a choice. The intermediaries have been enhancing the engagements to such a level where the client is fully satisfied and reassured to make a purchase through the servicing agent.
When we talk about cruise tourism or for that matter tourism of any type, we must understand that consumer is at one end of the spectrum and the travel products i.e. hotels, airlines, cruise lines, attractions etc are at the other end. We, the travel intermediaries – GSAs, PSAs or travel agents depend on both consumer and the travel products to earn our livelihood. On the other hand, the dependence of both consumers and travel products on travel intermediaries is diminishing by each passing day, thanks to technology and easy access to vast amount of travel information. In a scenario which is evolving each passing year, the struggle of the travel intermediaries would continue to get tougher for multiple reasons:
- Travel products are getting more competitive w.r.t pricing and distribution costs, travel products are pushed to deliver more value for lesser cost. Therefore, they end up squeezing commissions to travel intermediaries and are willing to go to any length to capture the consumer directly. It is no longer a matter of right or wrong, ethical or unethical – it is a matter of survival.
- Consumer buying behaviour is getting more aggressive, if the consumer is reassured of the travel product he is researching online, there is very little to stop him to book online if he finds the price to be correct. Consumer wants to be in control of his travel and with excellent online support, he is even more confident of sharing his card plastic details for online purchases. Millennial, gen x and y are using all kind of gizmos to collect and research information, read reviews, clarify doubts and proceed with their plans. They are involved in their family vacation plans and always find the best deal. Their logic- more the intermediaries, higher the price.
- Low entry barrier + very short learning curve + No investment- anyone can become a travel agent, there is no standardised regulatory mechanism which determines the qualification, accreditation, financial outlay, guidelines for a travel agency. This has resulted in excessive mushrooming of travel agents who may be operating out of a briefcase. We have heard of more fraudulent cases in travel business in the last five years than in the last three decades. There are people who have invested years of their life learning about various destinations which helps in curating itineraries and travel plans – but, someone who is new in the business but is e-smart and enabled could fetch the information about any destination or travel product and provide similar inputs equally efficiently.
- Travel agency evolution is slow- when you look around, we are surrounded with online options, apps, beautifully created and efficient website. There are blogging websites, there are traveller advisory websites and there are bidding websites. Travel product websites, but how many Indian travel agency websites which are world class and allow a quick solution from ‘query to closure’. This gap is only in travel, if you look at consumer durables, food deliveries, radio taxis, insurances, investments, e-wallets, daily utilities, there are aggregators and single brand websites which are doing fantastic jobs. The big fish small fish debate could continue forever but reality remains for all to be seen, it is a matter of survival of not only the fittest but also of the fastest, one who grows and succeeds is the one who adapts to the fast changing scenario quickly and keep his consumer engagement high.
- Higher taxation and pains of local sourcing- with the introduction of GST, a lot of businesses including travel have been affected due to erosion of bottomline. With regards to outbound travel, stricter norms of remitting money abroad for bookings pose constant pain, the ease of doing business; at least in outbound travel is at its lowest level. Consumer is happy to book with overseas supplier directly without having to worry about GST and other complicated processes.
Some of these are in our own control and some are not. What we need to do is to take a hard look at the business and its realities and re-invent ourselves. We have witnessed many success stories around us which could inspire us and show us the path; if we cannot be the leaders, let’s follow the path which leads to survival and who knows even success.