Why don’t we sell travel like we sell shoes?

Why don’t we sell travel like we sell shoes?

Do you want to know how to turn online shopping into a wow experience for your clients?


As members of the Association of Southern African Travel agents (ASATA), we know that experiences make people happier than material objects. Studies have repeatedly shown that millennials prefer to spend their hard-earned money on travel instead of possessions.

Strange then that traditional retail travel companies have been slow to tap into this and develop a retail shopping experience that delivers some much-needed shopping therapy.

When we look at retail giants like Amazon, or even Takealot, the experience for the client is easy and pleasant. These companies have invested a lot of time and money understanding shopping behaviour, tuning into the preferences of their shoppers.

They’ll suggest book titles based on searches or previous purchases. If the customer has bought running shoes, they’ll deliver personalised suggestions of related products that might be of interest.

So, why don’t we sell travel like these retailers sell shoes?

Today’s travel websites tend to feature an overwhelming array of specials from which the traveller can select their dream holiday.

The reality is, however, that the very reason the client turns to their ASATA travel agent in the first place, is to make sense of the information overload that they already encounter online. They don’t want to be faced with limitless choices. Rather, they want professional advice on which holiday choice is the ideal fit. The future of retail in travel should therefore lie in making choices easier for clients through effective merchandising both online and offline.

Some travel companies have already picked up on this trend. Delta recently redesigned the online shopping experience to fit customers’ preferences and price points. The airline said it wants to provide fliers with a shopping experience that has the feel of browsing popular online retailer sites.


“Think about it: when you’re searching for a sweater, you don’t want to only see the cheapest version. You want to see options — size, color, cut, style, etc. Price is certainly a factor many people weigh, but it’s not the only factor by a long shot,” the airline said, adding that their redesigned ticket purchase process now includes columns rich with information about each of the seat products and fares.

If travel retailers want to be successful in the 21st century, they’ll need to provide online purchasing ‘experiences’ that engage the consumer. Knowing the ‘social identity’ of the client is a good place to start. Recognise where your travellers keep in touch with loved ones and friends, and reach out to them on those channels. Stay in touch with your clients via Whatsapp, Wechat, Facebook Messenger or Instagram. The more touchpoints the travel professional can own, the better the traveller’s purchasing experience will be.

There is no need for ASATA travel companies to become technology companies. Instead, focus on the unique value proposition that you offer and decide how technology can amplify this value proposition. A recent study by Amadeus suggests travel companies could offer a personalised search and book experience; a mobile app with destination information; or an automated disruption management system that helps travellers avoid queuing at the airport. The possibilities are endless.

It’s good to remember that it’s unlikely the shopping experience will be exclusively online, even in the future. According to retail specialists, shopping is about to undergo a dramatic transformation. “It is a complicated picture, but thinking of retail as either online or physical spaces misses the point,” Steven Dennis, a brand strategy consultant was recently quoted as saying on the BBC.


Dennis believes shopping in the future will need to be an amalgamation of both online shopping and physical stores, which will be like showrooms where customers will turn to for inspiration. The purchasing process however, will continue to move online.

Towards the future, travel retailers will need to incorporate the best of digital into the human experience of shopping so that travellers can once again truly enjoy a travel shopping experience.

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