27 November 2019 | MOF Team
For those who know what they want, booking has never been easier. Digital omnipresence enables the discovery of instant, personalised service — a self-serve economy across the spectrum.
But, for those who don’t know what they want when travelling, it can cause decision fatigue.
Human curation is, therefore, more valuable than ever. We seek trusted expertise to aide the trip planning process -- the value added by package holidays and tour operators have resoundingly endured. But in many ways, tour operators seem out of touch. Look no further than the collapse of Thomas Cook.
Do package holidays still have a place in today’s self-service economy? Matter Of Form asks how OTA’s and tour operators should rebrand to stake their claim in a fast-changing luxury travel sector.
The nosedive collapse of 178-year-old British tour operator Thomas Cook hit headlines last month. It’s liquidation put 21,000 jobs at risk and triggered the biggest ever peacetime repatriation of more than 150,000 British holidaymakers. Thomas Cook’s demise is a testament to the profound changes sweeping the tourism sector.
“Before the rise of online booking—let alone when Thomas Cook was born in 1841—travellers relied on the tour operator brand not just for simplicity and peace of mind, but also to ensure a certain level of quality when staying in unknown countries.” The WSJ
Radical developments in technology plays a dominant role in this story. Hyperconnectivity empowers users to curate their own holiday according to personal quirks and tastes.
There are now tools that will automatically plan your holiday. Google Trips will grab flight and hotel booking information from your Gmail inbox, and set up a ‘trip’ in the app for you. City guides, restaurants, discounts, and local attractions are all available to view offline. Despite Google’s recent closure of the app, the service flourished as more people contributed to their live opinion, reviews, and photos of a particular location. A mobile trip planner.
While it is easy to think the collapse of Thomas Cook indicates a disaffection with tour operators/ package holidays, deeper analysis of the sector reveals a far more complicated story.
UK government statistics reveal growth in the number of people taking package holidays (15.9m in 2014 to 18.2m last year). Deloitte found those aged from 16 to 44 were particularly keen.
In a world saturated with choice, the role of tour operators has changed. Those who see success are strong brands that people can relate to. Those that cut through the noise and alleviate decision fatigue.
Tipping the upper end of the luxury scale, Abercrombie & Kent offer expertly planned private holidays complete with a bespoke travel service. Privately-chartered planes dramatically reduce travel time -- hassle-free flight departures, expedited check-in, and immigration procedures, no delays. A holistic, exclusive approach to travel.
Take the core brand message of Airbnb’s latest luxury venture, Beyond by Airbnb, “Access. Perspective. Participation. Passion”. ‘Superhosts’ share insider knowledge with guests and give them behind-the-scenes access to people, places, and activities that guests couldn't typically find on their own.
So why is it that middle ground brands can’t keep up?
It’s becoming increasingly challenging to operate as a medium-sized brand across hospitality.
“As many independent hotels buckle under the pressure of the booking websites and flat-sharing platform Airbnb, chains like Marriott, Hilton, and InterContinental—and to a lesser extent Hyatt and Accor—are reaping large benefits from scaling up their brands, often through franchise agreements.” WSJ
In Europe, 40% of hotels are now under big brands, compared with 30% a decade ago, according to consulting firm HVS.
Meanwhile, we as consumers want AirBnB or five-star luxury. The middle ground less so. We travel further to uncover which feels truly unique. But simultaneously demand personalised, instant, good-value service.
For OTA’s and tour operators, the power of the brand is key. Most operators have diluted, transactional offerings that lack niche appeal and do not dare to be bold. It is this complacency that will lead tour operators to the same fate as high street retail.
Matter Of Form has seen this tension with retailers like Office – they once stood for choice. But what does choice mean in an access-all-areas, online world?
Left too long, the opportunity cost of ‘cutting an audience’ to attract a higher value niche audience will be too great. And operators will not be able to secure their long term future.
One solution is to invest in diffusion brands, slowly shifting marketing spend from one to the other and creating equity in a new vehicle.
There is a glaring opportunity for high revenue companies that can withstand the squeeze of sector change. An opportunity to forge a durable, emotional bond with customers based on trusted advice and appropriate personalisation. Abercrombie & Kent have done just that with their most recent product launch (MyA&K). A digital tool which allows website visitors the freedom to curate their own holiday wish list, and then share it with friends and family.
To implement a more joyous experience for a traveller, one must consider the experience holistically as a package holiday would. Connect all the dots. A streamlined, carefully managed offering that supersedes the customer’s travel dreams.
Established in 2018, the Matter Of Form Group is a collection of four award-winning agencies united and bound together by a common set of ideas and values centred around the mantra ‘Make Change Effective’.
The group consists of Matter Of Form, FORM Commerce, Diffusion Digital and Experience Haus with clients spanning the property and real estate, retail, travel and hospitality, wellness, lifestyle, third sector, B2B sectors and beyond. Some of these brands include Aman Resorts, Belmond, Cadogan Estates, Corbin and King, Landmark Properties, Mary Katrantzou, Monique Lhuillier, Shanghai Tang, Shangri-La, The Rug Company, UNICEF, World Economic Forum, Karen Millen, Breitling, Savitri Foundation, Joel Robuchon, Lindblad Expeditions, The Collective, The School of Life & Thanos Hotel Group.
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