Online vs offline How can Maritime Travel influence the decision making process of consumers?

Online vs offline: How can Maritime Travel influence the decisionmaking process of consumers?

Author:MariaMatthews

Student A

SubjectCode:729PROJ

AQFLevel: 9

Wordcount: ???? (4500to 6500)

ExecutiveSummary

Withthe expansion of the Internet, many businesses have found itincreasingly difficult to compete with online companies. This holdsespecially true for travel agencies around the globe. The number oftravel agencies has decreased a significant amount as the number ofonline travel booking sites has increased. MaritimeTravel was chosen as the case study in order to analyse how MaritimeTravel can influence the consumer at the decision stage of buyingbehaviour.

Amixed method approach of both qualitative and quantitative researchwas used for this study. Two phases of data collection took place.Phase one consisted of anonymous consumer surveys being conductedusing existing Maritime Travel clients as well as the general public.The qualitative data was analysed using graphs and narrative to showfindings. Phase two consisted of semi-structured in-depth face toface and telephone interviews with various staff at Maritime Travelagencies. The quantitative data was analysed through being coded,categorised and themed. Both types of data was then compared toliterature to corroborate findings.

Thisstudy found that online travel sites are a significant threat to thefuture of Maritime Travel and major changes to the business model andhow Maritime Travel interacts with clients needs to happen with someurgency. Travel agencies are not utilizing the technology in themarket place and are not currently communicating or interceptingconsumers at the trip planning or decision stage process.

Finallythis study has identified and recommended strategies for MaritimeTravel that will increase its ability to compete against onlinebooking sites by being able to influence the consumer in the decisionprocess stage. Understanding what consumers are looking for and whyand how they make their travel purchases will greatlybenefit Maritime Travel and other travel agencies.

Noticeto the reader from the author:

Permissionhas been granted by AIB for this MBA tourism project not to be tiedspecifically to an elective tourism subject but to be linked to anaspect of buyer behaviour in tourism.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction 6

1.1 Field of study 7

1.2 Previous research 7

1.3 Purpose 7

1.4 Project outline 7

2 Orientation 7

2.1 Literature overview 7

2.2 Case organization 10

2.3 Research questions 11

3 Research methodology 11

3.1 Method Error! Bookmark not defined.

3.2 Data collection 13

3.3 Ethical considerations 16

4 Presentation of findings Error! Bookmark not defined.

4.1 Data analysis 16

4.2 Answering research questions Error! Bookmark not defined.

5 Implications and recommendations Error! Bookmark not defined.

6 Conclusion Error! Bookmark not defined.

References Error! Bookmark not defined.

Appendix 1: Organisation consent Error! Bookmark not defined.

Appendix 2: Individual consents Error! Bookmark not defined.

Appendix 3: Ethics statement Error! Bookmark not defined.

Appendix 4: Questionnaire Error! Bookmark not defined.

Appendix 5: Interview questions Error! Bookmark not defined.

Appendix 6: Other research documents Error! Bookmark not defined.

Table of figures:

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  1. Introduction
    1. Field of study

Thisproject is focused on a tourism topic as the authors’ MBA isspecialising in tourism, but will specifically look into consumerbuying behavior as it relates to the travel industry, and inparticular stage three of the Six Stage Model -‘evaluationof alternatives’. This stage is critical as this is when a decisionis made by the consumer as to whether to book online through anonline travel site or offline through a travel agency.

    1. of previous research

Consumerbehaviour as it relates to tourism has been covered quite extensivelyin various literature but there much less research relating to thedecision purchase of offline versus online buyer behaviour intourism.

Someliterature focuses on the impact of internet on the travel industry.Law, Leung &amp Wong (2004) Huang,Yung &amp Yang (2011) Zhang&amp Morrison (2007) andLee(2014). As well as the trend of online travel sites and e-tourismKaynama&amp Black (2000) Quinby (2007) Cho&amp Agrusa (2006) Maklan,Knox &amp Watson (2001).

Literaturerelating to offline versus online travel intermediaries, reports thatin response to online travel and supplier sites, travel agents needto redefine their business model in order to survive. Cheung &ampLam (2010) Zhang &ampMorrsion (2007) DeJager (2014) Bogdanovych&amp Berger(2006) LaHayeet al. (2014).

