Daily Podcast: The UK’s Travel Incompetence

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Good morning from Skift. It’s Wednesday, June 22 in New York City. Here’s what you need to know about the travel business today.

Rashaad Jorden

Today’s edition of Skift’s daily podcast delves into the English leadership’s complete inability to operate airports or trains, WhatsApp to drive travel bookings in the Middle East and India, and direct hotel booking efforts in Argentina.

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Episode Notes

The travel chaos in the UK in recent weeks, including congested airports and rail strikes, is dealing a severe blow to the country’s economic recovery. This type of travel disruption could also damage the UK’s reputation, reports corporate travel editor Matthew Parsons.

London Heathrow Airport in particular has had some troubles, including a baggage jam that was circulated on social media around the world. The airport has asked airlines to cancel flights to make up for delays caused by a baggage system failure. Meanwhile, a rail strike is complicating companies’ efforts to get their workers back into the office.

Catherin Logan, an executive at the Global Business Travel Association, said further travel disruptions will hurt business travel recovery, explaining that a return to the office is directly related to the sector’s big return. Meanwhile, Andrew Stephenson, marketing director at consumer data firm Treasure Data, warns that UK airlines’ inability to cope with the large number of travelers is tarnishing the country’s reputation internationally. He added that the airline industry has a steep climb ahead of it in the coming months to regain its standing.

Next, WhatsApp – which has grown in popularity in recent years – has emerged as a popular communication platform for travel companies across India and the Middle East. But the companies using the app still need human interaction with customers to generate bookings, writes Asia Editor Peden Doma Bhutia.

Travel managers like Ashish Pratap Singh — chief marketing officer for the Middle East for online travel agency Rehlat.com — are praising the benefits of WhatsApp, particularly in terms of being able to quickly notify consumers of flight changes. While travel companies using WhatsApp aren’t a new development — a 2016 Skift Megatrend noted that brands who ignore popular messaging platforms do so at their peril — it’s becoming increasingly important for such companies. About 390 million people use WhatsApp monthly in India.

But as travel brands like India-based online travel agency Yatra use chat boxes on WhatsApp to answer consumer queries, Bhutia writes that it’s crucial for businesses to use human interaction when situations call for it.

We close today with a plan in Latin America to fight the digital divide affecting its hotels. The Argentine Hotel and Restaurant Association is launching an online booking website to help hotels in the region make direct bookings, writes Paula Krizanovic, a staff member.

ReservAR Alojamiento, a project developed by Argentine hotel leaders, aims to bridge a digital divide that has left many Latin American travel companies behind the times when it comes to online sales. The project offers digital management and marketing free of charge to licensed accommodation providers, whether they are affiliated with the association or not. Fernando Desbots, the association’s president, said the group’s research found that 60 percent of companies in the industry would stop using digital tools by 2020.

Direct bookings are desirable for hotels, as this eliminates agency fees. Florencia Landivar, the federation’s vice-president, said some travel companies cannot afford the 15 to 30 percent commissions that online travel agencies are charging, meaning they are not using the digital channels consumers are used to.

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