This guest post from Trifon Tsevtkov at Regiondo addresses the trend of self-service in the tourism industry that’s on the rise this year. So, without any further ado…

You pack your bags and head over to the airport. Right in front of the check-in desks, you see the high-tech kiosks where you self-tag your baggage. After the journey, you skip the long passport queues and go through the automated border control.

After arriving at your destination, outside the airport, you pull out your contactless card and use it to open a pre-booked rent-a-car without having to go through the rental desk. You drive to your Airbnb and open the key lock box where the host left the keys for you.

Today, you can go from your front door to a location thousands of miles away with little to no human interaction. Just a few years ago, that wasn’t possible. So, why is self-service becoming the norm in the travel industry? And how can tour operators make the most of this trend?

Read on to find out.

What is self-service in travel?

Self-service has been around for decades, starting with grocery stores that let customers select their items directly from the shelves. It’s normal now, but years ago, only the store clerk could serve the customer, often getting a list with items that he would then pick for each individual person. Well, that’s not very efficient, is it?

Self-service in travel is a similar phenomenon where guests and passengers increasingly have the tools they need to be self-sufficient. A few of example of this are the self-tagging kiosks at airports, web check-in before a flight, or making changes to a tour booking without the help of a staff member. All this makes little to no impression when you do it, but it’s actually a series of sophisticated technology that brings self-service to the travel industry.

Why travelers love self-service

So, why is self-service so popular in travel? Well, it’s clear that airports and other travel providers can reduce costs and make their business more efficient, but why are travelers going for self-service options if there’s a person to solve their problem instead?

When it comes to self-service in travel, there are 3 main reasons why travelers love it: more choice, more control, and more speed.

1. Choice

It’s true – having too much choice can stress you out, yet we still perceive it as a benefit. In fact, studies show that having choices makes us feel more powerful. While self-service options are available in many places, that doesn’t mean people can’t go through the traditional route. If you prefer being served by a real human, you can always go to the counter and talk to someone. However, at the same time, you have the option of doing everything yourself. It’s this extra choice that makes self-service a good addition to the industry — people want to feel in control.

2. Control

Remember the example at the beginning of this article? Being able to move through your journey at your own pace is great.

  • Check-in whenever you want (well, as long as it’s up to 2 hours ahead of the flight)
  • Make changes to your booking from your smartphone anytime, anywhere
  • Arrive at your Airbnb at 2AM

It’s all up to you. Instead of having to conform to the rules and other people’s agenda, people can take control of their journey, therefore streamlining the whole experience.

3. Speed

And now we get to the most obvious benefit of self-service in travel: speed. Fewer queues and drastically reduced waiting times? Sign me up!

Self-service technology can speed up a journey and improve the overall travel experience. That being said, it’s worth noting that this effect can only be achieved when it works well. According to research published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management, frequent system issues and slow performance can influence speed in a negative way. In this way, if you’re considering implementing self-service technology in a tour, make sure it’s high quality and easy to maintain.

But why would you even consider self-service technology? And what are the areas where you can implement it? This is what we’ll cover in the following sections.

Why should tour operators care about self-service technology?

We can see that self-service brings many advantages for customers and end users. And while that’s a great reason to consider implementing this technology, there are additional valuable aspects from a business perspective.

To start with, you can reduce your costs substantially, in terms of both time and money. Depending on how you implement self-service technology, you can not only see a drastic reduction in customer service costs, but also, you could spend less time on manual and admin tasks such as updating your bookings calendar. At the same time, the customer experience can improve, leading to new revenue and better results overall. That’s because people will appreciate a streamlined, user-friendly service throughout their interactions with your business.

Weighing the pros and cons is the key here as there are likely going to be some setup costs and a certain time frame before you see the return on investment. So how can you implement self-service in a tour package? Read on to find out.

How tour operators can make the most of the self-service trend

There are many opportunities to make use of self-service technology along the customer journey. Below, we’ll look at common ways to smooth out certain processes using self-service.

Pre-booking (research phase)

The first part where self-service is relevant is before a booking is even made. Nowadays, you can provide all the resources and tools to customers needed to make a purchasing decision. More specifically, it’s about bringing live all the relevant information about your tour so people know what you do and why they should choose you over competitors without having to contact you directly. This is often done with the help of your website and other online platforms such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, and so on.

During the booking process (taking action)

Now that people have decided to book your offer, what do they do? For many years, they would have to pick up the phone or go to your location in person so they can talk to a sales representative, and oftentimes, they’d have to buy your offers through a local travel agency (for which you pay a commission).

Of course, nowadays they can book directly on your website while online travel agencies (OTAs) like Klook, GetYourGuide, and Viator take market share away from brick-and-mortar intermediaries. You can even show a real-time calendar of available tour slots using online booking systems like Regiondo. This way, customers can buy your offers without a single interaction with your team.

Post-booking (making changes and adjustments)

So, now the customer has made a booking and the date of the experience is approaching. But what if they need to make a change? Unexpected things often arise and people might want to change a date, add extra services, or even cancel their booking. Yes, at first sight, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to make the cancellation process super easy and streamlined. However, people will want to do it regardless of how difficult it is. So why not give them a good experience while eliminating customer service work for you altogether?

The same goes for making changes or adding extra services to the booking. It’s a good experience and it reduces your workload. How can you do this? If you’re using OTAs for selling tours, then that process is handled by them in most situations.

If someone has booked directly with you, it’s now possible to create dedicated customer accounts where people can control their booking. You can do this using your online booking software or have the solution custom-built by companies like Tourism Tiger.

During the experience (improving satisfaction)

It’s the big day – time to deliver the experience customers have been waiting for. So what are some ways to streamline the tour experience using self-service?

To start with, audio guidance is one of the most popular tour elements used to educate people as they move around. Of course, the tour guide is still crucial, but audio devices can break language barriers and make sure everyone gets the most out the experience. For longer tours, you may want to have a buffet lunch organized where people can get their own food instead of involving a catering service. Or, as is the case with things like Segway or bike tours, people can drive the vehicle as they move through the tour. There are numerous opportunities to introduce self-service during a tour, depending on what exactly you’re focused on.

After the experience (driving reviews and referrals)

So now the experience is over, but you can still take advantage of self-service technology. What if someone wants to leave a review or give you feedback? They can do this on your website or places like TripAdvisor without having to talk to a rep. Or maybe they have a question or problem, in which case you can give people answers in an FAQ section on your website. What about referrals? You can encourage customers to promote your business within the customer dashboard (mentioned earlier) using rewards and discounts, so all they have to do is log in and share a code with their friends and family.

Conclusion

Offering self-service options provides travelers with a speedy experience, more control, and more choices when buying travel products and services. Not only does it improve customer satisfaction, but it’s often a great way to reduce your costs. Automating certain parts of your business can drastically reduce your overhead (but it’s worth keeping the setup costs in mind).

There are many opportunities for tour companies to introduce self-service across the customer journey – from pre-booking all the way to providing your experience and staying in touch with your customers post-purchase. If you want to continuously improve your customer experience while cutting costs, it’s time to seriously consider the self-service trend and how to make the most of it.


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