I wrote this article some time ago, but wanted to think about it for a while before posting. For a long time, I’ve been saying that someone was going to come up with something (for travel bookings) that would be so simple, so easy to use and so good, it just might have a shot at turning the industry upside down. Google released City Tours (see Google Labs City Tours) and it is really not a bad first start at doing just that. Frankly, the travel industry as a whole should take note, but travel agents should wake up and smell the coffee. This is the future. The problem? The future normally shows up before you’re ready for it.
What is Google City Tours?
If you haven’t seen Google City Tours [Editor’s note – at time of publication, Google’s link was not active] yet and you happen to be in the travel industry, you should read all about it. This won’t be difficult because there is no shortage of people writing on the subject. I’ve decided to write about it as it pertains to travel agents. What is Google City Tours? It is a very easy way for consumers to plan trips, concentrating on local points of interest. A user could enter a city and number of days they want to visit and Google will return a complete itinerary of things from which to choose. Enter “Paris” and you get all the things to see in Paris. Currently, it seems to concentrate on museums, but you can search for more. There are surely continued rounds of enhancements coming. I imagine that everything available on Google will soon make its way to the pages. As we like to say at Tripology in IT development meetings, as far as technology goes, Google City Tours is “sweet”. So, why should travel agents take note? Read on.
Are you a Generalist? – Time for an Intervention
Are you a travel professional that really doesn’t specialize in anything? Would you call yourself a travel generalist? You know, the “I know a bit about everything and even if I don’t I’ll find out about it so I can pretty much book anything for anyone” type? If so, you should take a day off and go wherever you do your best thinking. If you know a few people in the same boat, take them with you. It’s time to have an intervention. With this type of intervention though, you can be the host as well as the subject and you can bring some wine too, because this is going to take some fresh and real “out of the box” thinking.
Remember when OTA’s came around and travel agents panicked? This, in my opinion, is at least as significant as far as “change agents” go. Forget bypass theories as you know them; Google is where many consumers go first for travel information. (BING is new on the scene and off to a nice start – more on that later.) That means, with Google City Tours, consumers bypass every single reseller / middleman available for content going, eventually, right to the supplier. Generalists, take note. All your general knowledge has instantly been commoditized, improved, enhanced and replaced with a few keystrokes and clicks. If I want to know what to do in Athens, I frankly, don’t need you anymore.
Is this an extreme point of view? Maybe, but don’t be so sure until you try it for yourself and keep a watch out as enhancements are made.
The Travel Specialist Difference = Real Expert Travel Advice, Guidance, Planning, Insight and Personal Experience
Also, if I’m sounding like an alarmist, I am only doing so because I spend so much time with technology and can easily see where this might go in the future. I’ll share some good news though. Here’s what Google City Tours doesn’t have (at least for now); professional travel specialists (live human beings) that offer real expertise based on personal experience and knowledge accrued over many years of planning travel with whom a consumer can talk about putting together an entire trip. Granted, becoming a full service booking engine wasn’t the goal of Google City Tours. Clearly, they could have developed that if they wanted.
Again, I mention all of this because Google has built a tool that answers the question “I’m thinking about taking a trip to ______ for ___ days (fill in the blanks). What can I do when I’m there?” complete with map, search, etc. It’s wonderfully targeted, but general information. Some people will be completely happy with this and you should expect people will now send you Google City Tours itineraries they’ve put together.
Like I said though, this is good general information. Online travel consumers are looking for expert guidance; the kind of guidance that can only come from a travel professional who is truly an expert with personal experience, personal contacts and amazing insight. What’s your area of specialty? If you’ve answered “cruises” a big buzzer should go off (like the Family Feud buzzer for wrong answer). Cruises are not a specialty. Family Cruising is. Small-ship cruising is. Being an expert in a particular cruise line is. Nowadays, saying “cruises” is a specialty is like saying “hotels” is a specialty.
How to Find Your Niche as a Travel Specialist
Are you having trouble picking a specialty? Here’s how to pick your specialty. First, make three lists, each containing at least three or four items/services/destinations, etc:
1) What are you most passionate about? Really, what do you love selling?
2) At what can you be the very best in the world? What do you know cold and better than anyone else?
3) What items/services/destinations can you make the most money selling? Profit is the name of the game. If you can’t make money doing it, try something else.
Now, take those three lists. Any item/service/destination that comes up in all three lists is what you should specialize in, i.e. it’s the product or place or trip type that you love selling, that in which you’re an expert and it’s something at which you can make money when you do sell it. If you aren’t an expert at it, or you don’t really love selling it or if you can’t make money when you do sell it, you have to pick something else.
What Today’s Online Travel Consumers Are Looking For
Are you still somewhat confused about specialization? Okay, I’ll go on. We’ve processed more than 85,000 consumer trip requests. I can tell you that most online consumers are looking for this type of insider information. Put simply, they want stuff you can’t find on the internet. Sure, anyone or any program can give you a list of hotels, tell you which ones are available and at what price and even give you ratings, consumer reviews and more. But after a consumer puts this itinerary together and looks at the hotel photos, how does he/she know if this is the best option? The consumer, at the end of the day, still wants validation from a travel specialist that the trip they’re about to take is indeed the best option (from destination to price to all the other trip attributes.) They want to know they’ll be taken care of. They want an advocate in case something goes awry (read cancelled flights and overbooked hotels). They don’t want to hear “I can book anything for anyone”. They want to hear something like (for example)… “I would pick the Elounda Beach hotel over the Elounda Mare hotel because of the recent refurbishments of the ocean-front bungalows (especially #114-127 which have a slightly larger patio). Plus the Elounda Beach hotel, while in proximity to the village, isn’t so close that you hear the rooster at 4:00AM. I’ve spoken to Tassos, a friend of mine and the general manager with whom I just had dinner while I was on Crete last month and he has offered an upgrade and a whole host of amenities because so many of my clients go there. For dinner, you have to try Domata Taverna, be sure to sit near the water and you’ll see them bringing in fresh fish. Speak with Nikos and tell him you’re a friend of mine.” — THIS, my friends, is what consumers are looking for in travel. This is the type of information that commands service fees. This is the type of information that can’t, in its entirety, be found anywhere (internet or not) except in the mind of very well traveled, experienced, travel professional who is a master at their craft.
When consumers surf the vast web, it’s true, many are looking for simple trips at the best price. Many people however, spend weeks on Trip Advisor, DMO/CVB sites, etc. They have money to spend but they still want the best values. Without the extra, insider information, personal experience and personal contacts, you are not as valuable as you would hope. Today’s consumer isn’t looking for simply someone that calls themselves a travel agent; they’re looking for a professional travel specialist. With some work, this can be you. If you’re already there, great.
Now you can go to Tripology.com because we have consumers who want to connect with you.
John T. Peters joined Tripology as President and CEO in June of 2008. Most recently, John was Vice President of Business Development & Travel Trade where he led the successful launch of Endless Vacation Rentals by Wyndham Worldwide. Earlier in his career, John founded Zeus Tours & Yacht Cruises, an international yacht cruise/tour and hotel business that grew to over $50 million in sales with over 100 employees in offices in New York, Athens, Rome and Buenos Aires. You can learn more about Tripology at www.tripology.com