Why travel agencies should automate their workflows

Why travel agencies should automate their workflows

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The travel industry has faced an abundance of unprecedented and unpredictable challenges in recent years.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced travel to essentially grind to a halt, meaning that agencies were forced to navigate a complex, evolving landscape of changing regulations, a sudden lack of demand, and widespread uncertainty about the short and long-term economic future of the sector.

While the industry (among others) has rebounded from this disruption, even despite unfolding geopolitical tensions, new importing rules, and economic recession concerns, in retrospect, the sector’s ability to adapt and streamline its operations to meet the market’s changing demands has to be commended. 

Travel agencies in particular have historically been fairly tech-enabled and empowered, but now, as industry-wide digitisation has only proliferated even further, they should consider deploying more tangible workflow automation solutions. By embracing this game-changing technology, agencies can improve efficiency and productivity while enhancing customer experiences and gain a competitive edge in a crowded market.

The current challenges facing travel agencies

Before delving into the benefits of travel agency automation, it’s essential to understand the hurdles that they are currently facing. UK tourism (and, by extension, its neighbouring sectors and industries) is edging ever closer towards a recovery post-COVID, but many agencies are burdened with debt that is proving an insurmountable challenge. Recent aggregated research from Consultancy UK finds that long-distance travel still struggled to surpass pre-pandemic levels at the end of last year, with business travel ‌exceptionally slow to pick back up again. 

Despite this, the UNWTO predicts that international tourism is expected to fully recover in 2024, with some estimates pointing to a 2% growth above 2019, with the industry’s performance dependent heavily on geopolitical and economic stabilisation.

Many industries that are reliant on or directly linked to travel have discovered the benefits of automation and digital transformation. Many routine travel journeys pre-pandemic are now alleviated in favour of videoconferencing, real-time collaboration tools, and more. 

As UK organisations grow, scale, and expand beyond geographical borders (with many choosing to operate out of UK territories like Gibraltar, while others find new economic markets to target in Asia and the Middle East), digitisation remains pivotal to a successful migration. Travel companies (or those reliant on using it regularly) should ideally stay abreast of evolving needs and market opportunities if they are to see growth in 2024.

The travel industry, like many others, is heavily regulated, with statutory legislation regarding data privacy, consumer protection, and security becoming more stringent. Agencies have to ensure that any data held in the cloud (figuratively speaking) is ethically obtained, safeguarded, maintained, and utilised if they are to avoid regulatory or public scrutiny, not to mention a spectrum of rising ransomware attacks.

Furthermore, consumers (ranging from business travellers and Spring holiday goers to those seeking to retire or move permanently overseas) expect a more seamless, personalised and digital experience across all touch points. Traditional in-person travel bookings are fewer and further between, so agencies must leverage a range of digital advertising and communication channels to keep travellers engaged and committed to the idea.

Luckily, simultaneous and methodical organisation-wide automation is crucial to achieving many of these goals.

The power of automation for travel agencies

Workflow automation presents a powerful and tangible solution to many travel agencies’ incumbent challenges, enabling them to streamline their operations, enhance customer experiences, maintain compliance, and retain that all-important competitive edge in the market.

Here are some of the key benefits of automating a travel agency’s workflows with the help of enterprise-grade solutions and integrations.

1. Increased efficiency and productivity

Automation tools can integrate with various project management and CRM systems and databases, eliminating the need for as much manual data entry. As travel agencies invoice, report, and book reservations, automation helps ensure consistency at all touch points in the customer journey, while minimising human intervention. In turn, this is a much more effective time and resource-saving measure. Travel agents can instead redirect their resources and time towards more strategic, high-value, and customer-focused tasks.

2. Enhanced customer experiences

By leveraging solutions ranging from AI-powered chatbots to marketing automation campaigns through email and social media, agencies can respond to customer enquiries more digitally and effectively. Leveraging data and insights pertinent to the customer’s stage in the funnel, agents can amend bookings instantly and without bottlenecks. Data can also be utilised to deliver more personalised offers, recommendations and experiences. If the facilities exist, agencies should consider empowering customers to access their bookings and retrieve information via a self-service portal, this will reduce administrative burden and input from agents.

3. Improved compliance and risk management

Automation tools, ranging from eSignature solutions to real-time document management portals can be configured to work with a range of existing systems and processes. For example, PDFs can be integrated with eSignature solutions which are a viable alternative to standard wet ink signatures, thus ensuring compliance with data privacy laws, industry standards and travel regulations. Leveraging these will help consumers and agencies save time in the long run.

Digitised files and documents stored in cloud-based repositories will provide an easily accessible and transparent audit trail, in case of disputes, insurance claims, regulatory audits, or legal issues. Backing documents and systems up with secure off-site copies, multi-factor authentication (MFA), stringent access control, patches, and updates will also minimise the chances of them falling into the wrong hands. Automating many parts of the compliance process can help minimise the chances of human error or oversight and mitigate the risks of breaches. 

4. Scalability and agility

Automation tools are compatible with existing systems, programmes, and platforms, meaning that agencies have ‌less manual configuration to do when it comes to streamlining their workflows. Enrolling AI programmes and tools doesn’t have to disrupt their current workflows given that they can integrate seamlessly with task management tools like Zapier, and document management tools like Google Drive, to name just a few.

Any tools that empower staff to automate tasks and maintain more visibility over operations can scale and adapt to fit the evolving needs of any travel organisation. Automated processes can scale down or up as needed, allowing agencies to handle fluctuations in demand (not unlikely considering the seasonal peaks of spring and summer), without compromising efficiency or service delivery.

Automation for travel agencies: what does the future look like?

Assessing current operations that need improvement is the first step to identifying which components will benefit most from automation. The most repetitive, time-intensive and resource-heavy tasks can, at least partially, be entrusted to smart algorithms that deliver efficient and solid results without burdening staff too heavily. Researching and analysing various automation platforms in siloed test or pilot projects is a great way to assess the solution, gather feedback, and refine your approach before scaling up. 

While this article only scratches the surface in terms of what automation brings to travel agencies, it’s clear that those who fail to embrace it risk falling behind their more digitally-aware competitors. Automation has become a necessity rather than a luxury, at this point.

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Author Bio

Dakota Murphey is a Brighton-based, established freelance writer with experience in business growth and a strong interest in all things digital. Aside from her love of writing, she loves good times with family and friends and admits to being a bit of a film buff.