New services just the ticket for agencies

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 December, 2010, 12:00am

Technology is broadening the range of products and services travel agents can supply, including an ever-growing range of ancillary services offered by airlines.

'Technology is vital to improving work processes, increasing productivity and creating new opportunities. It will provide the edge that many agents need to compete in this crowded market,' says Brett Henry, vice-president for marketing at Abacus, a provider of end-to-end technologies that contribute to a portfolio of solutions and services for the travel services industry in Asia.

The unbundling of airlines' services is creating new opportunities for agents to be creative, allowing them to extend their scope in tailor-making products and services.

Such services include frequent-flier and loyalty programmes, and commissionable products such as rental car and hotel bookings.

According to the International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines, translating into about 93 per cent of scheduled international air traffic, airlines worldwide are expected to generate up to US$58 billion in ancillary services and products this year, the equivalent to about 12 per cent of the airlines' global revenue.

In driving ancillary revenue, agencies will become an indispensable merchandising channel for airlines. Some 60 per cent of airlines that participated in an Abacus survey indicated travel agencies would play a pivotal part in their expansion plans.

'Many airlines understand that to capitalise on the potential of unbundled services, they need to do so via all their distribution channels, beyond only their websites. Travel agents are able to access and sell these services for the airlines. The agents also benefit through more options and services offered for their customers at a single point of contact,' Henry explains.

The sale of travel insurance was Asian airlines' top ancillary revenue category with other products including onboard advertising, premium seat assignments, branded fare adoption, advanced seat assignments, and paying for the first checked bag and lounge access, the survey found.

Travel agents are also dealing with increasingly sophisticated travellers who know what they want and expect a high standard of service, including more consultative expertise and the ability to offer bespoke travel options.

'The consumer is king in today's travel market. They are more knowledgeable, savvy and want sustainable, quality and valuable services and offerings that they can choose from. With that, agents need to be more innovative, customer-focused and consultative rather than simply a place to book flights,' he says.

'The travellers of tomorrow are defined as being upwardly mobile, content centric, looking for instant gratification, frugal, seeking personalised content,' he adds, noting that customers value the personal interaction and expertise travel advice agents offer.