Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Modern World: Great Blogs

Fool’s World Map

The world is a very large place. And an unknown one – at least to some of the people living in it. I personally do not fail to remember some of the most pronounced questions I have encountered so far in my travel life, such as:
  • “What language do you speak in Germany?”
  • “Is Syria next to Siberia?”
  • “Austria does have the kangaroos, right?”

Exactly those kind of questions served as an inspiration for a guy from Japan. While in Texas, U.S.A., he was asked one day: “How many hours does it take to go Japan by car?” Amazed by the ignorance of the questioner, the idea for a blog project emerged in him. So he decided to collect the unusual mind pictures that fools have of the world and visualize them accordingly.

This undertaking is – in my opinion – one of the greatest and most ingenious blogs of all times, and he did a marvelous job. The project started in 2004 and was finished, with the support of more than 200 fantastic comments of authentic or imaginative fools, in June 2005. Meticulously documenting all those annotations and following up on the changes in a physical way, this Japanese guy has created an absolutely unique documentation of the obscurities and mental precipices that hide behind the curtains of globalisation.

It was a truly staggering and highly rewarding experience to monitor the continuous alterations being introduced over time. But also the final result leaves nothing to be desired in this applaudable undertaking.

This is the Fool’s World Map in its ultimate and complete stage (click to enlarge):

Source: chakuriki.net

For several months, it was not available online – but now it has reappeared in style:

Take your time to browse through the comments one by one, some are mind-boggling, others are simply hilarious. Just let your imagination flow towards what kind of mind set must stand behind them.

And eventually, sit back and enjoy a look at the final result of a world how fools they picture. You will be amazed, I can guarantee that.


Andreas Hauser

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Tourism Industry: Travel Agencies

The Future of Travel Agents

The revolution came briskly and unexpectedly for the German travel industry: in 2004, Lufthansa introduced a new remuneration model of “zero provision”. It replaced the decade-old practice of paying fees as a percentage for every ticket sold. From that time on, ticket prices were given net, forcing the travel agency to impose their own charges onto the customer’s ticket bill in order to create value.

In times of modern technology and direct sales channels such as the internet, provisions from airline tickets constituted a major pillar of a travel agency’s calculation. Lufthansa’s move, which was followed by most other airlines, triggered a profound change process within the industry: travel agencies have to newly position themselves on the market, thereby re-defining their value creation to the customer and generating adequate income for their services.

But this is not the sole challenge that travel agents face. Information is ever more freely available, be it about destinations, hotels, airlines, services and also the associated costs for tourism products. Price comparisons can be easily made by some clicks on the internet, turning travel arrangements into a highly transparent good. Does that mean that the support of an agent to find suitable and well-priced voyages is no longer needed?

While this might hold true for certain straightforward products like low-cost carriers flying from A to B, others are not that easy to compare. As essential components of a holiday or leisure trip, how would one measure the degree of service quality, friendliness, assistance in case of malfunctioning or accommodating behaviour? And in what proportion stands their relative importance compared to the possible additional costs?

Today’s world is characterised by a seemingly overwhelming choice. Deciding on a holiday destination on an ever growing global market turns into a highly complex challenge. This holds especially true for members of the middle and upper social classes. While their available money makes them afford an almost infinite number of destinations, their limited time does not enable them to chose carefully. Those people increasingly want to rely on the services of a professional to filter all available information and to be presented with a limited number of alternatives. And this is where the strength of a travel agency has to come in.

Research of future lifestyle patterns indicate that the working population will have less and less time available for leisure activities. As a consequence, they are hardly inclined to waste it with “unpaid work time” such as the gathering of information, comparing the offers and finding the best solution. Instead, their preference will go into another direction: they want other people to do it for them. And this change in behaviour re-defines the role of the traditional travel agent: he has to become a travel consultant for his customers.

In a first step, a future travel consultant has to strategically assess his/her own positioning with respect to service range, products and target customers:
  • Disassociation against no-service products (e.g. cheap flights, low-budget hotels, train services).
  • Concentration on consulting-intensive products (e.g. sea cruises, individual travel arrangements, niche products).
  • Specialisation on certain product ranges (e.g. countries or regions, health tourism, adventure tours).
  • Focus on individual target groups (e.g. young people, families, mid-age, senior citizens, business travel).

