60% of agents in a Twitter poll say adding and updating passenger data take up most time when handling group bookings.
Sabre Twitter Poll May 2017
Group travel can be a profitable business for a travel agency; an agent that can offer group bookings is an attractive business partner for an airline and has potential to generate bigger margins thanks to volume deals with airlines.
However, for both the organizer of the travel party and the consultant making the flight booking, it can be a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process. Agents that can provide a pain-free, frictionless process will be heroes to stressed-out travel party organizers and will benefit from repeat business and good word of mouth.
Group travel is increasing across business and leisure for many reasons. For instance, businesses that expand internationally need to bring together teams from multiple territories for conferences or trade shows, while leisure is growing thanks to music and sports events packages, overseas weddings, religious trips and other motives. The Global Business Travel Association forecast growth in group business travel volume of 2.7 percent for 2017.
Handling group bookings is an intricate process that we can break down into four stages (see diagram). Planning and selling are routine practices for agencies and the latter is where the consultant can recommend ancillaries to the group – but the heavy lifting for group bookings lies in the managing and servicing.
Group booking specialists have incredibly useful knowledge and experience that gives them an edge in this market but they still face a number of challenges. The biggest is the sheer complexity of making a group booking – there are a lot of moving parts to oversee – and this is compounded by the need to manually input detail-heavy data. This requirement eats up a lot of a consultant’s precious customer-servicing time and also increases the risks of mistakes being made.
A third of travel agents in a Sabre Twitter poll said it takes them more than three hours to complete a group booking and this will involve exiting and re-entering the system several times with the associated disruption to concentration – it’s no surprise that 60% of respondents to the poll said that adding and updating passenger data took up most of their time when creating and managing groups. A fifth of the poll said handling meal and seat reservations consumed the most time.
A group booking that has between 20 and 40 passengers or more is booked at least 90 days and up to 18 months before departure. Each requirement for a new data input during this window compounds the chance of an error and a negative experience for your customers. Imagine the annoyance if the group reaches passport control and is halted because API (Advanced Passenger Information) details are incorrect?
Specialists also have to stay on top of the different requirements and policies of individual airlines. Churning restrictions will vary (how often an agent can cancel and rebook a reservation) and final deadlines for adding names to a group bookings may differ, for instance.
And then there is the need for a guarantee of final assurance. Agents want to know conclusively that they have ticked all the boxes and covered off all the details before issuing tickets to a group. They need to be absolutely sure that the right steps have been taken in the right order and all the deadlines required by the airline have been met.
Agencies may have optimized their day-to-day manual processes as far as possible to tackle these challenges but to scale-up, operate at speed and deliver the superlative travel experiences now expected from customers, they need the help of technology.
To transform your expertise into a sustainable competitive advantage then you need to develop reliable and fast processes that will turn you into the first port of call for party travel organizers.
Keren Bronher, Sabre Product Development Manager for Groups, says: “Travel agents have an opportunity to gain customer loyalty and satisfaction with good service and a flawless trip. Through technology and process, groups can be served better and faster. Efficient processes increase traveler satisfaction through swifter response times, especially since group sales are often still managed offline.”
Learn more about the potential to optimize processes for group bookings and the benefits automation can bring by watching the replay of Sabre’s Group Wizard webcast.