The amount of online content related directly or indirectly to travel is astounding. There are countless websites, blogs, Facebook pages, user reviews and an endless stream of travel-themed tweets. Only a few years ago a search for a remote off-beat destination might bring up nothing more than an obscure Wikipedia entry. No more; if it’s on the map you can be pretty sure someone’s been there and added something to the web to let the world know. Perhaps it’s now time to ask what it’s all for, before the world of online travel becomes an unsavoury stew of whimsical thoughts and badly-written dreams?
I was reminded of these thoughts last night while listening to the lively debate at the CIMTIG Question Time event. While the panel managed to cover a wide range of topics in the 90 minute session, the shadow of technology and its role for travel companies in effectively communicating their products and brands loomed large throughout (no surprises of course).
I enjoy this type of forum for many reasons, not least because it reminds me that there are many ways to plan your travels and that my way is not the only way. I travel independently and the same goes for most of the folks with whom I share travel-related chatter online. For the majority however booking through an agent, whether in person or online, has always been the preferred way to arrange a holiday. Millions may seek information and inspiration via various online channels, but they ultimately turn to an agent to make their booking.
This in turn leaves travel agents to attract customers by providing them with an attractive valuable proposition, and leaves tour operators working hard to design desirable products that those agents can sell, or that they can promote directly.
Which brings me back to the role of the internet. This is really a ton of stuff out there. Far too much, many would say (as David Whitley famously stated at last year’s Travel Blog Camp, “if there’s one thing the web doesn’t need it’s more stuff on it.” So where does this leave the travel agent, who is tasked with providing authoritative and useful information to their client on an ever-increasing range of destinations and products? Should they really be concerned with producing more ‘stuff’, as many are still doing?
What if there was a way of quickly sorting out the good relevant stuff from the bad, saving hours of wasted time trying to find useful information on a destination? If an agent was able to provide a potential customer with access to a manageable selection of quality articles (in whatever format) that provide the information that they are looking for, it would surely have multiple benefits. The customer will be inspired to book (I’m convinced that well-produced content really can have that effect) while the agent is soon established as a credible source of user-friendly and credible information, adding significant value to their offering to customers.
Such a tactic doesn’t require a travel agent to create their own content – why duplicate further what’s already out there? Rather it requires a little curation effort (maybe not so labourious for those who already invest their time on social media). Jeremy Head wrote about the multiple benefits of effective curation on his Travelbather blog. While he wrote from the perspective of the editor/writer, it is perhaps travel agents who could benefit the most from offering a slimmed down, personalised summary of good relevant stuff that’s already out there. Customers are already demanding this information but in most cases are doing their own searching, often with mixed results. If an agent can save them the trouble and be seen as a trusted expert in the process, this is perhaps a way to stand out in an ever more competitive market.