Travel firms up their tech game to stay relevant

Quotient Travel Planners has built an in-house IT system designed by one of its co-founders.
Quotient Travel Planners has built an in-house IT system designed by one of its co-founders.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

This comes as Net-savvy travellers book trips directly with hotels, airlines, third-party sites

A virtual reality headset that allows travellers to preview Singapore attractions such as the River Safari and Merlion Park - even before setting foot here.

Websites which allow customers to pick from a menu of attractions and put together their own travel itinerary the way they might create their own salad or pizza. On such websites, routes are mapped out, with admission fees calculated.

At least three agencies - Sohu Travel, Albatross World Travel & Tours and Quotient Travel Planner - are eschewing the image of a typical ticket-booking agency by introducing services catered for the savvy traveller, so as to stay relevant in the Internet age.

These days, many travellers are bypassing traditional agencies to book holidays directly with airlines and hotels, or through third-party booking sites.

Traditional travel agencies struggling to survive

A survey by travel search engine Kayak found that only 26 per cent of respondents used a traditional travel agency to plan their holidays.

It had polled 1,000 people from Singapore as part of a worldwide survey of more than 12,000 people in April.

CATERING TO NEW GENERATION

(Agents) must rethink their businesses in order to value-add and remain relevant, competitive and productive in a dynamic travel landscape.

STB CHIEF EXECUTIVE LIONEL YEO, on the challenges faced by traditional agencies.

Of these, 61 per cent said they consulted online travel agencies to plan holidays.

This spells bad news for the more than 1,200 travel agencies here, which are mostly small and medium-sized.

Battered by surging manpower costs and growing Internet sales, many travel agencies struggle to survive.

In 2014, 112 agencies ceased operations, and last year, 116 agencies followed suit.

In the first eight months of this year, already 112 agencies have shut their businesses.

Acknowledging the challenges faced by traditional agencies, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore launched a plan last month to help them redesign their businesses.

The Travel Agent Road Map focuses on three areas: business transformation, technology and manpower.

Travel agencies hoping to improve their business processes can also get monetary support through STB's Business Improvement Fund and Experience Step Up Fund.

STB chief executive Lionel Yeo said then that agents "must rethink their businesses in order to value-add and remain relevant, competitive and productive in a dynamic travel landscape".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Travel firms up their tech game to stay relevant'. Print Edition | Subscribe