Navigating in a Crowded Air Space
It goes without saying that traditional brick and mortar agencies cannot survive without an online presence. To start with, the numbers aren’t in their favor. According to a 2014 study by Google, “The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision,” one third of leisure travelers and half of business travelers select an OTA based on its site tools and options, mainly quick and accurate flight and fare comparisons. In fact, the study found that over 75% of surveyed leisure travelers selected an OTA because they found it offered the best deals. By comparison, only 9% put loyalty rewards as the main reason behind their choice (traditional agencies’ customary incentive scheme). In 2015 total ticket sales through offline travel agencies in Lebanon reached $560 million. Of that total, online ticket sales were estimated at around $80 million to $100 million, according to Kurban Travel. This figure is more significant if one considers that Gokurban is the only full-fledged OTA in the local market, and it was only launched in mid-2015. According to Boutros, the online service has been witnessing double digit growth month-on-month since its inception. This shows great potential for online travel booking in the country.
But an online presence isn’t a guarantee of success. Looking at the new travel market, customer expectations have increased dramatically when it comes to service efficiency and cost. On the other hand, competition in this sector is really tough. “The new breed of OTAS can go live and online in only a fortnight,” said Kurban. These agencies began by mushrooming across the world and growing organically, before they launched on a series of aggressive acquisitions for market dominance. Today, venturing in e-travel would mean going up against titans like Expedia, Priceline, Hotels.com, Uber, etc. – not to mention airlines’ own booking websites that attract customers with additional reduced costs and extra incentives. “Leisure e-traveling is not a complicated process; you browse, you compare, and you book. This is why sites like Expedia and Bookings.com can accommodate large numbers of customers,” said Boutros.