Thomas Cook digital chief delivers Google warning

By Travolution
By Travolution
June 4, 2014 12:29 PM GMT

All firms have two key questions to ask themselves if they are to survive in the future – and both relate to Google, Thomas Cook’s head of digital told this week’s ITT conference.

John Straw, a web entrepreneur who was brought into Cook in March last year with no travel experience, said the travel sector was “a little behind the times” in many aspects of online retailing.

He warned there is a huge threat from Google’s investment in artificial intelligence that will see it start to directly answer customers’ questions rather than send them to sites that can.

“If Google were to withdraw its traffic from your website how long would your business survive?” Straw said. “And question two is, do you know how Google works?

“If you cannot answer those questions with confidence your business is seriously in peril.”

Straw added: “Google is acquiring artificial intelligence. They are putting literally billions of dollars into it. They are going to be able to answer questions.”

Straw described himself as a through-and-through web person, but said he was stunned by the good service he received when mystery shopping Thomas Cook stores.

However, he said that having spent 30 minutes with a sales consultant and having been offered four perfect options, that was potentially the last interaction with Cook he would have.

“There was no CRM, no follow-up. I thought 'this is criminal'. This lady has put thirty minutes of her valuable time into this and I have just walked out of her business.”

Straw said although Cook’s stores were packed full of destination knowledge, the firm’s website gave the impression it had zero expertise

He said this was an industry-wide issue. “We are crap, rubbish when it comes to content relating to travel in all our collective websites.”

Straw said that at Cook this had led to in-store conversion of around 50%, while online that figure was less than 1%.

As a result Cook has launched Resort Advisor, which is an attempt to capture the expertise of its staff and to enable customers to be put in contact with the right person.

Agents are now being encouraged to use downtime to share their expertise with each other.

“Quality information massively increases conversion rates,” Straw said. “Agents love it and they are using it to put information in about the detail that they know about resorts.”

Straw said another focus for Thomas Cook has been “getting into people’s homes” following a spike in traffic to its website from tablet computers.

Cook believes the way people shop for holidays has changed forever, with families now using their own devices to discuss and share options at home.

Since last Christmas the travel giant has seen tablet traffic equate to 20% of the total on its sites driven, Straw said, by the likes of Tesco launching a £119 tablet, the Hudl.

“We believe that’s led to a profound change in the way we select holidays. We think now it’s a much more democratic decision.

“We think over the dinner table conversations happen about which destinations or hotels and the whole family pull out their digital devices and get involved.

“So whatever you do in retail needs to be extended into the home to be involved in those conversations.”

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