Traditional tour operators have a stronger connection with consumers than their competitors that are only present online. A possible reason for this is that they follow an omnichannel strategy and thus work both online and offline. This strong relationship with traditional tour operators is mainly determined by customer service. For online players it’s the transparent booking conditions and the efficient booking process that contribute to the brand’s success.
Market research company GfK used an online questionnaire to ask for more than 500 Belgian consumers’ experiences and relationships with a diverse set of travel companies. The strongest relationships were observed at the larger tour operators that are both physically present (offline) and on the internet (online), also called omnichannel.
Strong relationships are built on positive experiences
In a world characterized by change and experiences, and with consumers that get more unpredictable than ever, it is more important than ever to build a strong relationship with your customers: this needs to be done by inducing positive experiences. A closer relationship with the customer also implies a higher preference for that particular travel brand. The more close relationships a tour operator can rely on, the larger its market share will be. Eccentric or less loyal relationships (also called flings or gurus) between brand and customer also have their reason of existence because they allow travel companies to sell their holidays at a higher price rather than resulting in a structurally higher market share.
The research conducted by GfK shows that in general the large traditional tour operators have a stronger relationship with their customers than the travel companies that are only available online. These ‘online only’ brands have a significantly smaller share (10 to 30 percent less) of strong relationships than the traditional tour operators. For these traditional tour operators, most of the close relationships emerge from the position of the brand within the ‘social circle’ or ‘close friends/family’ of the consumer. The consumer is so familiar with these brands that he considers them ‘as his family’ and therefore prefers them when booking a holiday.
A strong relationship... How can you achieve that?
How does a tour operator create such a strong connection with its consumer? There are some aspects that go hand in hand with close relationships. For the traditional tour operators, it is mainly ‘good customer service’ that contributes to a strong connection with the customer (ca. three quarters of consumers with a strong relationship mention this aspect).
Things are different for online players. Customer service is also playing its role, but it is mainly the fast booking process and the transparent booking conditions that build strong relationships in this case (important for approx. two thirds of consumers with a strong relationship).
Older target group shows weaker relationship with online tour operators
Quite remarkable is the fact that we observe a disproportionally large share of so-called ‘at risk’ relationships (described by the consumer as ‘conflicted relationship’, ‘dissolved friendship’ or ‘enemy’, i.e. really negative relationships) within the group aged 55 years and older. Probably, the online tour operators do not consider this group of consumers as their priority target group.
Note: niche players show strong relationships as well
Some niche players, like travel companies specialized in offering adventurous journeys, can rely on a large share of strong relationships as well. This is mainly thanks to the broad variety of destinations and accommodation they offer (this is a major factor for ca. 70 percent of consumers showing a strong relationship with such a niche player). Consumers indicated that the strong link with a niche player principally originated from so-called ‘flings’ (these are short but intense experiences). No less than one third of all consumers that were aware of the niche brand, indicated they consider their relationship with this brand as being such a ‘fling’.
It is remarkable for some niche players that strong relationships mainly exist with frequent travellers (two or more holidays with at least three overnight stays per year).
About the research
Between 11 and 25 April 2016, GfK questioned (through online research) more than 500 Belgian consumers aged 18 years and older about their relationship with some tour operators in the Belgian travel industry. GfK studied attitudes towards traditional tour operators, pure online players and niche providers.