Company

18 July 2022

Digital holiday planning: where human meets machine

Dertour Reisebüro offers hybrid travel planning, combining AI and in-person advice to create your ideal trip.
Reading time: 8 min.

Dertour Reisebüro launched its advice platform reise-spezialisten.com around a year ago. Since the launch, a lot of work has been done to optimise the mix of personal advice and artificial intelligence, all of which follows a consistent and successful digitisation strategy.

For many years, booking a holiday meant putting your coat on, popping over to the travel agent’s, and emerging with a booking confirmation in your pocket. And it can still work like that today – if you want it to. We are in the midst of a transformation, moving towards tourism 4.0, says Andreas Heimann, Chief Sales Officer with responsibility for DER Touristik’s travel agencies and online business.

There is a clear strategy behind this. Andreas Heimann: We want to be present throughout the entire customer journey. And, in our industry, too, that journey is now a combination of the online and offline worlds. Many customers opt for our online service, as it allows them to plan their travel more flexibly at a time that suits them. Despite this, they continue to appreciate the advice of our travel specialists. We therefore need to combine our online and offline services in an intelligent manner, so that customers can access our expertise wherever they need it. To facilitate this, we developed the digital travel platform, reise-spezialisten.com, and also provide advice through Web2Expert on dertour.com. In addition to our own formats, we also have a presence on Facebook and Instagram with our travel stories.

According to Andreas Heimann, their success shows that the strategy is working: The new channels are now generating sales. Our success can therefore also be measured in numbers.

Portrait of Andreas Heimann
About:
Andreas Heimann

is Chief Sales Officer at DERTOUR Group Central Europe.

Facilitating holiday booking with the digital funnel

In an ongoing bid to successfully shape the sales mix, we are continuing to expand our digital features, such as reise-spezialisten.com. When the Dertour Reisebüros’ customer advice platform was launched in February 2021, the logic was clear. We wanted to develop a directory along the lines of the Jameda health portal, where patients can book medical appointments and leave feedback. In other words, customers visit the website to find a travel specialist for their specific requirements. For example, a yoga holiday in South Africa. The website displayed the specialist’s details and customers could contact them, explains Benjamin Kraut, Vice President Marketing.

He still thinks it was a good idea. Unfortunately, it didn’t work particularly well because the customer’s real focus is finding a holiday, and therefore the search for a specialist is secondary.

After a number of different user experience (UX) trials, the team decided to take a different tack. With reise-spezialisten.com, we have developed a digital holiday planning service. Customers initially enter a kind of funnel and answer a number of questions: who are you travelling with, when do you want to travel, where do you want to go, etc. Based on the responses, an algorithm identifies the most suitable specialist for the customer’s holiday requirements and criteria. Customers can contact the specialist there and then, by chat, video call, phone or email. We are therefore giving customers the full range of options for getting advice.

Benjamin Kraut is happy to report that the new concept is working: We now have a significantly higher conversion rate on the site.

Since the start of the year, reise-spezialisten.com has featured a further innovation. Each customer is taken to a personalised landing page where they receive a customised travel offer combining a number of different elements. Benjamin Kraut: “This might be the aforementioned round-trip to South Africa including the corresponding flights, lodging, helicopter flight over Cape Town, etc. In other words, every customer receives a tailored offer which can be accessed in a digital format. This is a proprietary solution that we developed for reisespezialisten.com.

Portrait of Benjamin Kraut
About:
Benjamin Kraut

is Vice President Marketing at DER Reisebüro.

Attracting customers with AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the second area of focus for the digital team at DER Reisebüros. We receive many very similar enquiries. For instance, two weeks at a 4-star hotel in the Canary Islands. We no longer deal with enquiries such as this ourselves. Instead, they are dealt with by our AI system. AI responds to the enquiry using the name, title, etc. It analyses the text to establish what the customer wants and then sends offers direct to the customer for different packages that can be booked online, explains Alexander Breitkreutz, Vice President IT.

And what happens if the customer actually prefers something different to the AI proposal? That’s fine too. If the customer comes back to us to say that they would rather a 5-star hotel or a different beach, the AI system can handle that, adjust the offers, and send them out again, says Alexander Breitkreutz.

Portrait of Alexander Breitkreutz
About:
Alexander Breitkreutz

is Vice President IT and Process Management at DER Reisebüro.

Nothing works without real-life, flesh-and-blood travel consultants

Do we even need real-life travel consultants any more? Alexander Breitkreutz: Of course we do! First and foremost, there will always be questions that AI cannot answer. If the customer writes: “Okay, I’d like to book, please give me a call, then of course we have to step in. But AI can answer questions about entry requirements or coronavirus regulations, and this frees up the employees.”

The two Digital Managers agree that using and understanding AI properly can really assist their travel agency colleagues: AI can do a lot of the work. Since the new year, we have been using a new process for reactivating inactive customers and are also deploying AI here. We automatically analyse the customer’s travel history to establish what, when, and what type of packages they have previously booked. Our system uses this to calculate the optimum time to reach out to the customer again. We provide this information on a daily basis to our specialists on the front desk. They can then get in touch with customers when they are most likely to book. AI learns from the analyses and resulting bookings and continues to improve.

As far as Alexander Breitkreutz and Benjamin Kraut are concerned, it is this mix that makes the system so successful. Customers receive AI-augmented advice, which can switch to an in-person consultation and back again, depending on the situation. The employees involved monitor the process and can intervene at any time. It should also be remembered that many customers also like to call from time to time, which is why the travel experts’ phone numbers and e-mail addresses are included with the offer. Customers need access to all the options and they should be able to decide how to contact us.

And according to Benjamin Kraut, this may be more important now than ever before: The clamour for advice and security has increased enormously as a result of the coronavirus. It feels as if we are experiencing something of a travel agency renaissance, regardless of what is now possible with digitisation. Because our ultimate USP as travel agencies is the human touch and personal advice.

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