Travel Agents Fall From Grace
Just ten years ago that chalet ski holidays were pretty much just the domain of the big travel operators. New operators trying to enter the chalet ski holiday sector soon found out that the main ‘channel to market’, the high street travel agent, was pretty much impenetrable. The big operators of course owned the majority of the ‘high street’ Travel Agents and even the smaller independent Travel Agents seemed tied in to their packaged chalet ski holidays and the related systems. As a consequence, a decade ago, small chalet ski holiday operators used a variety of media such as newspaper and niche magazine advertising to try and survive. Some were successful, whereas other new entrants either failed or eventually leased their ski chalets back to the big names they had originally planned to compete with. With such difficult barriers to entry, pre-Millennium the ski industry was a stable and relatively complacent market. Good for the main ski operators but in our view the consumer received 1970’s quality, a ‘one size fits all’ offering and a smile from the rep if they were lucky!
Even putting aside the questionable quality and limited choice (package chalet ski holidays after all worked on the pile them high volume principle), the booking system back then also now seems prehistoric on reflection. Who in their right mind today would dutifully trot down to their local town or city centre Travel Agents and queue patiently (stood up) for half an hour until it was their turn to be served (even longer if you went in on a Saturday)? Then when you were finally served spend the next hour and a half checking availability and cope with travel assistant’s persistence that despite the consumer being an avid skier, that Bulgaria was still a great ski destination on the basis that he or she had been there on a summer holiday and it was cheap?
Of course nowadays such torment is no longer obligatory, the Internet revolution and the rise of the independent travellers alongside cheap air travel has made the ski industry wake up. Chalet ski holidays can now be booked in our homes and at our leisure. Online purchases are common practice and recent surveys suggest that circa 8 out of 10 people now shop and book their chalet ski holidays online (includes researching operator online and confirming booking via telephone). Less than 7% of bookings are made via the traditional high street Travel Agent. Today’s travellers use the Internet to pick and mix, selecting airports, flights, transfers and times that suit them, rather than the package operator. The consumer not the Travel Agent is now the one in control and long may it continue.
The Internet gives us near perfect knowledge, as close as we will probably ever get. Lowering barriers to entry and increasing competition in the process. Consumer’s now have an infinite choice of chalet ski holidays to choose from. Operators’ who stand still with such knowledge and competition so easily at hand of consumers are likely to fail. Already in the last five years we have seen an exponential improvement in the quality of the chalet ski holidays offered. But this is probably just the tip of the iceberg as the next USP is sort, thereafter raising the benchmark standard for others to follow. Complacency is now dead, the Travel Agents grip lost forever, in its place the Internet has arrived and real consumer choice with it!