Traditional travel agents who have survived the recession and the digital revolution have nothing to fear from the advances of technology, the Advantage conference was told.
First day keynote speaker at the Dubai event, Ellis Watson, who has worked for The Sun, Celador, Greyhound Buses and Simon Cowell’s Psyco, said the disintermediation driven by the web was a good thing because it forced firms to add value.
“Most of the most disruptive stuff about customers being able to go direct to price and book has been done,” he said.
Referring to the web in general he added: “All the exciting bits, which are the tools to use this wonderful train set to delight customers, are there right now as an opportunity.”
Watson warned delegates not to get too obsessed with technology for its own sake, but to only use it if it can be exploited to delight the customer.
“Do not get excited about technology; do get excited if you understand what the proposition is to the punter.
“You have weathered your way through the recession and technological revolution. There will be other technological challenges, but having seen off the worst of it there are other opportunities.”
Watson described the web as “outrageously powerful” for small firms looking to punch above their weight.
“It’s less down to the technology or the proposition and more down to the fact that you love your customers and that comes down to how good a leader you are,” he said.
Watson urged delegates to be passionate, to encourage employees to bring their personalities to work and to be positive despite the economic climate.
“The recession is not even a recession, it’s been going on too long. Do not participate in the recession; it’s boring. It’s something you should let your competitors think about.”
Good travel agents should challenge the negative view that the web can do everything and that they are no longer valued, Watson added.
He said agents should employ people who genuinely enjoy what they do and how to get ordinary people to give extraordinary customer service, and that anyone who cannot do that should be out of a job rather than harm the business.
“The culture that you can create in a small team is amazing,” Watson said. “It’s actually quite easy to make people fall back in love with you.”
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