Advantage to agents who strike net chord

Advantage to agents who strike net chord

net is becoming increasingly important as a distribution outlet. For some, getting a site is a commercial necessity.

It's time to make your presence felt on the World Wide Web. But how?

Graham Harris from travel technology consultancy Equinus said the less distribution outlets an agent or operator has, the more likely they are to benefit.

"If you are a small niche operator organising canoe trips on the Amazon, there are people all over the world who will not know you exist but would be interested in your product.

"With a site, anyone anywhere can just type Amazon and canoe in a search engine and your company's product comes up. It's a surefire winner."

Deciding how much money you want to invest and what you hope to achieve from the site before you start is essential. Also look at what the competition is doing and make sure you differentiate your site from theirs. "Anyone selling or running tours has an advantage because they are made up of components that the travellers can't be bothered to put together. Customers like having just one butt to kick if things go wrong," said Harris.

The problem is that most sites get it wrong, says Harris. "Everybody has worked out travel is a great thing to sell on-line but a lot of these people have only mastered how to set up a site and not how to sell travel. Or you get advertising people who know how to make a site look glossy and gimmicky but don't set the site up properly to be of any use to the browser. They use pictures that aren't relevant but look nice and scrolling text that is actually harder to read."

Harris says it is essential to find a company which specialises in designing Web sites to make sure you get it right.

It is also important to test the site before it goes live to make sure it is user friendly.

"Make sure there is a phone number on it. What happens if people call at night. Do you have an answering machine? People also expect e-mail addresses. Have you got one? And how often do you check it? People expect a reply within 24hrs. You need to be geared up to the expectations of the Net," he said.

Harris also advises providing plenty of information like itineraries, departure dates and prices which are all kept up to date.

So now the site is built, you need to make people know it exists. The key is search engines which index the Internet and through which 70% of the people who look at your site will have arrived. Search engines must be informed of your site and be reminded periodically because otherwise it will drop off their ever-expanding site list.

And the cost? For £300 plus VAT a small agency can get a reasonable site. "With that, you must play up your individuality. If you are sufficiently unique, the impact will be far greater than any £300 worth of print advertising."

n See Technology feature,page 39

YOU'VE seen the hotels you book plugging their own Web site and the car-rental companies enticing your best customers to book direct on-line and now your flight bookings are ebbing away as airlines cosy up to your clients on the Internet.

Agents and operators are starting to realise that the Internet is becoming increasingly important as a distribution outlet. For some, getting a site is a commercial necessity.

It's time to make your presence felt on the World Wide Web. But how?

Graham Harris from travel technology consultancy Equinus said the less distribution outlets an agent or operator has, the more likely they are to benefit.

"If you are a small niche operator organising canoe trips on the Amazon, there are people all over the world who will not know you exist but would be interested in your product.

"With a site, anyone anywhere can just type Amazon and canoe in a search engine and your company's product comes up. It's a surefire winner."

Deciding how much money you want to invest and what you hope to achieve from the site before you start is essential. Also look at what the competition is doing and make sure you differentiate your site from theirs. "Anyone selling or running tours has an advantage because they are made up of components that the travellers can't be bothered to put together. Customers like having just one butt to kick if things go wrong," said Harris.

The problem is that most sites get it wrong, says Harris. "Everybody has worked out travel is a great thing to sell on-line but a lot of these people have only mastered how to set up a site and not how to sell travel. Or you get advertising people who know how to make a site look glossy and gimmicky but don't set the site up properly to be of any use to the browser. They use pictures that aren't relevant but look nice and scrolling text that is actually harder to read."

Harris says it is essential to find a company which specialises in designing Web sites to make sure you get it right.

It is also important to test the site before it goes live to make sure it is user friendly.

"Make sure there is a phone number on it. What happens if people call at night. Do you have an answering machine? People also expect e-mail addresses. Have you got one? And how often do you check it? People expect a reply within 24hrs. You need to be geared up to the expectations of the Net," he said.

Harris also advises providing plenty of information like itineraries, departure dates and prices which are all kept up to date.

So now the site is built, you need to make people know it exists. The key is search engines which index the Internet and through which 70% of the people who look at your site will have arrived. Search engines must be informed of your site and be reminded periodically because otherwise it will drop off their ever-expanding site list.

And the cost? For £300 plus VAT a small agency can get a reasonable site. "With that, you must play up your individuality. If you are sufficiently unique, the impact will be far greater than any £300 worth of print advertising."

n See Technology feature,page 39

TIPS for setting up a web site

n Recognise how much (or little) you would benefit from a site. You are more likely to reap rewards from it if you can give yourself a unique selling point that other firms' sites do not have.

n Check out your suppliers' sites. Think how you, as a packager or seller of a packaged product, can exaggerate that benefit on your site.

n Don't fall for the gimmicks when shopping for a site designer. A good site has all the necessary information your potential client will need and comprehensive contact details not scrolling text and flashy images that take too long to download.

n Make sure you test drive a site as a consumer would use it before you go onto the Internet with it.

n Ensure that, when your new global customers start calling and e-mailing, you respond promptly.

n You can spend as little as £300 plus VAT for a basic site. If you are sufficiently individual, that should be enough to bring in the clients. If you don't have a unique selling point, it may pay to spend a little more to mark yourself out via a superior Web site.

n Don't forget to make sure your site is indexed with the search engines on the Internet. That way, more people will find you and more people will spend money with you. You will have to do this more than once. Sites sometimes drop off the bottom of search engine's lists after a while.

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