    1. Purpose

MaritimeTravel has been selected as the research project in order to analysehow Maritime Travel can influence the consumer at the decision stageof buying behaviour and to identify and recommend strategies thatMaritime Travel can use to increase the travel agency`ssustainability in a market that has been infiltrated and transformedby online booking sites.

    1. Project outline

Thisreport was split into the following sections: Introduction,orientation, research methodology, presentation of findings,implications and recommendations, and conclusion.

TheIntroduction covers field of study, summary of previous research,purpose of the study and project outline. The orientation containsthe literature that was reviewed to write this report as well as casestudy information and a list of the research questions. The researchmethodology consists of the research method used, data collection andethical considerations. The findings consist of presenting theanalysed data and answering the research questions. The implicationsand recommendations will consist of the tenets that was drawn fromthe analysis. Lastly, the conclusion will summarize the main pointsof the project that was derived from the data.

  1. Orientation
    1. Literature overview

Overthe past 20 years, the Internet has expanded to become a base fore-commerce to such a magnitude that it has been game-changing for thetravel industry (Zhang &amp Morrison 2007). In 2014, Expedia`s grossU.S. bookings increased by 35 percent from 2013 Priceline’s U.S.bookings increased 20 percent to $3.49 billion and Orbitz realizedan increase of 6 percent, to $5.21 billion (Hoffman &amp Offutt2015). Between 1997 to 2013 there has been a significant decrease inthe number of travel agencies across North America. The number offull-time travel agents in North America has decreased fromapproximately 124 000 to 64 000 and a subsequent decrease in staff by59 percent (TravelClick 2014).

Figure3: Booking distributionchannels

Source:‘CanadianOnline Travel Overview’,PhoCusWright Research 2007.

Thesupply chain of the travel industry is complex with several layers.Suppliers have significantlyreduced the commission paid to travel agents, by selling direct tothe consumer via online travel sites(Huang, Yung &amp Yang 2011). Airlines,hotels and other travel related service providers now offer theirproducts directly to the public online (Kaynama &amp Black 2000).

Figure1: Anillustration of the evolving supply chain of travel industry

Source:Adapted for project. WebWatch, Harrell Associates NYC (2002, p 28).

As moreconsumers utilise online trip planning and booking services, fewerconsumers are using traditional travel agencies. Subsequently,offline travel agencies have found it increasingly difficult tocompete with the online agencies and the number of traditional travelagencies has significantly declined (TravelClick2014). The table belowillustrates some of the reasons.

Figure2: Reasons for consumersbooking with online travel sites rather than a travel agent

Source:Adapted for project. (Google travel study, Ipos Media CT 2014).

Cho&amp Agrusa (2006) compared offline and online travel sitesanalysing ease of use, pricing and transparency that factored intoconsumer decisions to book travel through the Internet or through atraditional travel agency.

Traditionaltravel agencies are classified as ‘intermediaries’ and theprimary source of revenue is through commissions. The challenge foroffline agencies has been securing an interactive web presence (Zhang&amp Morrison 2007). The traditionaltravel agency is still evolving, as modern technology continues togrow however, as packaged travel remains in demand, travel agencieswill essentially still exist both off and online but need to adapt toconsumer demands (Huang, Yung &amp Yang 2011). LaHayeet al. (2014) state, offlinetravel agencies must make major adaptations to their current businessmodel to maintain sustainability in the industry.

Travelagencies require global strategies that take into consideration whichmarket segments to enter, how to enter them, how to price goods andservices and how to market them (Kotler et al. 2000).

Industryexperts suggest that travel agencies must have a web presence that isaccessible and effective capitalise in technological advancementseliminate outdated booking models make adaptation according toevolving consumer priorities assist the consumer at the researchstage and respond to new trends in consumer behaviour in order tofully realise revenue potential (Lee 2014). De Jager (2014)supported that an effective online presence is critical to thesuccess of travel agencies as a part of the travel agency`s consumerreach strategy.

