Training staff to work with technology and investing in digitization have helped a traditional travel agency weather the wave of layoffs and closures that hit Hong Kong’s tourism sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Goldjoy Travel became the first travel agency in Asia to launch a real-time booking platform for cruises with two of Genting Hong Kong’s lines – Dream Cruises and Crystal Cruises.
Frederick Yip, executive director of Goldjoy Group, said its proprietary platform, called ‘Direct Connect’, would replace the tedious process of using chain emails, phone calls and data spreadsheets to buy. cruise tickets.
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“In the past, agents had to use a spreadsheet and book cabins for the customer and manually enter them into the system with the cruise line,” Yip said in an interview with the To post.
It took two years for the travel agency set up by Yip’s father to develop the platform, which aimed to capitalize on the Asian cruise market, including customers from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan. and India.
Yip said the redesign could help attract customers younger than their 30s, with an interface tailored to their needs. He said the average age of cruise passengers in Hong Kong was 54, while that of Asia was around 45.
Hong Kong’s tourism industry has been going through a rough patch amid border closures during the pandemic.
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According to data from the Travel Industry Council, the number of travel agents fell to 1,666 operators in September, from around 1,900 in 2019. Many have laid off staff to cut costs or shut down.
The unemployment rate in the consumer and tourism sectors, including retail, accommodation and food services, peaked at 11.3% in the rolling three-month period from July to September. The overall unemployment rate was 6.3 percent during this period.
But Goldjoy has managed to keep most of his team during the pandemic, according to Yip, while training his staff to work with new technologies, like putting travel agents to operate the 24/7 live chatbot. of the platform to meet customer demands.
“We combine traditional business with customer service. We hope to bring the skills of physical operations to the online world, ”he said.
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The company has also launched a partnership with ride-sharing company Uber Hong Kong. Cruise passengers returning to port at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal or International Airport can then enjoy free rides home.
Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the industry has already had the worst shutdown among travel agents, adding that those who survived have tried to cut costs or scale their operations.
“Most of the still active travel agents have put their staff on long-term unpaid leave, allowing workers to take part-time jobs and return once travel returns to normal. Others moved to smaller offices and focused on conducting local tours or green tours around Hong Kong, ”Yiu said.
“Cruises to Nowhere” officially left Hong Kong on July 30, with Genting Cruise Lines the only operator for those trips that do not have a port of call. All passengers and crew must be fully vaccinated and tested for Covid-19 before departure.
The Royal Caribbean Cruises cruise liner is also expected to start offering services in October.
Hong Kong Travel Agents’ Relief Alliance head Perry Yiu Pak-leung said cruises to nowhere were popular with customers and hoped travel agencies could use online platforms to sell packages.
“The first month of the Cruise to Nowhere program has run out and has given travel agents work to redo,” said Perry Yiu, who had lobbied for the project, adding that travel agencies at the old had gotten into the habit of upgrading their social media. online accounts and reservation systems during the pandemic.
He said more than 300 small operators have been funded through the Travel Industry Council’s IT matching fund program, which subsidizes each approved project up to 50% of its total cost or HK $ 100,000 (US $ 12,860 ), whichever is lower.
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