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The Modern Old Way

missed opportunity

Innovation is a daily topic in travel. Innovation, as far as travel tech is concerned, is very much geared towards selling travel. "That makes sense", I hear the cry.

There are endless apps, from the "holiday snaps to booking" type to the endless multiplication of websites that say they can find you a room at the Ritz in London for a mere 20 bucks.

IATA have spent much time pushing NDC (for the uninitiated, that's a way of replacing the 1980's technology way of booking air travel (and hotels and car hire) with something more up to date - even though the 1980's technology works perfectly and we are not too sure about the "new and improved" version .. but Hey! It's 1980's stuff - Right?)

However, scratch the surface of travel and one still finds a world of tall desks and wizened old folk scratching at ledgers with quill pens. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Just the other day, whilst trying to reissue a re-issued ticket, a message appears that I cannot... apparently, after the first re-issue. I have to use a "telephone" and "speak to" a "human being" and then, one has to turn up at a "desk" and hand over "cash". Now, I am the first one to say that this sort of human inter-action is actually a highly pleasurable thing; given that my daughters use text messages to communicate from upstairs in our house to downstairs; that, however, is not the point, the inclusion of this time-sapping obstacle demonstrates that whereas the front end of travel may seem all efficient and modern, the back end is like trying to arrange to get a screw tightened, on a light-bulb holder, in a 1970's UK car plant.

This leads me neatly to fares, where everything is fine until you need to make changes to something. Airline travel is like the motor industry. No one makes any money selling the initial product, the money all comes from changes, from servicing, from the (usually unwanted) add-ons and from stuff which you find you have to pay for, even though any reasonably sane person would have thought that something would have been included - like, say, having oxygen at 32,000 feet, for example. Airlines even try to get an angle on the big motor industry money-maker, selling finance. Do you hold an airline credit card? As to a refund - don't even go there.

That said, this "service" element of travel has become a neglected area. It is, as I mentioned, the money-making area and yet for many airlines and tour operators, it is something which has become an onerous and challenging duty, unwanted by airlines and operators, even though a change of reservation in itself, could be an, as yet unrecognised, highly profitable travel event.

Okay, so many will moan about having to firstly, find a phone number, then find that it is a premium rate number, then have endless sets of buttons to push then wait and then, when one does get through, it can be to someone that if asked "What is your name?" - has to go and find a supervisor.

An amendment to a travel event is not a problem, it is an opportunity. Opportunities exist for up-selling, selling insurance, checking any extras that may have been missed - it is a second bite of the cherry of direct contact with the customer and a chance to demonstrate the efficiency of the service aspect of any travel provider.

Traditional travel agents have known these values for a long time. One could even use the opportunity of offering, say, dog-walking services....

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