As a result, the travel consultant will create an individual business mix that puts him into a unique market position. In order to establish a competitive advantage, he will need to focus strongly on the consulting part of his work and to strengthen his respective competences. Apart from the technical knowledge, this includes social skills, empathy, selling techniques and continuous training. The professional usage of modern technologies as well as of customer relationship management tools needs to be a matter of course. And each customer must be treated individually in order to reach the ultimate objective: gain and retain a satisfied clientele that secures the turnover and the profit.

But even with regard to the active internet users that like to look themselves, not all hope is lost for the travel agencies: the hesitancy to book online is still widely spread. A recent market study by Jupiter Research shows that German online users mainly draw on the internet to compare products and prices, to closely examine the offers and to arrange individual schedules. But before sealing the deal, some 35% still rely on the agency counter in search of the best price, and another 31% seek additional personal advice from a professional. This leaves the travel agent in a new position: he faces a highly informed customer that seeks additional value from him.

A good travel agent is not deterred by this expectancy. In addition to freely available information, he knows how to use the advantage of his personal knowledge. Not only is he highly familiar with the destination and the accommodation options, he has also visited the locations himself and can deliver first-hand experience. And he has had other clients that came back highly satisfied from the same place. By giving tips and referring to local secrets or hidden gems, the agent finally comes around to do what serves best: to convey emotion, enthusiasm, conviction, confidence and excited anticipation with regard to the chosen travel destination.

And this is the essential step to creating satisfied customers that will keep coming back for their upcoming holiday bookings. So maybe, after all, the seemingly destructive change of business conduct by Lufthansa has paved the way towards a promising future for an entire industry.

Andreas Hauser

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Management Tools: Intuition

and the
Role of Intuition

Deciding on different alternatives is an every-day practice of personal and professional life. Therefore, it is well worth taking a closer look at the decision-making process and its final implications. In principle, two different approaches can be distinguished: deciding spontaneously out of a gut feeling; or after careful and long deliberation. But when it comes to evaluating the quality of the decision, which one of those tools is the most effective?

Psychological research has undertaken a number of projects to determine the value of decisions made with either approach. Ap Dijksterhuis of the Radboud University in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, has recently published the findings of his work. And he has indeed come up with seemingly surprising results.

The human mind has only a limited capacity for processing information. The longer and more careful a deliberation process takes, the less accurate the predictions become. This is due to the fact that people tend to err on the relative importance of their pros and cons. With an extended thinking process, more irrelevant information is included and successively outweighs the important information. And the more information enters the deliberation process, the less precise the decision becomes. The conclusion is that conscious thinking can only lead to a sound decision when a limited amount of information is involved.

The opposite process is one that relies on unconscious thoughts as a basis for decision-making. The unconscious mind has a far greater capacity of processing information, which can lead to producing more accurate decisions. Also referred to as intuition, the gut feeling is far more than just a tool of those people who cannot rationalize their thoughts. It conveys a conviction for one alternative instead of another, although it might not enable the transmitter to expressively articulate why: it is ‘just a feeling’.

In order to prove his theory, Dijksterhuis carried out a number of experiments. He gave the same information to selected groups of people but guided them through the decision-making process in three different ways. Two of them were the previously explained methods of deciding spontaneously or deliberating carefully over time. The third method was to first give out the main information, then distract the conscious mind with non-relevant issues and finally asking them for a decision.

After testing the results, Dijksterhuis could prove that the group members who processed information unconsciously reached better decisions than those reacting spontaneously or even those taking time for conscious deliberation. According to the study, there were almost no exceptions to the decisions being better from a normative (rationally justifiable), a subjective (post-choice satisfaction) and an objective perspective (exact results).

How can this outcome influence our own decision-making process in personal and professional life? Ideally, the conscious mind should be used to gather all the necessary information, but without evaluating or analyzing it. Instead, our thoughts should be occupied with other things for a day or two, leaving the digestion to the unconscious mind. Thus, the decision will develop from within and emerge naturally.

So when we follow what our intuition advises us to do, we can quite trustfully assume that this is the best decision.

Andreas Hauser