We don’t need to repeat it again really, but COVID has had a destructive, disruptive and transformative effect on the travel industry, and when tourism resumes – as pent-up traveller demand suggests it will – our industry will look very different. Here in Asia we’ve already seen several large, traditional DMCs go out of business, and it’s the same story worldwide. And with travel agent and traveller needs changing to adapt to the new normal, those DMCs that ride out this tough period will need to adapt if they’re to survive and thrive.
And surviving – and thriving – will both be possible, with a recent McKinsey report predicting that tourism revenue will increase by over 25% in 2021, and return to 2019 levels by 2023.
With the world’s travellers desperate to get back on the plane, and numerous large DMCs having disappeared, there will definitely be great opportunities for savvy DMCs who know how to differentiate themselves from their remaining competitors. And we say ‘differentiate’ as that will be a really important factor to DMC success. The growth of bedbanks, OTAs and aggregators for services such as flights, transportation, tours & activities and more means that travel agents are no longer obliged to use DMCs when booking trips. When anyone, anywhere in the world, can book hotels, transfers, guides and activities in your destination online in a matter of minutes, how do you stay relevant? Here are eRoam’s thoughts…
Whilst our blogs generally focus on technology for obvious reasons, there is no disputing the fact that many travel agents use their chosen DMCs because they’ve developed a good personal relationship with them, and that is something that technology can never replace, and will never happen with an OTA or an aggregator. Your personal relationships with agents, your brand, and your story are all parts of this and will help you become more than just another DMC. Obviously with trade shows not happening for some time it’s hard to network personally with your clients, but regular email updates, client webinars, and personal emails or calls to key accounts are all effective ways to ensure you keep the relationship going even when there’s no business going on.
Knowledge & Expertise
One of the main reasons a travel agent will use a DMC is because of their local knowledge & connections. Yes, that agent can book a hotel in your destination via a bedbank, and maybe at a cheaper rate, but they can’t chat to that bedbank about the hotel’s location, it’s suitability for their client or the quality of its breakfast, and they can’t ask an OTA to lay on a special welcome for a particular guest. But as a DMC, you’ve been to the hotel, you know exactly how it compares to its competitor set, and you know the GM personally and can call in a few favours. There is real value in that and it is worth more to many agents than a few dollars on the room rate.
It’s the same with other services. Whilst an agent can book transfers, tours, activities etc through an OTA or aggregator, if they don’t know the destination well they don’t know if the various segments will fit together well to make a feasible itinerary, and risk making a few mistakes. Whereas a DMC knows the destination intimately and can put together a trip that works, as well as suggest unique destinations and products that an aggregator can’t provide.
And in the current climate they will also expect you to have up-to-the-minute knowledge about the COVID situation in your destination, including entry requirements, insurance, hotel health & safety procedures and so on.
As we said above, anyone can book a hotel and a few tours in your destination, provided they’re doing the usual generic itineraries. But increasingly travellers want more than that – they want memorable, unique experiences that they can’t always find online, and whilst the likes of Airbnb Experiences, GetYourGuide, Withlocals and others have done a great job providing these, the bigger DMCs have been very slow to react to this trend.
It’s really been in the niche luxury sector, where experiential travel has long been a key selling point, that small DMCs have cultivated relationships to create unique experiences at local attractions – such as private access to a Sumo training camp, or a private dinner at Angkor Wat for example. But now the trend has gone beyond luxury and booking private experience with locals (such as dinner at a local home in Hanoi, or a street photography workshop in Tokyo) has become commonplace, particularly amongst millennial travellers. So having your own portfolio of unique insider activities in your destination is now essential, as if you can’t provide them, your competitors will and you risk losing business.
As a DMC, you should be able to provide all your agent’s needs in your destination – hotels, transfers, guides, tours, tickets, meals, domestic flights, whatever their client desires. That’s a given. But anyone who’s worked for a DMC knows that sometimes you get a request that you can’t fulfill: it might be that all your contracted hotels are sold out for a particular date; it might be that they want a particular experience you simply don’t offer; or it may be that they want to combine your destination with a country where you don’t have a DMC partner. In each case, if you simply say no you risk seeing money walk out of the door and damaging your credibility with the agent.
So you need to have access to technology that enables you to supplement your database of products with those from a third party. So if all your hotels are full, sell them a hotel via a wholesaler. If you don’t offer a particular experience, book it via Viator for example. And if your agent wants to combine your destination with, say, Japan, and you don’t have a partner there, no problem – just use your booking solution to put together an itinerary and sell it as if it were your own. This ability to supplement your own contracted product with third party suppliers means you’ll never have to say no to another request ever again and turns you into a genuine one-stop shop for your agents.
Service & Response Time
As many travellers discovered when COVID first hit, using an OTA is great until things go wrong and you need to make changes or cancel, at which point it can be next to impossible to speak to a real person. And as for having support in the destination if your hotel has no record of your booking, or your airport pickup doesn’t show up, forget it. This is one of the main reasons travel agents use a DMC – because they know their clients will be looked after in the destination and have someone to call if things don’t go as planned. That is arguably your biggest USP.
But one area where DMCs continue to fall down is in response time to agent quote requests. For years the model has been that the agent sends through a quote request, and then the DMC responds with a quotation a day or two – often more – later. Then another day or more if there’s a requote required. But in a world of instant gratification, that doesn’t cut it any more. People are used to booking travel themselves in seconds, and they don’t see why it takes a few days to get a quote out of you, especially if it’s for a fairly standard trip.
So you need technology that enables you to turn around even complex quotes in minutes; that enables your agent clients to log in themselves and do self-service quotes or book standard packages; and that makes changes and requotes quick and simple. If you’re not enabling your travel agent to respond to their client within the hour, or at least on the same day, you’re costing them business and they may go elsewhere in future.
We recently posted about the recent findings of a Skift/AWS report into how COVID-19 was increasing the pace of digital transformation in our industry and beyond. During lockdown people who might previously have been technophobes have learnt to chat with friends & family on Zoom, order food online, use test & trace apps, and much more, and they are increasingly going to expect a similar service from the travel industry. And research indicates that almost 80% of travel companies believe COVID has made it even more important for them to implement their digital transformation plans.
Digital transformation is of course a huge topic, but from a DMC point of view it should at least encompass digital marketing (CRM, email marketing, social media, SEO, SEM, retargeting), inventory management, and a front-end solution that cuts quoting time to minutes, enables travel agent login, pushes your products to a large audience of travel agents and travel buyers, gives you access to third party vendors, and can issue stylish quotes and itinerary documents in PDF or mobile app form.
And that’s where eRoam comes in!
Our booking and marketplace solution integrates with your inventory management software and enables your team to build complex quotes in minutes (as well as slashing requote time to seconds/minutes too); makes it easy for you to put together packages for commonly booked itineraries or segments; gives you a white labelled front end for travel agent logins so they can book online; gives you access to our huge product marketplace so you can supplement your own products with content from thousands of worldwide vendors (including long-haul flights); integrates with your CRM; comes complete with our white-labelled Jurni mobile app; and is affordable, cloud-based, easy to implement and intuitive to use, with a minimum of training.