At the Travolution summit, bits of which appear in last week’s Travel Weekly, Travelport’s Simon Ferguson talks about “....convenience and a seamless experience” in relation, I assume, to "travel"; very much the same repeated mantra can be heard from Phocuswright (an outfit that seems to think that Travel technology = Travel, which of course, it doesn’t. Not by a long chalk.)
Travel technology and their rather fancily paid executives who manage to turn speaking at conferences into an art form, along with their latent ability to exhibit no dress sense at all, forget that what travel technology does (that is, sell parts of travel) represents only a very minor part of actual travel.
Selling travel is the easy bit; the real work, in travel, only then starts.
Last week my daughters booked flights to Moscow, travelling via a European city gateway. Their flight from London was delayed and (fair play to the airline involved) they were put on a later flight, on another airline, to complete their journey. Still, they had missed their connection and their baggage arrived a day later.
Likewise, as well all know, Monarch failed and many people had to get home the hard way - true they all got home, but there now has to start the endless form filling and mucking about so that many can reclaim their money and hopefully, still find a replacement flight or holiday. If that happened to be, say, a Christmas break then the additional costs of what may now be a late booking, could make that early-planned break prohibitive.
Travel in itself, is far from seamless and certainly not convenient. Travel tech may throw money at websites and travel tech types may pontificate about how many millennials can now use a mobile gadget surgically inserted into the cranium that works on brainwaves, to book magical trips on a Friday afternoon after their fourth pint of some overpriced bottled lager; but unless the product or service that you are throwing money at to sell is up to par, sooner or later everything is going to come crashing down.
Booking travel always was "seamless", at least, was for anyone who went to see a proper travel agent. Travel agents covered all the angles (and still do) - but what travel agents know and tech has still to find out - and this is the BIG difference - is that travel (unlike, say, buying a washing machine) means a lot more than than just making a booking.
"Making a Booking" is just the very beginning.
Whereas a website (or worse, a metasearch website), considers its task completed once a request is handed over, a traditional travel agent is with that client right up to the point that the client returns home - and even afterwards, if there are issues to sort. A good travel agent checks in with you, flies with you, stays at the hotel with you, sits on the transfers with you ... indeed, a good travel agent is always, just over your shoulder. That is "seamless travel". Airline websites are better and, of course, actual tour operator websites are a different story ... but as to all others...
Missed connections, lost baggage, long security queues, late departures, airline failures, constant nickel-and-dime-ing, ATC strikes, overbooked flights, poorly cleaned hotel rooms or hotel food, waiting for rental cars, no taxis, surged-priced Uber fares - travel is certainly not seamless and a very, very long way from convenient.
Too much time is being spent on what boils down to a very minor part of the whole travel event experience. That is, distribution. Not enough time is being spent on sharpening up the travel experience, making travel in general, more enjoyable rather than the sordid, turgid, soul-destroying procedure that anything other than First Class travel has become.
When you read any travel tech person mention "seamless" and "travel" in the same breath, you wish you knew where to buy a pair of those same rose-tinted spectacles.
(Murray Harrold is a homeworking business travel agent. If you would like to have your travel organised by an agent backed by an American Express agency, with full reporting systems, call 07768 180314)