Flight bookings made easier with WhatsApp, but what does that mean for travel agents?

In a shift to offer a mobile-first travel experience, Discovery Bank and FlySafair announced improvements that enable consumers to book flights using a banking app and pay for flight extras through Whatsapp.

Discovery Bank’s offering is an enhancement to its banking app that lets customers book flights directly on it, without visiting its travel portal, for local and international flights.

Hylton Kallner, chief executive at Discovery Bank, says customers can now find and book flights in minutes.

FlySafair, which introduced a flight booking management system on Whatsapp in August last year, is now offering a Chat 2 Pay feature that claims to be a world first — the ability to make payments for booking extras using Whatsapp.

This allows customers to add checked luggage to an existing booking and pay for it within a Whatsapp chat.

The airline says passengers can now do everything from looking up a flight status to checking-in, confirming checked luggage inclusions, receiving boarding passes, and live-chatting with airline customer service agents, from WhatsApp.

Flysafair’s Kirby Gordon says being able to pay on Whatsapp reduces the stress of travelling because it is a safe and secure way to make payments right in the chat environment.

Last year FlySafair worked with Clickatell to introduce features that let customers manage their booking directly on Whatsapp.

Natalia Rosa, chief executive of Big Ambitions, and board member of the Travel Lifestyle Network, says technology needs to be used in the travel sector to enable consumers to take charge of parts of the travel experience that they can fulfil themselves, providing convenience and a seamless travel experience.

The role of travel businesses is to understand at what stage of the travel journey customers want to engage with tech versus with a human, she says.

Irene Ferreira, director at Reynolds Travel SA, says the entry of the banking sector into the travel industry can be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity.

“The increased competition from the banking sector may lead to lower prices and more choices for consumers, which can be a positive thing, particularly for cost-conscious consumers,” says Ferreira.

“On the other hand, the added competition may also lead to a reduction in demand for traditional travel agent services, as consumers opt for the convenience and simplicity of booking their travel through their bank.”

In this case, travel agents may need to find new ways to differentiate themselves and provide added value to consumers to remain competitive.

Ferreira believes travel agencies can still add value in today’s world by embracing technology and finding new ways to differentiate themselves and provide added value to their customers.

One approach could be to specialise in areas such as high-end, luxury travel, corporate travel, or adventure travel and become experts in these areas, says Ferreira. “By offering specialised services and knowledge, travel agencies can provide a level of personalised service and expertise that is difficult to replicate through a digital platform.”

Another approach could be to focus on offering unique experiences and services that are not easily available through online booking platforms, she says, referring to personalised travel itineraries, access to exclusive destinations or activities, and customised travel packages.

“Ultimately, the banking sector’s added travel lifestyle benefits highlight the importance of travel agents adapting to changes in the market and finding new ways to provide added value to consumers,” says Ferreira.

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