and Swimming Away From the Noise
Blue Ocean Strategy – have you heard of it? No, it’s not some eco-project with aspirations to save the dolphin and the turtle population – although that’s not a bad thing.
If you’ve ever taken a marketing course, you’ll remember that day one usually starts with the prof talking about your USP, aka, your Unique Selling Proposition or Unique Selling Point.
You know…the thing that sets you apart from all of your competition. It’s “Marketing 101…First page, Day One, Get this Right, and you can go home,” kind of stuff.
Yet I bet if I cornered you by the cheese tray at a Travel Industry networking function and asked you what your USP was, you might struggle. Or…you might look me dead straight in the eyes and say…” Diane, I am a luxury travel advisor who sells exotic locations.”
But so does 60% of the rest of the room – depending on the type of industry function we are attending.
If you work in this industry, you know it is a fiercely competitive market. Not only are you competing with your fellow agents, but also with the suppliers and wholesale partners who take direct bookings. Then you have the OTAs (Online Travel Agents like Expedia and Booking.com) and the DIYers who think they don’t need you ‘cause they can do it themselves.
Competition is everywhere. And when everything looks the same…then all you have to compete on is the price.
You might then tell me…” well, Diane, but I also deliver exceptional customer service. That’s what makes me special.”
Ummmm…doesn’t everybody? In 2021, if a travel advisor doesn’t offer outstanding customer service as a fundamental, they may as well not even be in the game. Excellent customer service should come standard in all travel business models, like windshield wipers on a Mini-Cooper.
The idea of Blue Ocean Strategy
– comes from a seminal book of the same name written by
W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. It explores the idea of getting out of the shark-infested waters filled with bloody competition and creating new markets in blue waters where your unique selling proposition can flourish.
And I’m not talking about hand-delivering documents to your client or offering a welcome bottle of wine at an arrival hotel. Those are incremental niceties, but they don’t turn the industry on its ear.
Blue Ocean Strategy requires us to forget the box – not just ruminate outside of it.
I’m not suggesting that you can’t still run a business selling travel as everyone else does, but unless you come up with something unique to promote, you are just like every other person selling travel.
So, against better judgement, you’ve decided to compete on price – discount this, 10% off that, book now and save. Often, the only way you win this game is if you are in the right place at the right time and your offer just happens to resonate with a client. Which is a bit like throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it will stick. You’ll still get sales, but you’ll pay more for advertising and you’ll constantly defend your pricing.
It can feel like a zero-sum game.
Blue Ocean Strategy means flipping the travel industry paradigm on its belly and looking for cracks – or simply building a better mousetrap.
Take a look at Virgin Atlantic by legendary rebel entrepreneur Richard Branson. Branson completely embraced the concept of Blue Ocean Strategy. Did you know it was Virgin Atlantic that was the first airline to offer personalized in-seat entertainment? Many people can’t remember a time when the only option for in-flight entertainment was the big screen at the front of the plane.
Virgin was also the first airline to introduce Premium Economy – originally called “middle class.”
But the most significant difference that set Virgin apart from all of its competition was how Branson treated his team. There was a sense of whimsy and cheekiness that became the cornerstone of the Virgin flying experience.
Now, airlines like Air New Zealand and Southwest Airlines have followed suit, but back when Branson launched Virgin Airlines in the early ‘80s, he was considered a buffoon by his rival stuffed-shirted corporate airline execs.
The Great Wall of China will always be the Great Wall of China. There may be over 21,000 km of earth and stone to sell, but it’s the same dang wall. Same with the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We wouldn’t dare think of changing these national treasures.
But what we CAN change, what we have the power to change, is the experience in seeing the world’s most impressive sites.
Blue Ocean Strategy suggests that we see how we offer travel in the following four quadrants.
Eliminate | Raise | Reduce | Create
Think about the traditional booking process. Now think about what would improve the experience for your client. Jot down all the complaints your clients have mentioned in the past – regardless if you think you have control over them or not. It’s a brainstorming session, so nothing is off-limits.
What elements of the booking experience have merit but could be improved? Again, jot down anything you can think of. Product expertise is something travellers look for, but how can you improve?
Unique experiences have been the buzz phrase of the past few years…how can you develop more of the same but enhance every aspect?
What aspects of the booking process are there no ways around but you could dramatically improve upon? Think in terms of industry fees such as change fees, baggage fees, admin fees. Keep this as a working document. You’ll probably find that you’ll need to come back to it several times as you remember annoying things that come up.
What haven’t we thought of? What could we add to the travel experience currently not in place but would turn the booking experience on its ear? What would produce a WOW factor for the client? This is where, again, no idea is too crazy. Resist the urge to get caught up at this stage on figuring out the “how.” Leave that for the moment. Instead, the crazier the idea, the better. Whoever thought that one day we would carry personal computers around in our back pockets? Crazy.
Post COVID, isn’t it time we shake up the travel marketplace? We’ve been given the perfect opportunity to reshape our business, and that’s a good thing. It’s as if we are all starting on a level playing field. It’s a perfect time to start breaking conventional travel norms and make up new rules as we go along.
Blue Ocean Strategy also requires us to break open our tunnel vision. When we think of the traditional travel advisor, we think of a set of processes from marketing to lead acquisition to consultation to research and presentation to revisions to booking to preparing and then supporting the travel experience from A to Z.
But does it have to be this way? Have we ever questioned it? Tweak just one thing that improves the overall experience, and you have yourself a USP.
When we think of the traditional travel booking experience, we conjure up images of the old bricks and mortar shops where Carol sat in front of her computer with a 4-Colour glossy poster with a pinup girl holding a bottle of Red Stripe and the slogan “Come to Jamaica Mon” behind her.
Those days are gone.
How can we reinvent the virtual consultation? How can we flip the entire experience – defy the norms and innovate the way we book travel?
Blue Ocean Strategy is about value innovation.
A new way to look at selling travel
I was consulting with a travel advisor a few weeks ago, and I suggested that she change her business model to only promote hiking trips. She loves hiking and has been on all the most famed treks around the world. Her comment to me was…” But my friends don’t love hiking as I do. How am I going to run a travel business with such a small niche?”
I shot back…why are you marketing to your friends? Shouldn’t they all be booking with you in the first place? Aren’t they a given? Why not think about the other 7.8 billion people in this world? What about the cute hiking couple living in Cardiff who you found through Facebook? Could they not be your client?
Stop trying to be all things to all people. That was the traditional way travel agents thought. I suggested she turn her love of hiking into a travel niche. I suggested she seek out Facebook hiking groups – join Meetup groups. Learn the struggles hikers have when booking trips. Create new product streams that aren’t just selling travel packages but also selling trekking gear and other hiking paraphernalia.
You could do this with foodie tours, wineries, scuba diving, geo-caching – basically any hobby you can think of…you can design travel programs to complement the hobby.
And that is just one way to flip the switch. We are just scratching the surface. There are many others if you just sit back and think differently.
That is Blue Ocean Strategy.
Hey…even though my schedule has been busy consulting with agents just like you, I still have a few complimentary spots available each week. Check out the schedule below and book your 30-minute session. Don’t worry; I promise not to do a sales pitch on you. Pinky swear. The more I understand the struggles that you encounter, the better I will be at crafting a course that will offer strategic solutions that will benefit you.Schedule Appointment