Withthe impact of advancements in technology, the pressure for change isbeing felt in the travel industry (Huang, Yung &amp Yang 2011).Consumers want the expertise oftravel agents but also want the freedom to be able to choose how theyresearch and book (Gupta, Bo-Chiuan &amp Zhiping 2014). Inorder for travel agencies to survive they need to be more of a hybridmodel – a combination of a traditional travel agency and onlinetravel site to meet the demands of consumers(Travelpulse 2014).

Thedecision making process in tourism is characterized by recognition ofa decision to be made formulations of objectives within the searcha generation of a list of alternatives searches for more informationabout the alternatives an ultimate choice and the actual act ofexecuting the decision. This process is further impacted bypsychological and non-psychological variables. The psychologicalvariables include intentions, attitudes, beliefs, and motivations.The non-psychological variables that directly influence the decisionmaking process include time and marketing mix (Sirakaya &ampWoodside 2015). Mohammadi &amp Mohamed (2011) argued that the modelsof consumer buying behaviour are still useful as a basis forcommercial analyses despite the evolution of businesses models as aresult of advancements in technology.

Theonline travel industry has not been without its own share ofchallenges in regards to gaining and sustaining customer bases.Privacy issues have deterred many consumers from participation inonline self-service booking. Some are reluctant to activate accountsdue to concerns of privacy rights and the security of personalinformation (Chen 2006). The findings of this study support Lee`s(2014) assertion that the use of price comparison websites as a toolfor travel planning has become a permanent trend in consumerbehaviour, which has been evidenced in the frequency of use of suchonline sites.

Severalexternal factors affect the degree of success of marketing strategiesand the overall impact of e-commerce.Cohen, Prayag and Moital(2014) researched the primary concepts and external factors thatinfluence consumer behaviour as it relates to the tourism industry.The concepts that were evaluated in the study included values,decision making, attitudes and perceptions, consumer expectations,loyalty and trust. The external factors included technology, tourismtrends, ethical consumption and the Generation Y.

Theevolution of the Internet, e-commerce and interactive applicationshas changed the way consumers respond in many markets. Applicationsthat allow the traveller to compare prices and availability ofseveral merchants simultaneously have had a profound effect one-commerce and the decisions of the travelling consumer (Cheung &ampLam 2010).

Martin(2011) investigated the functions of e-marketing and theoreticalfoundations of marketing strategies in online environments that havebeen developed by travel agencies to sell their products andservices. The study compared the advantages of e-commerce marketingstrategies over the strategies of traditional marketing models.(Martin 2011) highlighted the impact of search engine optimizationand social media as a positioning tool for travel agencies to findpotential customers and suggested that travel agencies strive toattract consumers awake interest and be interactive.

Kotleret al. (2012) submitted that holistic marketing consists of fourdimensions: internal marketing, integrated marketing, relationshipmarketing and performance marketing. For travel agencies, integratedmarketing is required in that the marketing strategy must combineseveral dimensions in order to develop and deliver value on a globalscale. The marketing decisions for e-commerce still encompassconsiderations for economic forces, technology, and competitors, allof which change rapidly.

Thecompetition between online travel sites is dense, as most sites offerthe same services through the same providers at prices that are oftenidentical. Subsequently, research has found that travel agencies needto differentiate themselves from online travel sites outside of priceand availability (Kaynama &amp Black 2000).

    1. Case organization

MaritimeTravel was selected as the case study for this research project.Maritime Travel is the largest&nbspindependent travel agency inCanada with 112 locations from coast to coast,combined annual sales of over $300 million, and over 450 employees.However, Maritime Travel is being impacted by online travel sites.Maritime Travel acknowledges that it has a basic web presence that isnot interactive with limited booking capabilities.

Thepurpose of this research is to identify and recommend strategies thatMaritime Travel needs in order to gain competitive advantage againstonline travel sites at the decision stage of travel purchases.

Theauthor will look at the buying decision process as discussed byKotler et al. (2012), using the third stage of ‘Evaluationof Alternatives’ as it relates to the consumer buying behaviour inthe travel industry. Inthis stage, a consumer has a good idea of what they want to purchase,now they are looking at the options that exist and whether topurchase offlinethrough a travel agency or online using an online travel or suppliersite. (De Jager 2014).

