If you work for, manage or own a mid to large size travel company in the Middle East, India or Pakistan – you must be feeling the pinch by now.

Business is just not as usual anymore.  Is it?

Competition has ballooned in the last 3 to 5 years. Airline partners have become direct competition.  EK and EY obviously lead the way in the region, dealing directly with the traveler.  India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have become major markets for online travel agents (OTA). Even more importantly, the growth is fast and consistent – a red flag for “traditional” travel companies looking to continue their own growth.

Travel companies who remain competitive are those who anticipate what the future will look like, and plan to pivot their business model accordingly.

Here are 3 things any one in travel management needs to address in their company to stay competitive:

Don’t stop the train(ing of your staff)

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Image source: Stack Exchange

For service companies, its people are the product.  Like the manufacturing sector, a product needs to be continually improved, diversified, and sometimes even mutated to meet the customer’s changing needs. All this can be achieved when there is a culture of learning inculcated into the business.

Mostly, I see travel agencies and TMCs focus their training on the hard skills that the front line staff will need to process orders – like book airline tickets, hotel rooms, etc (often conducted by support partners like a GDS without much internal monitoring.  If they are lucky, back office staff may get some formal training on the accounting software being used.

In today’s world, the traveler (or travel booker) can do all of the same tasks related to booking travel – and transactional accounting is getting more and more automated. Yet the focus on staff training is on these very same tasks! Doesn’t make sense at all.

Travel companies need to put more serious focus on soft skill development of their staff. Stress the improvement of customer service training, English language (reading comprehension, speaking and writing), assertiveness training, etc.  When you engage the right training developers for this, they will create an entire syllabus which then can be customized for each individual.

Like all training, soft skills development needs to be consistent and measured. If it isn’t measured, how do you know if its been effective or not?  Specifically, has it been effective in improving the quality of service (do you delight your customer?!), is the staff able to take on more work? Is your cross-sell ratio steadily rising?

Front-Mid-Back (It Up)

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Front line staff are are constantly busy.  It’s a fact that perplexes the number crunchers when the focus is purely on bookings generated, tickets & service vouchers issued.  What we often miss out on is measuring the number of contact points it takes to complete an order: calls, emails, and messages that go back an forth to complete one transaction.

When you take a closer look at the number of activities performed by a typical travel counselor or travel agent, you realize that there is a lot of repetitive and duplicate tasks being done.  I know it’s a tough task for operations managers to think strategically when they spend so much time focused on the day to day.  But it’s so important to take time out and force oneself (and the team) to change habits or learn new tools that simplify the job. 

Centralizing common activities into specialist roles will not only simplify tasks but create efficiency and handling capacity.  I have experienced a drastic improvement in quality and service delivery turn around times when we centralized visa facilitation services within an organization as a mid office function. The results allowed us to create new revenue streams without any major acquisition cost.

Adopt-a-techie

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Business applications technology is such a vast field, that it becomes difficult to understand and plan for. Non-technical managers have a tough time understanding the jargon; and I see a lot of technology being sold by tech-entrepreneur types with a flare for presentation.  Senior management buys into it but the implementation never completes, or worse, the project goes into limbo.

That’s where C-Suite whispering is important.  Managing expectations.  Creating a road map for technology adoption that starts from today and clearly maps tasks, resources & milestones that lead towards business goals.  This is the toughest task of all as it requires buy in from key stake holders and across all functional teams.  It requires persistence and patience; but more importantly it requires travel business insight.  By the time non-travel techies understand the nuances of the travel business, it’s already too late.

Search through your team and identify people who are tech savvy.  They are the ones to be the first in the office to get a new smart phone or are intuitive with apps and software like GDS, online hotel portals, or even accounting software.  Nurture their learning of travel technology and best practices.  Their input will is valuable.

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