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Experts call for more customer trust within travel industry

Article date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 17:28 GMT

Jonathan Bowers leads the discussion on the state of travel online

The majority of travel companies will have to add more value and inspire brand loyalty to compete in 2010 according to a North West round table discussion.

The collapse of XL Leisure Group saw customers return to big name favourites Thomas Cook and Thomson last year, because they had strong brands within the marketplace. At the UKFast round table on the travel industry, a panel of industry experts concluded that independent retailers must engage nervous holidaymakers with added value and niche offers to regain and build trust.

The domination of price-comparison websites is more prevalent than ever, so as travel spend recovers from the recession, guaranteeing exclusivity emerges as one of the key strategies. Currently, only three per cent of UK consumers admit to showing loyalty within the travel sector (according to fast.MAP Consumer Voice Panel), so the challenge ahead is considerable.

James Brooke, managing director of Rooster whose clients include Cheapflights and Gap Adventures, said, "The online travel providers that are going to succeed are going to be those that take the user experience beyond price and find innovative ways to demonstrate added value, whether that be extra time at the spa or dinner for two."

As two thirds of agents disappear from the high street, independent online companies are also being encouraged to specialise and focus on niche projects to secure their position in the marketplace.

Richard Nash, business director at CSI Media, said, "People are more than ever worried about where they are spending their money. As 2010 looks to be another challenging year for the industry as a whole we will see the clever operators focusing on niche projects."

Richard and James joined UKFast's managing director Lawrence Jones round the table alongside Joel Brandon-Bravo, UK managing director of Travelzoo and Brian Povey, tourism project manager at The Mersey Partnership.

Richard added, "They have to create some sort of unique selling points either on a product basis or a functionality basis that make it much easier to buy from them."

Joel Brandon-Bravo agreed, "It is this kind of brand building goal that companies must do because the internet has made it much harder to have the kind of loyalty that was available 10 years ago."

Enhancing the user experience through faster loading websites was also believed to help smaller companies compete in 2010, as well as an overall increase in customer spend following the economic downturn. The advent of iPhone applications was also suggested as a more immediate medium for travel offers and news with social media sites also encouraging more user-generated content.

The round table discussions are held in association with UKFast with the aim of uniting business leaders to share advice and provide a wealth of ideas for other developing companies.

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