Liberty Travel will take online bookings for the first time in the company’s history. The booking engine will launch in six to eight months.
Although other traditional retailers have embraced a “bricks-and-clicks” strategy (for example, American Express recently unveiled the latest version of its consumer travel website powered by Orbitz), Liberty had been a holdout.
Liberty had taken the position that person-to-person communication makes for a better booking process and travel experience, said Emma Jupp, president of Liberty Travel.
However, most travel today, even when booked through a travel agent, begins with an online search, so Liberty's customers will have the option to shop and book online. Still, the site is designed to link potential customers with a Liberty vacation travel expert at every opportunity.
“Customers can research on the website and book online, by phone, by chatting through the website,” Jupp said. “But the site will also identify agents who are experts and who can work with the customer and help them complete that transaction.”
She described the strategy as a “blended travel agency model.”
“Research has shown that when you have a multichannel distribution, the spend is greater,” she said.
The site will offer air, hotel and cruise. Consumers who begin their search online will be able to print out a document with a reference number. They can bring that into a Liberty travel agency and a Liberty agent can take the booking from there, make adjustments and finish the booking.
Conversely, consumers can finish or add to a trip that originated in a store.
Liberty announced its new online strategy to suppliers on the day it held the official ribbon-cutting ceremony of its new travel store on Madison Avenue in New York.
Arnie Weissmann, Travel Weekly's editor in chief, contributed to this report.
Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.