How would travel agents react if tour operators stopped printing brochures?
I have previously written about fluid pricing and the possibility that it will not be too long before prices are no longer printed in brochures but just available online. This could have a profound effect on travel agents, but would agents be even more troubled if tour operators no longer printed brochures at all?
I received this email recently from Alex Bainbridge, MD of adventure tour operator, First 48. "We are the first tour operator - in the UK or USA (I have done some research) to STOP producing brochures - concentrating solely on producing a nice website"
Of course, First 48 is still delighted to take bookings from agents but is not worried about having its brochures racked. What if other operators follow First 48's lead? There could be good reason to do so. Brochure costs are a massive financial burden on operators, one that they are continually seeking to reduce.
Now, I do not believe the brochure will die out. People inherently like to browse paper-based information. However, if there are such large savings to be made, how can technology help? Well, how about the virtual brochure? A customer walking into an agent to find a holiday in a 4 star hotel in Majorca could walk out with a 20 page brochure specific to his/her requirements rather than five 100 page brochures with a whole raft of holidays that are of absolutely no interest.
This would entail agents being able to download brochure content. (Holding that much electronic brochure information locally would not be feasible.) They would need broadband network access (dial-up modems would not be good enough) and high-speed colour printers to quickly produce a brochure for a customer whilst he or she is waiting.
Hang on; this is beginning to sound expensive. PCs at £1000 each. Printers at between £1000 and £3000 each. The cost of a fast ADSL connection. Who is going to pay - the agents? After all, this is a service they are going to be offering to attract customers; also they are operating the equipment on their premises. But I just cannot imagine agents paying for this. So how about the tour operators? They would be the ones making the huge savings in print costs. But, of course, that is the idea, making savings rather than re-spending the money. Also, if operators subsidised the equipment, how would they feel about competitors' material being printed out on machinery they have paid for?
Unless you know otherwise, it does not sound as though it would happen. So what will? Here is my prediction. As consumers get used to searching for travel on the Internet and digital TV, operators will divert funds from brochure production to these channels. Fewer brochures will be made available to travel agents and more operators will follow First 48's lead. Could agents thrive without brochures? It's worth thinking about.