Online sales are often regarded with suspicion by the travel trade, as a means for customers to bypass their travel agent and buy direct.
The emergence of discount airlines specialising in online sales sent shockwaves though the travel industry and caused many agents to reconsider their customer offering.
In many ways the same process is happening in the rail industry. Whilst there is no doubt that online sales will continue to increase this does not mean customers will abandon their search for the ‘one stop shop’ specialist.
This is where the opportunity lies. Increasingly travel agents are trying to give their customers an online service for rail travel but due to the nature of the industry they often find this difficult to implement and even harder to sell. The sheer range of tickets available, not to mention the terms and conditions that apply to each, make keeping on top of changes in ticket types and restrictions a full time job.
One solution is for travel agents to outsource the rail element of their business to rail specialists. Seat reservations can then be made in real time, fares and timetables updated nightly, and, despite suggestions to the contrary, customers still receive a fully impartial service regardless of which train company they are travelling with.
What’s more, an online service gives agents and companies added flexibility. Account holders can enable as many or as few companies as they like via the Internet, so that booking rail tickets can be limited to a few authorised employees or made available across the board to all staff.
Additional information, such as staff number and cost centre number, is captured with every booking, providing companies with online access to management information so they can analyse and actively manage their travel spend.
Because many companies have different policies for different grades of staff, there’s also an option for you to choose which standard of tickets employees have access to.
Over time this is likely to become increasingly attractive to businesses as the benefits of letting an outside party manage your travel policy become clear.
Travel agents should see this as an opportunity to increase sales rather than a cause for concern. By working together agents will benefit from a rail expert whilst retaining direct contact with their customers- thus keeping the ‘one stop shop’ service that customers crave intact!
Martin Turner is the Head of Sales for Qjump Limited, the online retail specialist from National Express Group.