Understandingwhat clients are looking for and how they make their travel purchaseswill greatly benefit Maritime Travel and other travel agencies toidentify strategies needed to gain competitive advantage. (Lee2014).

    1. Research questions

Thefollowing research questions are to be addressed during the research:

  1. What are the attitudes of Maritime Travel’s clients about travel agencies?

  2. How does Maritime Travel’s clients buying behaviour differ when trip planning and booking online compared to offline?

  3. What can Maritime Travel do to influence the consumers to purchase?

  4. What are the advantages/disadvantages of using online travel sites according to Maritime Travel’s clients?

  5. What strategies can be taken by Maritime Travel to remain relevant to its clients?

  1. Research methodology

Acase research was selected as the procedure to be able to answer theresearch questions. A single case is justified as the study presenteda unique opportunity to explore obtaining solutions through research(Bryman 2006).

Thiscase study provided the opportunity to explore the topic of consumerbuyer behaviour as it related to Maritime Travel in detail, and is auseful process for exploring existing theory (Wright 1995).

Primarydata was collected from both consumers and travel agencies becausethey are both directly affected (Saunders, Lewis &amp Thornhill2012). Both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collectionwere employed in this study. This mixed approach entails the use ofthe qualitative and quantities approach at the same time (Bryman2006).

Recommendationsand a conclusion will summarize the major findings of the study andhow the research issue could be addressed.

Figure**: Appropriateuse of qualitative and quantitative research methods

Source:Wright, L (1995).

3.1 Data collection

Thedata collection instrument highly depends on the method chosen forobtaining data and information from the respondents (Mertens2014).This research consisted of two primary data phases. Phaseone consisted of an anonymousonline consumer survey and

Phasetwo was In-depthface to face and telephone interviews conducted with travel agencymanagers, assistant managers and other staff at Maritime Travelbranches in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Phaseone – Anonymous consumer surveys

Ananonymous consumer survey was sent to 125 people, of which 100 peoplecompleted the survey in full. It was conducted over a two week periodand was completed by past clients ofMaritime Travel, friends, family and acquaintances in order to get agood cross section of both online and offline consumers.

Whyquantitative method?

Quantitativemethod involves the counting of data and using the data to performstatistical analysis with results being presented in numerical form.Quantitative method of data collection seeks for predictions andexplanation of generalized findings (Brannen 2012).

Consumersthrough an online survey, were asked questions and answers capturedin each case. The surveys given to consumers were anonymoustherefore, the respondents could give their answer based on theirexperiences, knowledge, and perception (Davies &amp Hughes 2014).

Theanonymous consumers responded to online questions through surveymonkey, a web-based data collection tool used to by researchers toobtain information from a large group of people who use the internet.This method of collecting data gives the respondent the opportunityto be truthful as well as allowing respondents to provide as muchinformation as possible without being implicated or fearing thattheir identity will be revealed

(Davies&amp Hughes 2014). This method of collecting data provides anopportunity to ask consumers about their experiences, and theirperspectives on the issue under study (Saunders,Lewis &ampThornhill 2012).

Phasetwo – Travel agency interviews

MaritimeTravel agency interviews and telephone interviews took place over athree week period with 17 staff made up of mangers, assistantmanagers and branch staff . Each interview lasted between 40 and 55minutes. See Appendix ** for semi-structured interview questions.Note taking was the primary method of documenting feedback during theinterviews with voice recorder used as back up.

Thein-depth interviews consisted of ten staff members at Maritime Travelagency of various levels of seniority. The semi-structured questionswere deliberate to allow for flow of conversation and for flexibilityif the respondent wanted to add additional or other relevantinformation, then the information was also recorded (Creswell &ampClark 2007). Telephone interviews were conducted with seven managersat Maritime Travel agency in various departments. Data collected fromthis project was checked for readability, consistency and accuracy.

Whyqualitative method?

Itis argued by Brannen (2012), that qualitative research comprises oflooking at the qualities that are difficult to be measured by anumerical value. Qualitative method was utilized for this study so asto determine the real perception of the population sampled.

