Comment: Suppliers should invest more in their travel documents

Haslemere Travel’s Gemma Antrobus says quality service from start to finish is key

Is automation risking alienating a lucrative tranche of our customers? This was a question I asked myself recently, when a long‑standing client threatened to cancel a rather expensive cruise if their travel details were only going to be sent via an app or by email.

I did my absolute best to reassure them that – despite the fact many tour operators and cruise lines now favoured this way of providing information, particularly post-pandemic – I would, naturally, assist them with all the automated procedures and would print/collate anything necessary, providing my own ticket wallet and luggage labels.

The booking was saved, and the client was happy, but the incident reminded me that, unfortunately, the quality of final travel documents has really slipped since the pandemic.

In all honesty, the quality of travel documentation that we are now being sent in the post ranges vastly, from luxury leather wallets and highly detailed itineraries to, I’m sorry to say, shockingly poor paper or cardboard wallets and flimsy bits of paper.

I remember when some suppliers used to send beautiful wallets in fancy boxes, with tissue paper individually tied with ribbon. How have we moved so far away from that gold standard?

Selling luxury travel to wealthy clients and high-net-worth individuals, I personally want them all to receive a physical document pack, provided by the supplier, in addition to an app and email documents (if they wish, that is). Am I unusual, or being unreasonable? Or am I asking too much?

Mixed reactions

I posed this question to a number of my fellow Aito Specialist Travel Agents at the recent Aito Kick Start conference earlier this month, and the response was more varied than I had expected.

Undoubtedly, the majority of agents I spoke to have similar business models to my own, and we enjoy a similar client demographic, so our thinking was aligned.

What was most interesting was what those who had a different perspective had to say.

For agents without physical agencies or shopfronts, the preference definitely seemed to be for electronic documentation, which they could send to their clients in the same manner, often with overbranding or the addition of their own agency documents.

Those in more remote areas of the country, where the postal service was less reliable, also understandably preferred to receive electronic documents – yet many printed them out, so that their clients still had something physical to collect from the agency. This presents a great opportunity, of course: to wish the clients a lovely trip and to invite them back after their holiday to share highlights, discuss any possible improvements and hopefully book their next trip over a glass of champagne!

Quality counts

The real difference seemed to come with the client demographic. For agents with older clients – the silent generation and baby boomers – physical packs were preferable, but for millennials and the top end of Gen Z clients, apps and automation were much more desirable, with Gen X clients sitting somewhere in the middle.

But there was one important element that everyone seemed to agree on – choice. Clients, as well as independent travel agents, should be able to choose how they receive their documents. It should not just be assumed that one way is preferable; suppliers should consult with agent partners to ensure they get this right.

Suppliers, if you do send physical documents, please ensure they are of good quality. If you are adapting to a hybrid model and sending fewer travel documents by post, please invest a little more money in this area. You wouldn’t dream of having a cheap-looking brochure or website, which are the windows to your business, so please ensure the same quality with your documents.

Travel is one of the few products that we pay for – often many months in advance – before it is experienced. Regardless of how much a client spends, this is their disposable income, and often a luxury. As an industry, we should be respectful of that fact, and deliver a high level of quality from start to finish.