New Deal Europe Weekly Update on Tourism to the Balkan Region, Week 42

New opportunity for tourism growth to the Balkan region: OTT

Online Travel Training is the market-leader in providing interactive online training for travel agents. OTT prides itself on being the largest global course user community with around 200,000 members. This week New Deal Europe signed a strategic partnership with OTT. To mark this occasion we host Kenny Smith, Global Partnerships Manager at Online Travel Training and discuss why he believes OTT is the most technologically advanced e-learning provider in the world, and we find out how the Balkan tourism providers can launch courses with destination specific quizzes, prizes and content for the global travel agent audience.

NDE: Hi Kenny. Thanks for talking with us today. New Deal Europe is honoured to be announcing today our partnership with Online Travel Training, more familiarly known as simply OTT. Before we go into details on the basis of our partnership, can you explain to our readers what is the key function of OTT and what your role in the organisation is?

KS: Absolutely. OTT exists for the travel industry. We enable travel suppliers to connect and engage with travel experts around the world through educational tools and courses. Our agents around the world rely on OTT to bring them the most up to date knowledge, giving them confidence to sell, which in turn, of course, delivers sales. It is the go-to place for real time product information. This global network of travel suppliers and travel experts are all connected through the OTT Virtual Trade Management tool. It is an environment where travel and tourism experts can learn continually in an engaged and rewarded community. My role ensures that Global partners around the world know the best way to communicate with the remote travel trade. I consult on best practice to ensure visibility and brand awareness.

We have three principles: Learn, Inspire, Connect and we give our travel professionals easy options.

NDE: and what would you say are the key features and benefits of OTT?

KS: One Key feature of OTT is our huge agent reach. With over 200,000 registered travel professionals worldwide, we are the platform of choice for travel agents, giving them the knowledge, they need to ensure they give the very best service and inspiration to their customers. Through OTT travel professionals become inspired by your destination or product and share this information with consumers. The agents normally spend around 20 minutes learning about your product, and after the learning process is completed, we can connect those travel professionals with the brands they have been learning about through our multimillion-pound communication tool OTTOMail powered by force24.

Our platform experience is second to none — an easy-to-use micro-learning website, and travel professionals know what to expect from OTT. We have three principles: Learn, Inspire, Connect and we give our travel professionals easy options. They can learn wherever and whenever they want, and that also includes the device choice. We have seen a huge increase in course passes from mobile devices and tablets and we have ensured that travel professionals have the best user experience from whatever device they decide to use even including their mobile phones. They can learn on the go from their mobile, their desktop at home or even from their tablet when on a sunbed abroad.

NDE: Who is OTT aimed at? Is it just travel agents in the UK?

KS: No — it is a global product with global reach. Our longtail of travel professionals around the world includes an array of travel related businesses encompassing tour operators, independent homeworkers, cruise specialists, MICE agents, leisure agents and many more.

NDE: Can you explain why have you targeted them and what is their response to your product?

KS: The reason we exist is to give travel professionals around the world the knowledge they need, which ultimately gives them confidence to sell. All our courses have agent feedback, and we love reading travel professionals’ comments. To give you an example, Tony Byrne, a travel agent but also a tour operator and homeworker, advised that after the new course on the South Tyrol in Austria, he would be adding this destination to his portfolio to sell and package up tours as he was unaware of how great the destination was. So, if a travel brand wants to expand their product awareness and generate more sales via informed agents, OTT is a great choice. Let me quote you what Star Alliance said about us. “OTT is a great, cost effective solution to reach out to a wide portion of the trade community, and raise product and brand awareness.” ​ I think that says it all.

NDE: We can clearly see that it is a global product. What are your main markets and what are the main destinations you offer?

KS: We work in 17 languages, and 8 countries. We have up to 200,000 people accessing us and we work alongside all the major tourist boards. We also look after airlines, tour operators, and of course, destinations. We already work very closely with PATA Global (Pacific Asia Travel Association) and LATA (Latin America Travel Association) and ANTOR (Association of National Tourist Offices and Representatives), giving them the ability to create online learning platforms for their partners.

NDE: That is already quite a network. Where would you like to expand into?

KS: Why, the Balkans of course, and we want to do that in partnership with New Deal Europe, as you are a recognised brand associated with the Balkan region in the minds of the travel community. We have worked with many of the Balkan destinations and suppliers individually. However, this collaboration brings this wonderful region together and is a great step forward in aiding the kickstart of travel after the pandemic.

