Growing numbers of UK Travel businesses are looking to expand in Europe, especially in the Cruise Sector.
That is the view of Cressida Sergeant, Traveltek Chief Commercial Officer, who notes: “We’ve seen demand from clients changing in the past year, people looking to do more across Europe expanding beyond one market, especially in Germany.
“Customers don’t want all their eggs in one basket,” she says. “They are definitely looking to expand beyond the UK. A lot of clients are looking for a cruise extension to what they offer.
“We see an increase in cruise and in people wanting to book cruise. There are a lot of innovations in the sector. The cruise industry has been highly innovative – probably more than the hotel sector.”
She points out: “German consumers are relatively similar to those in the UK and Germany has a big cruise market. It’s still a very package-driven market, bu not dynamic in its pricing like the UK.”
Sergeant adds: “Expansion in Europe is still on the radar for us. But Europe’s travel market is so fragmented, you have to decide which market to go into and focus on that.
Whether interest in expansion across Europe is driven by Brexit or in spite of it is unclear but Sergeant believes: “Whatever happens, the effect will be short term. We’ve seen one or two people decide to wait and hold off investment, but not a lot of people have said that they are not investing because of Brexit. For the majority is has been business as usual.”
Businesses no longer in one camp
One strong trend Sergeant identifies among clients is of businesses looking to combine cruise and tour itineraries for customers.
She says: “We’ve seen demand from clients to mix tour itineraries with cruises. We’re working on a tours system for agents which we aim to have ready for World Travel Market and will combine tour and cruise itineraries in our system from next year. That is as a response to demand.”
Sergeant notes: “It has been no small task, but we should have clients live on the system in the fourth quarter of this year.”
She adds: “Our cruise bookings are up from agents and tour operators, although that line is increasingly blurred. We don’t really distinguish between them. We have a range of clients and a lot of them don’t fit into one bucket.
“Businesses don’t just sit in one camp. They might sell packages to consumers and have a B2B portal through us. There can be a difference in the functionalities enabled, but we don’t differentiate between tour operators and agents.”
Sergeant explains: “We provide tools for agents to put together packages. We invest in technology, but our agenda is to invest in agency tools.
Increasingly, she says, these tools are becoming more like “consumer-facing tools”, arguing: “You have younger people coming into the industry who expect the tools to look like consumer tools. We are modernising the look and feel of ours so agents can look and search. We will enhance the B2B tools on our iSell platform.
“People will see a new look and feel to iSell next year and the new tours product this year.”
Personalisation is hard
Tools may be changing but what about the drive for personalisation of offers and prices in retailing?
Sergeant questions whether there has been as much progress in this area as claimed. She says: ” People talk about personalisation but I’ve not seen anyone doing it successfully yet. For example, we’ve not seen anything new in the market when we look at hotel search.
“Personalisation is hard. It is done on people’s search patterns. I’m abut to go to Ibiza for four days with my husband. I’ve just come back from a holiday with my family as a mother of two kids. Then I’m off to Australia for work. It is very difficult for an algorithm to put that together to make sense of it.”
She says: “I hear people talk about personalisation but we are no further forward.”
Where Traveltek does offer personalisation, Sergeant explains, is: “When agents say ‘We want to work with these particular hotels.
Ultimately, the agent brings the personalisation by using their expertise. We give them the tools.”