Faceto face interviews helps the interviewer ask as many questions aspossible regarding a given topic. Using semi-structured questions,the interviewer can obtain different answers from individual atMaritime Travel agency. Additionally, the interview provides theinterviewer an opportunity to study the respondent’s reaction toquestions by observing their facial expression (Brannen 2012).Interviews help the interviewer collect necessary data through askingsemi-structured questions that the anonymous survey answers could notyield (Ritchie et al. 2013).

Telephoneinterviews were also used and were an effective method of collectingdata from individuals who were not available for the face-to-faceinterviews due to their busy schedule (Ritchie et al. 2013).Additionally managers provided information such as the financialimpact of online sites on the agency. Such information cannot beobtained from the low-level employees or the anonymous consumers(Saunders,Lewis &amp Thornhill 2012).

3.2 Addressing Data quality issues

Theprimary data collection did encounter some issues such as incompletequestionnaires filled by the anonymous consumers as well as some ofthe telephone interviews were interrupted by work issues or postponeddue to their busy schedules. This was addressed by discarding theunanswered questions in the questionnaires and limiting the telephoneinterviews to one hour because the respondents could not be on a twohour phone calls answering questions (Seidman2013).The time frame for conducting interviews was three weeks to allow forinterruptions and rescheduling.

Theother challenge of the face-to-face interview is that the respondentmight not feel free to provide all the necessary information becausetheir identity is known and would not want to be implicated by theinformation they provide. This was addressed by reassuring theparticipants that confidentiality would be guaranteed due to the AIBethical procedures being strictly adhered to.

3.4 Ethical considerations

Signedconsent forms were obtained for both in-depth interview participantsand telephone interview participants at Maritime Travel. Allinterviews followed AIB ethical procedures outlined in the leaningmaterials. The AIB ethical procedures were provided to allparticipants prior to the data collection process (Seidman2013).

Asthis report will be shared with both Maritime Travel and Associationof Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA), participants were assured thatconfidentiality would be observed. Both the organisation andindividual consent forms can be found in Appendix **

  1. Presentation of findings
    1. Data analysis

Phaseone data analysis (Qualitative data)

Thequalitative data was evaluated in a thematic manner, by the use ofcoding, which was followed by the categorizing of the coded data. Itwas then placed in similar groups (2007).

Figure1: Categorization of the consumers` booking methods

Afterthe interviews were completed, the in-person interviews were firsttranscribed in the electronic format to merge the responses of theparticipants with the interview information. The text analysis toolwas then utilized to carry out the First Cycle In Vivo approach foranalysing every interview and then decode the data by identifying thephrases and the keywords, which were commonly used by theinterviewees. The memos were then journalized in the memos of thethemes and patterns happening in the data for future reference(Howart &amp Cramer, 2011, p. 346). The codes were compared to oneanother after being categorized. More so, the links between thecategories were also assessed, to determine the relationships andsupport the findings.

Theresearcher tried to minimize the survey bias by ensuring that thesurvey does not omit any potential respondent group from the survey(Davies &amp Hughes, 2014). Given that the omission bias cannot beavoided, the researcher had to incorporate it and account for it inthe qualitative analysis.

Toavoid the respondent biases, the survey avoiding the leadingquestions, and the respondents were not restricted from givingelaborations (Mertens, 2014). More so, the target populationspecifically outlined.

(Qualitativedata) was analysed using the following steps:

  • Using survey data, coded, categorized and themed data

  • Verified data entry

  • Prepare data for analysis

  • Conduct analysis

  • Develop graphs /charts and prepared narrative to show findings

  • Validation of accuracy occurs throughout all steps of the research process

Thecategories are the couples, honeymooners, females, males, andfamilies. The themes are the all-inclusive resort packages, cruises,booking fees, and the time taken for booking a trip.

Phasetwo data (Quantitative data)

Thesurveys were amazingly well received by the respondents. The chanceto offer the feedback concerning the manner in which they bookedtheir flights and what could be enhanced was regarded a step forward.The survey was divided into two one for those who did their bookingsusing the internet, and those who used the agents. The softwarecalled the QDA Miner was used to analyze the quantitative datafindings. The quantitative data gathered from the telephone andin-depth interviews, and it was analysed in a thematic manner,allowing for the coding of the text, sorting into the general themes,and then put in categories to create a framework of the thematicideas (Gibbs, 2007). The objective of categorizing was to answer thequestions of research.

