In the decimated high streets of Britain, travel agents are rising like phoenixes from the flames.
To find out why these once forgotten institutes are now thriving, I visited the brand new Trailfinders store in Kent, UK.
Once a major shopping center, downtown Tunbridge Wells is now lined with shuttered shops. Even before the pandemicbig brands were evacuating the mall as shoppers increasingly went online.
So how come a physical travel agency – seemingly antiquated in the age of online booking – is now opening store?
I spoke to Marketing Director Nikki Davies to find out.
Travel agents see record bookings after pandemic
Instead of braking during the COVID-19 pandemic, Trailfinders hit the gas.
In 2020, new stores opened in Winchester and Solihull, followed by York and Cheltenham in 2021. By September, another will open in Southampton bringing their UK the store counts to 44.
This bet seems successful.
“We had a banner year in 2019 and we are currently beating it,” says Nikki.
“Basically, demand has returned to much higher demand than before the pandemic.”
They are now recruitment 100 new consultants to meet demand.
After years of closures and canceled plans, people want to travel again. But complex COVID-19 restrictions, airport chaos caused by understaffing and strikesand general uncertainty have shaken consumer confidence.
“We see a lot of people who weren’t used to booking through tour operators“, explains Nikki.
“They want the safety net – they’ve had their fingers burnt before because a lot of people haven’t had refunds during the pandemic… while we reimbursed within 24 hours.
Although travel agents suffered along with the rest of the tourism industry during the pandemic, the chaotic consequences worked in their favor.
“I think our reputation has improved thanks to the pandemic and as a result, business is absolutely crazy right now – and there’s no end in sight,” Nikki adds.
The travel agent boom isn’t unique to Trailfinders
Flight Center UK has also welcomed a large number of new customers after the initial chaos of the pandemic, according to chief executive Liz Mathews.
“I think there’s a lot of nervousness and a real appetite to have someone people can trust with their most important tasks. travel plans,” she says.
Unlike Trailfinders, Flight Center has significantly reduced its number of stores. Before the pandemic, the company planned to reduce its network by 50-60%. However, only 20% of stores have reopened.
Instead, the company focuses on home workers who can answer calls without being tied to a particular location.
Having a dedicated travel agent on speed dial has proven invaluable for customers booking vacations when the the travel industry wasn’t quite ready to bounce back.
Travel agents act as a buffer between consumers and suppliers
As airlines struggle to cope with the sheer volume of questions and complaints following a deluge of strikes and cancellationstravel agents can filter and disseminate information to their customers.
Have a personal consultant supported by existing relationships with Airlines companies and airports “really show value when things go wrong,” says Liz.
“We want it to be easy for customers to just enjoy the trip rather than being stress on this subject.”
It’s also good news for airlines and airports, as it gives a break to their overwhelmed customer service teams.
“Airlines are valuing us even more than before the pandemic because they physically don’t have the capacity to handle the number of customers when there is this level of disturbance“, explains Liz.
Do holidaymakers favor service over cost in 2022?
Before the pandemic, online travel agencies were the benchmark for budget conscious globetrotters. But, as Liz says, “They struggle to provide that offline support when the going gets tough.”
Faced with competition from cheap online deals, Flight Center had already abandoned its price matching policy five years ago. Since then, they have focused on helping customers navigate complex travel itineraries.
“Yes, you might pay a little more, but the service package that comes with it is so much better than what you could get booking online,” says Liz.
So far, this strategy has paid off.
As holidaymakers pour their lockdown savings into long-held dreams adventuresit looks like they’re willing to shell out a bit more for peace of mind.
In its 2022 Global Travel Trends Report, Amex found that 86% of attendees to Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Indiathe UK and the WE Provided for spend more or as much travel this year compared to a typical pre-pandemic year.
And in Flight Centre’s own 2022 Travel Trends report, 54% of Britons said they would choose to book through a travel agent rather than independently.
Nikki also notes that customers are spending more with Trailfinders and taking longer vacation since the pandemic.
Which trips have been the most popular since the pandemic?
When countries started breaking away from the UK red listTrailfinders saw an increase in last-minute bookings everywhere it was open.
“People were desperate to run away,” says Nikki.
Now their most popular pre-pandemic destinations are in demand again with the United States, Australia, Thailand, South Africa and Canada at the top of the list.
Flight Centre, meanwhile, has seen a boom in bucket list trips.
“One group that has obviously re-emerged with passionate vengeance is…the empty nests [whose] the kids have left the house,” Liz says.
After working towards retirement and missing two years of travel, people in their 60s and 60s are making up for lost time by booking one trip after another, she adds. And travel agents, in particular, lend themselves to complex travel, big budget routes.
“If you book…this trip of a lifetime, you will spend more silver a vacation you’ve never had before,” says Liz. “There’s something reassuring… about sitting in front of a person and looking them in the eye and talking about such an important journey.”
The “VFR” market – visiting friends and relatives – is also booming.
“People have not been able to visit friends and family for two years – it’s such a powerful engine,” says Liz.
“And – potentially controversial – Parents withdraw their children from school so that they can take advantage of the reduced rates of the season,” she adds.
“There is certainly a trend of parents willing to face the wrath of schools to get the best deal.
Are the main street travel agents here to stay?
Despite the imminent Cost of life crisis, the British are still keen to spend on travel. This summer, a survey by travel insurance specialist Just Travel Cover found that booking holidays abroad was still a priority for 76% of participants – even with an increase household bills.
And although, Liz admits, travel agencies might have been considered a bit “old school” in the past, they are well placed to deal with this situation. crisis too.
“We see people coming to us for advice on when best time to travel and when they can get better value for silver“, explains Liz.
She believes their strong customer retention rates will continue as vacationers build relationships and trust with their consultants, relying on their expertise to navigate underway. uncertainties.