NDE: Thank you for that endorsement Kenny. Perhaps you should explain our new partnership and how our partners in the Balkans can benefit from this.

KS: Our new partnership will give all your wonderful partners the ability to showcase the Balkans, this emerging area of diverse culture and beauty, with its increased air connectivity. To give this the push it deserves, we are giving each company and organisation that signs up a free trial up to 31st December 2021. So, you can try us out with your first educational module absolutely free, and then decide if it is for you. I can tell you that our travel professionals are itching to learn more about this area of the world. Our partnership with you guys gives Balkan based travel businesses the ability to reach and teach the remote travel trade….and those travel professionals around the world will learn about this amazing area and become brand ambassadors for those businesses.

One Key feature of OTT is our huge agent reach.

NDE: This a fantastic boost to the economy, thank you. This great news is a perfect way to spread information on the Balkans to the key decision makers in travel. In addition to the opportunity to educate travel agents on the destinations and the product, are there any other benefits for suppliers in our region from working with OTT?

KS: OTT has an unprecedented reach of 200,000 global travel professionals with unrivalled return on investment. Our online presence and focus on technology ensures that connecting travel professionals with those brands they spend time learning about is seamless. Brand engagement is so important and travel professionals need the most up to date knowledge to ensure they are delivering the best possible experience and knowledge to their customers. Let’s face it: most travel brands have had to evolve over the pandemic, and do things differently, and we help them communicate their message where it is going to have most impact. One partner, Jackie Clark, VP of Global Sales for Japan Airlines, said “You are a much-needed lifeline for us at the moment! I wanted to let you know we are making full use of OTT with regard to the corona virus updates and schedule changes and bulletins.” In an ever-changing landscape having an online training presence is essential if you want to give the travel professionals the tools, they need to sell you.

NDE: What do our Balkan based partners have to do to become visible on your platform?

KS: Our partnership with New Deal Europe ensures it is easy for all your partners to be visible in a quick and simple way. A welcome pack will be sent to each NDE partner who signs up, where they will collate information on their introductory module course. This can include all relevant USP’s, marketing collateral and the starter information travel professionals need in order to engage with and learn about the brand. NDE, through their Course Production Team, have agreed to build the courses which will be hosted and marketed out by OTT. The information, which is already within many marketing materials you have, will be there for all our wonderful community of travel professionals to see and learn from. Not only that, but you will be able to connect to all these proactive agents once they have completed your course, giving you an engaged pot of travel professionals who are not only knowledgeable about your brand but can sell it too.

NDE: Can you give our partners some facts and figures on the sales benefit of working with you?

KS: Sure. OTT pioneered remote travel agent knowledge, so we are the market leader. This resulted in sales conversion and revenue long before the pandemic. In the last month alone, our website has had 1.8 million minutes of engagement by global travel agents, and they have taken more time than ever before to learn and be inspired. I can honestly say that they are hungry to book our clients’ products. That is why no other sales and product distribution channel can deliver OTT’s return on investment. We will enable you to train an agent in 8 minutes for less than $1 or 75p. The agent now becomes ‘your’ agent with a certificate of merit and a head full of knowledge to inspire consumers to book your product. We really can help you reach the remote travel trade to sell your products and services and optimise your communication across multiple countries and languages.

Through OTT travel professionals become inspired by your destination or product and share this information with consumers.

NDE: This really is a great offering, bringing the product directly in front of the agents who sell it. I am sure we will get many of our travel partners and friends from the Balkans’ companies interested in taking up the offer of the free trial.

KS: Yes, I hope so. Once they see what we can do for them, the engagement we can deliver, and the sales they can make through us, I am sure that they will want to build more educational programmes with us. It is a win-win partnership between OTT, NDE and the partners from the Balkans, and we all need these partnerships right now as we restart the travel industry.

NDE: We have already touched on how businesses have been forced to adapt in the last 12 months. The Covid pandemic has seen a move towards homeworking, especially within the travel sector. How has this affected your business?

