Following the opening speeches and discussion on the New Distribution Capability, the ITAA Conference at the Hotel Carmen in Granada turned to consider the two topics of the conference theme, Bricks and Clicks, and the heady subject of VAT.
First up was Graham Carroll, Director of digital agency Digitalounge, who reviewed the good, bad and indifferent of some UK travel company websites (it being diplomatically not feasible to use Irish examples) to highlight a number of relatively simple steps that any travel agent, large or small, can do to improve their online presence. These included:
- Website: Why should the customer choose you? Your message, content, credibility, and customer testimonials
- Social Media: Be smarter about how you engage
- Email: Most cost effective channel for ROI
- Resources: Build inbound links
- Make a Plan: Plan your website and social strategy. Write it down and make someone accountable
- Measure and improve
“The four key elements to an online strategy are marketing, website, product and fulfillment,” said Graham. “You have to be strong in each of these four – if you are weak in any one of them, you will fail. The modern digital traveller is tech savvy, cost conscious, they consume and share content, they are researchers and reviewers – and they are impatient!”
In answer to the question ‘Why use a travel agent?’ he emphasised “Shout out the benefits!” and listed some as:
- Experience and reputation
- Support if something goes wrong
- Fully bonded / insured
- Special offers / package deals often cost less than DIY
- Value extras: airport transfers, meals, services
- Convenient, actually saves you time. “A Forbes report across all age groups discovered that on average people spend between a staggering 12 and 18 hours daydreaming, checking and booking a destination trip online.”
Existing customers are the easiest to sell to, so Graham recommended:
- Email: Email marketing is one of the most effective digital channels for customer retention and ROI. Only 20% of ITAA members surveyed are using email extensively, 40% occasionally and 25% not at all.
- Promotions. Target your email subscribers, Facebook fans, and Twitter followers with promotions on a limited number of items. Offer deals on products you know they like and up-sell and cross-sell other products with higher margins.
- Deals. Offer a daily or weekly deal to keep customers looking at your store and keep you front and centre in their minds.
For attracting new customers, he advised:
- Referral sales: Set up a referral programme to leverage existing customers. Give them an incentive to refer you to their friends through social media and email.
- Advertise. Pay-per-click ads, remarketing ads, content ads, print ads targeting new customers, keywords, or products.
- Social Channels. Run a sweepstakes or competition on Facebook to build loyalty and your mailing lists, blogging, Tweet about your specials and new products, expand your followers and fans.
When it comes to performance analysis, Graham announced that in a survey last July of ITAA members, 62% of respondents said they are either not using or checking their website traffic statistics.
He recommended that travel agents look at two websites: tools.pingdom.com and mouseflow.com .
VAT Study Report in November
After lunch, Dermot O’Brien and Gabrielle Dillon, Directors of Dermot O’Brien Associates, presented the findings of their research into how 14 travel agencies, countrywide from small to large, were coping with the impact of TAMS (Travel Agents Margin Scheme) and VAT since the legislation was introduced in 2010 – with Dermot noting: “Revenue have not done much about it since then”.
The good news is that an explanatory booklet on VAT compliance for travel agents is due to be published by the ITAA in early November. “It will use non-technical language throughout, it will be example driven and practical, and there will be a helpdesk service,” said Dermot.
The following session of the conference was presented by Alf Dunbar and comprised an introduction to his customer service coaching programme ‘You Are The Difference’, which is spelt out in his 100-page booklet, ‘Just Looking Thanks’.
Travel agents can get a flavour of Alf’s style and content at . One of his key messages is that: “Customer service is an attitude, not a department”.
In a useful wrap-up session, a five-strong panel summarised on-going projects for the ITAA.
John Galligan said: “The New Distribution Capability certainly contains potential threats for agents, including the issue of GDS fees. While the NDC project is coming – and travel agents cannot affect it materially – the question for us is how are we going to retool our business in that environment?”
Martin Skelly outlined the common issues that were to be addressed by the ITAA and the Irish Tour Operators Federation, and the services that were being offered to ITOF, and, as Honorary Treasurer, announced that: “In what has been a difficult year, the ITAA should break even or make a small profit, so we are in a reasonably happy position.”
ITAA President Clare Dunne announced that Aer Lingus had just confirmed a fares promotion exclusive to the ITAA for winter sun destinations, including a 20% discount on Dublin to Faro and Lisbon fares. The promotional fares will be available from November to March, with some exclusions.
Valerie Metcalfe said: “We need to be better informed about NDC and there is a lot of negative media about it. We knew we wouldn’t get answers to our questions here – the main purpose was to create awareness of the issue, which will be discussed further at the forthcoming ECTAA conference that the ITAA is hosting in Dublin on 28th – 29th November 2013 – 17 years since the last meeting in Ireland.”
Angela Walsh discussed CAR, IATA and credit card bonding and said: “This is an extremely complex issue, but the Commission for Aviation Regulation is ready and willing to engage with us, so that is a very positive start. In contrast, we had a meeting with one of the credit card providers that was worse than useless – they have absolutely no concept of the different layers that exist.”
The conference day concluded with dinner at the Restaurant Panoramic 360, while the following day brought a visit to Alhambra and Generalife, a tour and lunch at the Señorío de Nevada winery, then the Gala Dinner at Carmen de los Martieres, where delegates were entertained by some excellent flamenco dancers and classical guitarists.