Technology Helps to Unlock Content but Customer Focus is Key for Groovy Marketer.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Friday, 11th November 2011
Web In Travel's first Groovy Marketer, House of Travel, New Zealand, shares how it intends to thrive and stay relevant in the leisure tour operating groove.

Group strategy director Niall White speaks to WIT's Yeoh Siew Hoon.

Q: Operating a traditional tour operating business is hard enough in any market these days with shrinking margins and online competitors offering sexier ways of planning travel and dynamic pricing – but it must be doubly hard in a small market like New Zealand which has more sheep than people? How does House of Travel stay relevant and profitable?

Well, we have just as many cows, would you know... Our big advantage is we have been operating for 25 years and have invested in developing a big brand personality.

This helps give credibility to whatever we do in the market. Apart from that our market is small but not really different than any other market place we have seen. Direct distribution is a real challenge with airlines and hotels distributing direct to customers online.

Companies with a strong focus on the customer and delivering them a better holiday experience than they can do themselves online will succeed. This is a tangible benchmark. And operating out of an established brand well known to consumers really does help.

Q: You've said the future of leisure is to unlock the long tail – offering a vast number of properties at low volume. How are you unlocking that?

For a travel consultant to be able to provide a customer a better experience than they can do online themselves, we need to access content and technology that will provide a travel recommendation.

We have travel technology that allows us to manage direct contracts as well as access over 15 world-wide hotel/ supplier connectors. These provide real time dynamic rates which we aggregate into a single desktop, showing a travel consultant who the best supplier is to buy a particular hotel on a given day.

Q: With 90% of travellers researching online before contacting a travel agent, do you see a day when brochures will disappear and you will put them all online, risk losing IP and moving to dynamic pricing?

Brochures are a real debate. Customers need to be inspired to travel and whether a brochure unlocks the intention to travel or not is a good debate. There is no doubt that providing commodity product and price in a brochure in today's world is perhaps the wrong thing to do if a customer is price focused... We have yet to agree the answer on this one.

Q: How has HOT used social media to brand itself and sell more packages? Tell us about your Mix and Match game.

For us, it's important to constantly work at accessing "eyeballs" online and we see a "gamification" strategy as one way of achieving this. We try to develop engaging "games" which customers play and share for prizes, to create an awareness of our product and service.

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