Agents are too focused on product and destinations and insufficiently concerned with customer needs, says market analyst Mintel, and the high street faces a lingering decline if it does not change.
That stark warning dominates the conclusions of Mintel's latest Travel Agents Leisure Intelligence report - which finds evidence of residual strength among agents, as Travel Weekly reported last week.
Mintel's research suggests UK consumers see personal expertise and knowledge as the "core strengths" of agents. But it also suggests many consumers see online booking as more convenient and better value.
So Mintel concludes: "A reassertion of the value of face time [with customers] is the high street's best chance of survival."
Agents should consider an approach akin to counselling, says Mintel, seeking to identify a client's "emotional needs" and fantasy of a perfect trip, then matching these to the most-suitable products.
It points out such an approach requires skilled and committed staff, and notes: "The most successful repeat-business models seem to be agencies that promote a higher proportion of well-travelled graduates and commission-based home workers."
The report warns against cutting jobs because of the recession and instead advocates investing more to develop quality staff.
Mintel says high street agents will continue to find it tough to compete with online retailers, suggesting: "Many consumers see the online do-it-yourself route as cheaper. In terms of perception, the high street is losing."
But it notes: "The online experience can be frustrating, time-consuming and confusing. Agents can exploit this [and] make capital out of the frustrations, inconsistencies and complexity of the online experience. The time-saving advantages of using an agent can be a strong selling point."
The report suggests consumers are most likely to use an agent when seeking something "a bit different" from the standard holiday. Agents serving upmarket clients should therefore position themselves as a luxury service offering "clear alternatives to the commoditised online market".
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