Raft of indie openings shows travel can avoid fate of other retailers, says Miles Morgan, managing director of Miles Morgan Travel

It has been a very sorry few weeks for high street retailers and chain restaurants. Many are faltering and going into company voluntary arrangements to allow them to carry on trading while renegotiating shop leases and even closing some sites.

Household name Carpetright announced it would be closing poor-performing stores, while a string of restaurant chains, including Jamie’s Italian, Byron and Prezzo are having to restructure and close sites to stay afloat. New Look and, most recently, Select Fashion, have announced similar measures this month, while Toys R Us folded completely.

Media reports stated the number of UK restaurants going bust jumped by a fifth last year as big chains came under pressure from rising costs and competition caused by a squeeze on consumer spending.

All this carnage comes at the same time as Travel Weekly reports a burst of independent high street travel agencies opening. Has the industry gone mad?

Exposed to downturn

While it is impossible to nail one reason for the raft of issues for these big high street brands, the smart money points to big expansion and associated debt while times were good, which left them exposed to any downturn. These companies clearly grew fat on costs and they couldn’t rebalance when times got tough. A lesson for us all.

Despite this, Brexit and any other hurdle that gets in the way, I still believe that any business offering a great product at either an amazing price or one offering stand-out service will succeed through all this. That said, when your business scales to many hundreds of shops, that is harder to achieve on all counts and is perhaps another route to their problems.

I am sure you have a local pub offering great food and service that is packed all the time and yet you have another down the road with no cars parked outside. Someone has the formula right and you can always win if you work at it.

Service trumps price

So how do we achieve this in high street travel retail? For me, nothing changes from what I have said in these columns previously. The only area I would challenge would be a low-price model. Can you really beat the online players at that game? Maybe with the back-up of face-to-face service you can, but it would never be my choice or strategy. I go for full service, excellent product knowledge and people who are stars in my shops. People who love travel, love talking travel and have a built-in desire to look after customers. That is very hard to replicate or beat.

Unlike some of the areas of business among the retailers listed above, travel can be very confusing and having an expert help you through it not only saves time but also gives you a much better chance of a great holiday.

So, after years of being seen as the old-fashioned side of travel, the high street agency is back and here to stay.

But did it ever really go away? Most closures over the past 10 years have been by Tui and Cook.

Dynamic and fast-moving agents will not only survive but flourish, and long may it continue.