IN a post-pandemic world, travel agents – the generic name used by both the industry and the public to refer to people in all aspects of the travel and tours business – have to reinvent themselves if they intend to survive in the business. They will not prevail if they plan to continue dishing out more of the same.
To reinvent their business, they must think outside the box and not seek solace from one another. They should re-explore a whole new world transformed by the pandemic, rebuild business models, and not continue to look at the market as if they know it like the back of their hands. The travel business can only be transformed through innovation, invention and creativity.
Inbound tour operators are companies that are licensed to accept bookings from incoming tourists before their arrival to Malaysia, sell domestic tour packages to both Malaysians and foreigners in the country for travel within Malaysia, and operate tour buses/vans or car rental services after obtaining permits for individual vehicles.
Such companies should stop relying only on piecemeal bookings from their overseas counterparts and sales generated via websites or social media and explore the much bigger market of independent travellers who have not been making use of travel agent services. These sorts of travellers usually arrange their own flights to Malaysia, make their own bookings for lodging and, upon arrival here, make their way to their hotel by taking a train, bus, taxi or e-hailing vehicle.
Currently, visitors to Kuala Lumpur may purchase a travel pass card that can be used on public transport including airport transfers via the KLIA Ekspres and two-day unlimited rides on Rapid KL rail services (LRT, MRT and KL Monorail lines). It is a good initiative by the train operator, but travel agents are in a unique position to offer more by linking a multitude of service providers for tourists.
A large tour company, or a consortium of smaller ones pooling their resources, could hire technical experts to help develop a “One Pass” that can be used not just for transport but also at hotels, restaurants, shops, attractions, entertainment spots and for sightseeing within the city or excursions to nearby areas.
Utilising QR codes, the pass could easily be distributed and used at countless participating service providers. For example, they could be sold at, say, RM199 per day on a twin-sharing basis and registered users may opt for any form of land transport within the city, a hotel room for the night including breakfast the next morning, a buffet or set meal for lunch or dinner, entrance tickets to many attractions, free gifts at selected shops and entertainment spots, join sightseeing tours, excursions, adventures, and many other activities.
Some tourists may exceed the value of the pass while others will underutilise it. The former will enjoy their stay to the hilt while the latter will be happy with the convenience. It is much the same as restaurants offering buffets where some diners would stuff themselves silly while others hardly eat. The “One Pass” would also make an ideal corporate gift.
The success of such a pass can easily be replicated in many countries, and its founders are likely to become rich beyond their wildest dreams. If the startup is not sold for millions, it would be worth billions later from its huge and growing customer database, as data is the new currency. By closely tracking tourists’ activities, the company could decipher the science and master the art of the travel business, and not rely on assumptions or gut feelings.
E-hailing companies such as Uber and Grab may have lost billions but they are still worth a lot as the valuation of a company can also be based on future potential earning. Travel agents must turn to such new business models if they desire to go big or excel in the trade. But first, they need to re-explore a whole new world.
YS CHAN , Petaling Jaya
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