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Lick the late sales surge

May 5, 2012

(Published in TTG 26.04.12)


With competition fierce for the lates market, and online travel agents on the offensive, high street agents are being urged to take the fight for summer sales to the social networks. Matthew Parsons reports

It’s not often you see a technology company aiming to drive more sales back into high street shops, but this is one of Net Effect’s main goals this year, following the launch of latecards.co.uk in February.

The platform updates the traditional concept of displaying cards in shop windows, by providing the technology to let agents quickly post special deals to sites such as Twitter and Facebook in a consistent, professional-looking way.

“In the old days agents would put a sticker on the back of a brochure, then all of the pages had their details, now we’re giving them the tools to market themselves online,” says Kent Laws, co-founder of Net Effect. “And operators will be able to put these deals right under the noses of the agents’ customers.

With a background in advertising and marketing, working for the likes of Apple and Sky Television, and more recently Hebridean Island Cruises and Dukes Court Travel, Laws says he wanted to professionalise how offers were distributed.

Along with co-founder Steve Rushton, former director at Simply Travel, Laws says experience working for both agencies and operators allows the duo to “see things from both sides”.

“Nowadays, a lot of offers are sent out by operators via email,” he explains. “They carefully craft an email, writing about agent overrides, incentives and rates, and then send the message to their agency network.”

“But from an agent’s point of view, you’re getting lots of emails, from lots of operators. The emails are rarely opened, and even if it  is opened it’s then difficult to integrate the deal into your website.

“You can publish it via Twitter or Facebook but then the deals are unlikely to look consistent.”

How it works
Net Effect loads deals onto Latecards.co.uk (so far there are about 4,000) from a range of operators, which pay commission. Agents log in, and select the deal  – up to three per day – that they wish to promote.

If an agent requests product from a supplier that is not on Latecards, Net Effect contacts the operator to add them to its database.

A link is then sent to the agent’s Twitter account and their Facebook page updated. They can also print card or poster-sized materials for their shop window. Deal links are directed to the Latecards website, but branded with the agent’s logo, details and phone number.

Laws is also looking at a way to integrate the deals into agents’ own emailing systems, so that offers can be forwarded easily to their database.

There is a £150 joining fee and subscription cost of £49 per month to use Latecards, with special rates for consortia. Advantage members, for example, do not pay a sign-up fee, have the first six months free and then pay £35 per month.

The downside of such a billing system is that its reach to potential customers is only as large as the community it can build up. But it seems likely that Latecards is the first of many sites to reward travel companies that take social media seriously and engage with active and lapsed customers.

Knowing your community’s limits, and timing, is essential because no one likes to be spammed.

Measuring success may also prove difficult, because the purpose is to drive phone calls rather than actually sell via social media. Laws says 200 registered agents will be needed before research can get started – there are 70 – but even then return on investment statistics will be anecdotal due to third-party intervention.

For now, although some consortia offer similar in-house systems, Laws claims Latecards is unique. “In terms of making something really simple – it takes about three minutes – I don’t think there is anything else out there,” he says.

“We’re giving high street agents the chance to showcase high-value holidays, and get good commission. Only by doing so are they able to compete with online travel agents. Agents need to remind people why they exist in the first place.”

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