Splash out on going bookable
(Published in TTG 19.02.12)
Making your website bookable can really pay off – but there are pitfalls to avoid. Matthew Parsons speaks to Travelmaker in the Channel Islands, which recently took the plunge
For many travel agencies, a website with little more than their contact details and opening times does the trick – and in certain sectors, such as luxury, the selling process may be more about the personal touch.
But to access the growing generation of people who only do their travel booking, or any kind of shopping for that matter, on the web, it pays to offer customers the chance to book their holiday in the way they choose.
One such agency, The Co-operative Travelmaker in the Channel Islands, decided to take the online plunge in June last year, with its first-ever bookable site going live in December.
Why be bookable?
“It’s the convenience factor,” says Carl Winn, general travel manager. “People have hectic lifestyles now; being able to pop into a shop between 9am and 5.30pm is not always an option.”
Travelmaker’s main client-base is the 50-plus age group, and the agency, which has 18 staff across its two branches in Jersey and Guernsey, will continue to target them. However, it is hoped the website will attract new clients in the Channel Islands.
Another factor is that a bookable section “reinforces your credentials as a serious travel agency”, Winn adds.
However, beware of launching a new website with promises of huge web-only deals, as this could alienate existing customers. Winn says customers must always come first: “We have the convenience of being online, but also have local representation. If there’s a problem with an online booking, customers know we’re down the road if they need some help.”
The first steps
World Travel Market was the ideal starting point to set about researching bookable platforms, Winn says. “We went there in November 2010 and spoke to a few technology companies, and kept in touch with them afterwards. But in the end we chose Comtec, as it already supplied our back office systems.”
Travelmaker was already using Travelcat, Comtec’s B2B agency management system, and opted to add the B2C platform TravelConnect to make its travelmaker.co.uk site bookable. “The deciding factor was the ease of integration,” Winn says.
Once the supplier has been picked, next came the design, with training and support carried out by teleconferencing. The agency gave Comtec brand guidelines and a client profile to work to, and suggested other sites that they did and did not like.
“In June, we started work on the look and feel of the website, such as colours, fonts and graphics, and then built it up as we went along.
We then set up the XML feeds, with Comtec putting us in touch with some of the suppliers.”
The website in December offered beach holidays in Europe, with Winn wanting to take things slowly as the team got used to it. Next, it will add extras, such as the Galileo GDS, car hire, and no-frills flights that can be taken to and from the Channel Islands. The bolt-ons all come as part of the package.
Despite the extra functionality, computer expertise isn’t essential.
One of the most important aspects of creating a bookable site is imagination – creating a look that will evoke the right holiday experience and entice potential customers to get clicking.
“You pick it up as you go along,” Winn says. “It went over my head at times, but you get there,” he adds.
Three days before the handover in December, a representative from Comtec visited the Travelmaker offices to further train staff on the content management system.
What’s the cost?
Winn says the cost was similar to that of employing a full-time consultant. However, it is important to factor in extra resources to update the site, whether it is admin or adding XML feeds.
Travelmaker will also be allocating resources to social media to promote the website. “It’s going to form a massive part of our campaign,”
Winn says. “We’ll start with getting likes on our Facebook page (facebook.com/cooptravelmaker), and ask people what they are interested in, then sign them up to our newsletter.”
Another way of using technology to get even closer to customers comes in the form of QR codes – images that are scanned by smartphones, which then link to a specific website. The agency, as part of the Channel Islands Co-operative Society, will be placing QR codes in various Co-operative stores, with the added benefit of being able to track where the website visitor arrivals are coming from.
So has the new website been worth the investment? “It’s a bit too early to tell if it’s a success, but we’re really pleased with the outcome,” says Winn. “We are being cautious for year one, and in year two hopefully it will have paid for itself.”