We are “definitely living in the Age of Mass Customization,” Forrester Research analyst Henry Harteveldt said. “You can tailor your smartphone with a choice of hundreds of thousands of apps. You can get custom-designed sneakers.”
That extends to travel as well, he said.
In a keynote address to the OpenTravel Alliance Advisory Forum in Las Vegas last week, and in a subsequent interview with Travel Market Report, Harteveldt said consumers have come to expect a customized experience.
“More travelers are willing to consider trading up to save time and reduce hassle,” he said.
Airlines are using ancillary services to customize the flight experience with priority boarding, better seats, better meals and other items. But what can traditional travel agencies do to get in on the act?
“When you think about it, agents have been crafting customized trips since the beginning,” Harteveldt said, from room type to car type to the tour versus a la carte decision.
More than one in 10 leisure travelers took an unbudgeted trip in 2010, he noted, and one in five did not have a destination in mind, up from 17% the previous year. “They need help with ideation,” he said, which is good news for travel agents.
Mobile solutions for agents
Technology has the potential to take customization even further, especially via the mobile channel, he told Travel Market Report.
While suppliers and the largest agencies have the wherewithal to develop their own mobile applications, “John and Jane Q. Travel Agency will have to wait a while” for affordable mobile solutions that will enable customized offers, Harteveldt said.
“But they should be studying it now, seeing how other businesses are using tools such as location-based services.”
And while smaller agencies may not have the resources, “they are more nimble,” he said.
Harteveldt expects that creative agents, perhaps in the mid-size range, will find partners in their communities to enhance the entire travel experience. Agents also should explore partnerships with location-based service providers.
For example, a client planning a cruise could be offered a discount or value-add on a new cruise wardrobe at a local department store just as she enters the mall. A client taking a European tour might want new luggage to handle the realities of security and bag restrictions and would appreciate a special offer.
Harteveldt suggested that agents use local business organizations to explore opportunities for such partnerships.
A lot of solutions developed for Fortune 500 companies will become practical and affordable in a relatively short time, he added.