Figure2: A example of the quantitative research

Theinterviewer tried to minimize the interviewer bias by avoiding tooffer the clues in which the tone of the voice, the language, or thebody would influence the interviewee into providing the skewedanswers towards the value, the prejudices and the opinions of theinterviewer (Seidman, 2013).

Onthe side of the respondent, the amount of information given to therespondents was restricted to prevent them from knowing the entireextent of the study (Mertens, 2014). The respondent seems to providethe answers that the researcher wants to hear if he or sheunderstands the whole extent of research.

(Quantitativedata) was analysed using the following steps:

  • Transcribe interviews from voice recordings and note taking

  • Read through data to get a general sense of meanings

  • Generated codes, categories and themes

  • Interpreted meanings of the themes and compared to literature/theories

  • Validation of accuracy occurs throughout all steps of the research process

Thecategories are the internet and the travel agents, whereas the themesare booking of the all-inclusive, resorts, flights, rental car, andhotels.

    1. Answering the research questions

Eachresearch question is answered below based on the analysis of datacollected.

Question1. What are the attitudes of consumers about Maritime TravelAgencies?

  • The findings indicate that some consumers consider travel agencies needless and expensive as they believe that they can book cheaper themselves online.

  • They also believe that Maritime Travel charge fees for all services.

  • Their operation hours are not convenient to consumers as they are not open evenings or weekends.

  • No ‘live agent’ functionality on website.

  • Maritime Travel has a poor website that is not interactive or has the ability to quote or book online.

  • Consumers acknowledge that travel agents are knowledgeable

Question2. How does Maritime Travel’s clients buying behaviour differ whentrip planning and booking online compared to offline?

  • The majority of consumers (91 percent) preferred to research their trip online, which is indicative that this platform provides easy access to information. However this high percentage during the planning stage does not translate into online bookings, with at least 50 percent of these being conducted offline through travel agencies.

  • It is noted that clients making their purchases online were more impulsive than those made offline as there was less of a delay between trip planning online and booking online. This behaviour maybe because of a need to ‘grab a deal’ or limited ‘advertised’ availability online.

  • On the other hand offline purchasers were more analytical and cynical of online travel deals and the time difference indicated between trip planning online and booking offline was greater, which is perhaps the reason why they chose to book offline.

  • Consumers that booked offline with Maritime Travel felt there was less risk compared to booking with an online travel site.

Question3. What can Maritime Travel do to influence the consumer to purchase?

  • Maritime Travel needs to create an easy to use interactive website that has trip planning and quote functionality.

  • All products currently being sold through traditional means such as printed brochures and flyers should be in a digital format and need to be able to be booked online.

  • Maritime Travel needs to be ‘available’ to consumers during evenings and weekends, which may mean agents being able to work from home.

  • Live agent should be available on Maritime Travel’s website to be able to answer consumer questions in real time.

  • A marketing campaign should be rolled out to the general public to educate them on why consumers should be using Maritime Travel Agency. The messaging should clearly articulate that Maritime Travel do not charge service fees and are extremely competitive compared online travel sites.

Question4. What are the advantages/disadvantages of using online travel sitesaccording to Maritime Travel’s clients?

Someof the advantages of using online travel sites identified were:

  • Being able to plan trips and book when it was convenient to the consumer such as evenings and weekends.

  • The ease of using online travel sites and the speed that products could be booked such as flights and hotels.

  • Consumers thought that they were getting a good deal on flights and hotels

Someof the disadvantages of using online travel sites were:

  • Online sites have hidden fees that are not disclosed until right at the end of the booking process.

  • When consumers had a issue booking online, it is very difficult to get through to a ‘human’ to sort issue.

  • After sales help, once the booking has been made was poor when you need to change your booking or when on a trip if something goes wrong.

  • Consumers mentioned that they have been ‘ bumped of flights’ and have received the lowest grade of room in hotels when booked using online travel sites.