KS: It has actually been good for us. Our Covid updating newsletters and webinars have proved very popular, and our online presence has never been stronger. As you can imagine, we saw record registrations and course passes throughout 2020, and 2021 is already proving very popular. With most of the travel trade working remotely, they need a tool which is reliable, quick, and seamless, and which gives them the ability to find information quickly. Consequently, OTT has never been more relevant. Online Travel Training is an essential tool to reach and teach the remote travel trade, not only helping travel professionals learn, but also incorporating prizes and incentives to inspire them to complete your course. We have seen how suppliers have become very creative in delivering their message. For instance, we have taken travel professionals live to Canada to learn how to make a Lobster meal, and we have seen live Yoga from a lake in Finland. We also have ensured destinations and travel brands collaborate to give quality information hosting various Destination Unlock Webinars which work with a destination, an airline, hoteliers, and attraction providers on their Covid protocols, and what consumers can expect upon arrival. This gives travel professionals the ability to hear first-hand what their customers can expect. As Andy Grodecki, General Manager, UK and Ireland Japan Airlines said “If OTT hadn’t existed prior to the pandemic, it would have been necessary to invent it! Thanks for all your help in getting our messages to the trade at such a difficult time”.

NDE: Are agents looking for anything new or different as a result of the pandemic, and how do you deliver that?

KS: Agents are always looking for something new to learn about and sell to their loyal customers. We have seen registrations from brands that have a relatively low profile, such as Windstar cruises, which launched during the pandemic. Their course has been received especially well and gives agents something new to look at. Holiday Extras also launched throughout the pandemic and had record course passes within the first weekend. Off the beaten track destinations and brands which are harder to reach have also seen great engagement, especially through our partnerships with LATA and PATA. Smaller destinations such as Kiribati and Palau, which travel professionals might not have thought about before, are now out there front and centre on their learning academies, giving agents the tools, they need to bring these wonderful destinations to life. I cannot emphasise enough how, right now, it is so important to have the need-to-know information in real time. Therefore, we supported, and continue to support, travel brands through all stages of the global pandemic. We introduced Covid top tabs on all courses to give agents the ability to share knowledge with their consumers which is up to date and factual. Destination Unlock Webinars are key to sharing destination protocols, collaborating to kickstart tourism to a destination and giving the travel professionals around the world the tools to help them sell.

OTT is giving each company and destination that signs up a free trial up to 31st December 2021.

NDE: As we all know, competitiveness is key to successful sales. Is there any competition for you in this educational field, and if so, what makes your product stand out?

KS: We are the only international e-learning and marketing platform where you can run your global training and marketing. No one else can offer the same level of technology, engagement, and ability to grow a client’s business.

NDE: Good to know. Many of our partners, such as hotels and tourist boards in the Balkan region, who we have spoken to and interviewed for this blog, have told us that they have survived this year thanks to local markets. Consequently, they are concentrating promotional activity on markets which are within driving distance. How can OTT support this local v global strategy?

KS: We are currently running free domestic training. If they have a course in an international market, we have offered a free course to support domestic travel in their local language. This ensures that they can reach and teach the travel trade within their own market, giving them the very best up to date information.

NDE: You are certainly delivering what the region needs right. At New Deal Europe we are very focused on promoting sustainable and responsible tourism. How important is this to OTT and how can it be represented on your platform?

KS: OTT and our supplier partners are working with B1G1 to help make an impact in the world. B1G1 is an organisation backed by the United Nations to make the world a more sustainable and a better place for everyone. There are 17 impact goals that the UN believes will help improve poverty and climate change over the next 10 years if supported. OTT and our supplier partners are supporting the goals of ‘climate change’, ‘sustainable cities’ and ‘quality education’.

NDE: Looking to the future, adaptation and innovation is key to long term success for any business but is particularly pertinent in the fast-moving world of travel and online technology provision. How do you see your company adapting to future market needs?

KS: OTT continually invests in new technology, and we have already spent over 1m EUR developing our global platform. Investment has ensured OTT can remain very agile in a fast-paced post covid environment. One key development in the pipeline is that agent profiles are coming online soon. This will showcase their specialism and knowledge and eventually we will make this available to the consumer to enable them to find and book holidays and to showcase our amazing specialist travel community. Our technology is always evolving, and we are constantly re-investing into our tech to ensure the best user experience for our travel professional community. Without question we will continue to offer the latest technology and the lowest engagement costs for all our global travel partners. Away from technology and in terms of geographical spread we already have representation in North America, Germany, and France, and we are looking at a Nordic representation currently for OTT. And of course, we are excited to add more Balkan product through New Deal Europe!

NDE: Thank you Kenny. It has been great talking with you today and we look forward to working with you to achieve that last goal and deliver more tourism to the Balkans and South East Europe.

New Deal Europe is the only travel market platform dedicated to generating business to the Balkan region of Europe, www.newdealeurope.com. Follow us on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/newdealeurope.

Next Travel Trade Event: Global Travel Week, 27–30 September 2021.

The exclusive B2B travel market showcasing the very best Balkan products and connecting key buyers with exclusive exhibitors.