Thursday, 13 August 2009

Are travel agents making a comeback? -

Are travel agents making a comeback? - "Are travel agents making a comeback?"

CNN published a news story around how travellers are going back to the Travel Agent. The reason cited as overly complex websites with complicated options and a need to 'speak to someone'.

Few thoughts come to mind:

One Size (doesn't) Fit All: Many travel websites are designed to cater to simple straight forward itineraries. Many wouldn't offer multi-city itineraires of split PNR etc. As a result for complex itineraries and special requirements you will go to a travel agent.

Understanding Business Drivers and Value a Function will Deliver
It's important to understand the business drivers of the Website (e.g. catering to two leg itinerary with two passengers) and design it accordingly. It's important to design the experience to 80% of use and still cater for exceptions. However, the remaining 20% may cost much more to deliver. So it's important to prioritise the resources than to please all.

Personas with Context
In User Experience methodology most practioners will design a Persona with specific likes/dislikes, demographics, preferred task etc. in order to provide a good User Experience. However, it's important to consider Context in Personas in this case.

The same consumer is a different persona at a different time
Most large coporates will still operate via a Travel Agent. However, what's interesting is that if I am working at MindTree's Bangalore office I send my request to our Travel Desk. But if I am working out of our London office, I do the bookings myself (lack of local know-how and low-volume may not require a Travel Agent in smaller offices). So the same individual in a different context will behave differently. Similarly, I book hotels and flights for most of my personal European travel myself. However, most of us will go via a Travel Agent when it comes to someplace less familiar.

Trend: Customer Purchase Focus
The focus/driver of a customer's buying behaviour cycles between: Performance > Reliability > Convenience > Price > Performance. When the purchase focus goes back to Price, the Product/Service needs reinvention to move the focus back to Performance. And this what possibly some website are doing (e.g. Kayak for performance and Trip Advisor for reliability). And individuals going back to Travel Agents are moving their focus from Price to Reliability as well.

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