Question5. What strategies can be undertaken by Maritime Travel to remainrelevant to its clients?

  • Websites need to be more interactive and being able to quote online when trip planning.

  • Website need to have all products online and be bookable.

  • Travel agencies need to have ‘live agent’ on their websites to be able to interact with consumers.

  • Better hours – Travel agencies need to be available in the evenings and weekends when demand is high from consumers.

  • Agents could work from home to be able to provide better service to consumers due to more flexible hours.

  • Providing Add-ons that are bookable online such as travel insurance passport and visa applications, inoculation procedures and other foreign travel requirements, travel currency (one stop shopping).

  • Engaging with consumers using social media.

  • Provide useful ‘Apps’ for use during travel.

  • Better marketing to educate consumers that travel agencies are not more expensive than booking online or that agencies all charge booking fees.

  1. Implications and recommendations

Thefollowing recommendations for Maritime Travel are based on thefindings from the research questions and will be of great benefit toMaritime Travel as well as other travel agencies industry wide.

Inorder for travel agencies to survive they have to become a hybridmodel – a combination of a traditional travel agency and onlinetravel site to meet the demands of consumers(Travelpulse 2014). Travelagents business model has typically been a bricks and mortar retailstorefront and ‘sells’ vacations using hard copy brochures. Agencies need to have all travel products available online and havean interactive website that will have trip planning/quotingfunctionality as well as online booking capabilities but stillmaintain the ‘personal touch’ and step in when more complicatedplanning is required. (Mills &amp Law 2004).By making these majorchanges to the business model will allow agencies to ‘intercept’the consumer at the trip planning stage as well as at the critical‘evaluation of alternatives’ purchase decision stage. (Lee 2014).

MaritimeTravel is not open during evenings and weekends and finding an agentto respond to a consumer’s question at such times is difficult. Asolution to this issue would be allowing travel agency staff to workfrom home which would help cover off the ‘after hours’ service.Having an individual online who will interact with the clients is animportant factor (Bogdanovych &amp Berger 2006). Another suggestionwould be to use ‘Live agent’ functionality which could easily beincorporated into Maritime Travel’s website to allow travel agentsto be able to respond to questions and assist consumers at both thetrip planning and purchasing stage. (Shekawat &amp Singhal 2014).

Enhancingthe relationship between the consumers and travel agents throughtechnology will help travel agencies remain relevant. One of theproblems facing the travel agents is the lack of consumer interactionusing social media (Verma,Stock &amp McCarthy 2012).Travel agents need to embrace social media technology such asFacebook, Twitter, and Instagram to advertise special promotions,discounts and destination information (Munar&amp Jacobsen 2013).

Acampaign of awareness should be launched to educate the generalpublic on the value and the competitiveness of travel agencies toaddress perception of travel agencies being more expensive thanonline sites and relating to booking fees being charged.

Clientsas part of the after sales service should be provided with usefultravel ‘Apps’ such as language translators, currency convertorsand distance calculator to enhance post sale experience for theconsumer. (Cheung &amp Lam 2009). Anotherrecommendation would be to provide add on services to clients such astravel insurance, passport andvisa applications, inoculation procedures and other foreign travelrequirements, travel currency allowing the agency to be a ‘one stopshop’ for all travel services. (Lee 2014)

  1. Conclusion

Theestablishment of online travel sites has created major competitionfor conventional travel agencies. In the analysis of responses, userexperience, online platforms and convenience featured prominentlythis is indicative of a need in the market for interactive andconvenient travel solutions.

MaritimeTravel has to increase awareness to consumers about the competivenessof travel agencies compared to online travel sites and counteringpresumptions that they all charge service fees. This provision ofinformation is essential in assisting the consumer to make aninformed purchase decision.

Inorder for Maritime Travel to influence consumers at the research anddecision stage, they have to improve the user experience for clients’on its website by incorporating ‘live agent’ functionality aswell as making products available for both trip planning, quoting andbooking online. Such changes represent a need for significantlymodifying the current business modelto a hybrid model, utilising their expertise combined with onlinetechnology to accommodate clients need for convenience andflexibility.

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