On the decimated high streets of the UK, travel agents are rising like a phoenix from the flames.
To investigate why these once forgotten institutes are now gaining in popularity, I visited the new Trailfinders store in Kent, UK.
Once a major commercial centre, Tunbridge Wells town center is now filled with boarded up shops. Even before the pandemicbig brands were evacuating the mall as shoppers increasingly went online.
So how is it that a physical travel agent, seemingly old-fashioned in the age of online booking, is now opening up? store?
I spoke to director of marketing Nikki Davies to find out.
Travel agents are seeing record bookings after the pandemic
Instead of slowing down during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trailfinders hit the mark gas.
In 2020, new stores opened in Winchester and Solihull, followed by York and Cheltenham in 2021. In September another will open in Southampton bringing its United Kingdom store counts to 44.
This gamble seems to have paid off.
“We had a record year in 2019 and we are currently surpassing it,” says Nikki.
“Basically, it’s back to much higher demand than it was before the pandemic.”
they are now recruitment 100 new consultants to meet demand.
After years of lockdowns and canceled plans, people are eager to travel again. But the complex COVID-19 restrictions, the chaos at airports caused by staff shortages and strikesand general uncertainty have hit consumer confidence.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who weren’t used to booking through tour operatorsNikki explains.
“They want the safety net – they burned their fingers before, because a lot of people didn’t get refunds during the pandemic… whereas we gave refunds within 24 hours.”
Although travel agents suffered along with the rest of the sightseeing industry during the pandemic, the chaotic consequences have played in its favor.
“I think our reputation has improved because of the pandemic and so the business is absolutely insane right now, and there’s no end in sight,” adds Nikki.
The rise of travel agencies is not exclusive to Trailfinders
Flight Center UK has also welcomed a large number of first-time customers after the initial chaos of the pandemic, according to General Manager Liz Mathews.
“I think there is a lot of nervousness and a real appetite to have a person that people can trust with their important to travel plans,” she says.
Unlike Trailfinders, Flight Center has drastically reduced its number of stores. Before the pandemic, the company had planned to reduce its network by 50 to 60 percent. However, only 20 percent of stores have reopened.
Instead, the company is focusing on home workers that can answer calls without being tied to any particular location.
Having a dedicated travel agent on speed dial has proven invaluable to clients booking vacations when the Travel industry he wasn’t ready to recover.
Travel agents act as a buffer between consumers and providers.
As airlines struggle to deal with the sheer volume of questions and complaints following a barrage of strikes and cancellationstravel agents can filter and disseminate information to their clients.
Having a personal advisor backed by existing relationships with airlines and airports “really show value when things go wrong,” says Liz.
“We want to make it easy for customers to simply enjoy traveling instead of being stressed about.”
This is good news for airlines and airports too, as it gives their overloaded customer service teams.
“Airlines see even more value in us than before the pandemic because they don’t physically have the capacity to handle the number of customers when there is that level of breaking offLiz explains.
Do tourists value service over cost in 2022?
Before the pandemic, online travel agencies were the option for budget savvy globetrotter. But, as Liz says, “they struggle to provide that support offline when the going gets tough.”
Faced with competition from cheap deals online, Flight Center had already abandoned its price-matching policy five years ago. Since then, they have focused on helping clients navigate complex travel itineraries.
“Yes, you may pay a little more, but the service offering that comes with it is much better than what you could get by booking online,” explains Liz.
So far, this strategy has paid off.
As tourists pour their lockdown savings into long-dreamed-of adventureIt seems that they are willing to shell out a little more for peace of mind.
In its 2022 Global Travel Trends Report, Amex found that 86 percent of participants in Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Indiathe UK and the U.S planned for to spend more or the same in travel this year compared to a typical year before the pandemic.
And in Flight Centre’s 2022 Travel Trends report, 54% of Britons said they would choose to book through a travel agent rather than independently.
Nikki also points out that customers are spending more with Trailfinders and taking longer vacations since the pandemic.
What trips are the most popular since the pandemic?
When countries started to leave the UK red listTrailfinders saw a rush of last-minute bookings at any open location.
“People were desperate to escape,” says Nikki.
Flight Centre, meanwhile, has seen a boom in bucket list trips.
“One group that has notably resurfaced with a passionate vengeance is… the empty nests [whose] the children have left home,” says Liz.
After working their way into retirement and missing two years of travel, people in their 60s and 70s are making up for lost time by booking trip after trip, he adds. And travel agents, in particular, lend themselves to complexes, big budget itineraries
“If you are booking… that trip of a lifetime, you are going to spend more money on a vacation like never before,” says Liz. “There’s something reassuring … about actually sitting across from a person and looking them in the eye and talking about this important journey.”
The ‘VFR’ (Visiting Friends and Family) market is also growing.
“People missed visiting friends and family for two years, that’s a very strong push,” says Liz.
And, potentially controversially, fathers taking their kids out of school so they can take advantage of low season rates,” she adds.
“There is definitely a trend of parents willing to face the wrath of schools to get the best deal.”
Are travel agents here to stay?
despite what lies ahead cost of living crisis, the British remain willing to spend on travel. This summer, a survey by travel insurance specialist Just Travel Cover found that booking a vacation abroad was still a priority for 76 per cent of participants, even with the increase household expenses.
And while, Liz admits, travel agencies may have been seen as “a bit old-fashioned” in the past, they are well positioned to weather this situation. crisis also.
She believes her strong client retention rates will continue as tourists build relationships and trust with her advisors, trusting their expertise to navigate the course. uncertainties.