TRAVEL agents concerned about the future can rest easy in the knowledge that their services will be required well into the next century, according to First Choice.
The operator has released its predictions for holiday trends in the 21st century, painting a bright future for the high-street retailer.
The usual claims of a growth in Internet usage and bookings through digital TV were trotted out, but First Choice marketing director Philippa Harris, who presented the report, believes that in the next century two-thirds of all overseas travellers will continue to use travel agencies.
Holidaymakers will browse possible holidays by looking at virtual tours through digital TV or touchscreens in travel agencies, according to the operator.
And instead of having to hand out huge, cumbersome brochures, the agent will be able to print out a tailor-made one.
The report also predicts travel agencies will lay on more entertainment to add to the experience of shopping for a holiday.
It's hardly revolutionary, although it does sound logical and Travel Weekly has long argued that agents will be able to use new technology to their advantage as retailers in the UShave done.
But the findings from First Choice have to be taken with a little pinch of salt.
The group is currently building a retail network as fast as it can to catch up with other vertically-integrated operators and it has a stake in the Holiday Hypermarkets, which are specialising in laying on more facilities for people booking holidays.
As one analyst said:"First Choice's findings don't seem to be based on much scientific research, but more on gut feelings.
"And it is hardly going to predict the demise of travel agents when the group strategy is to have a nationwide chain."
As far as types of holidays are concerned, the operator does not expect us to be jetting off to the moon in the near future. Rather, we are going to be doing more of the same, with an increasing demand for more flexible packages; cruises; no-frills holidays; two-week trips to long-haul destinations such as Australia; and weddings abroad.
First Choice points out that British working hours are among the longest in Europe, resulting in far less leisure time and consequently working adults need more flexible holidays.
These will include more two-centre trips and tours so that people can pack in as much as possible on their holidays and more flexible lengths of stay, getting away from the standard seven and 14-night packages.
The report says children on package holidays will become more demanding, because they are maturing at an earlier age as they access more information from television, the Internet and their peers.
In turn, First Choice says mature children will lead to mature teenagers who will want to travel with friends, rather than family, at an earlier age.
Perhaps proving that there is little new under the sun, Harris predicts that over the next 20 years Majorca will continue to be the favourite hot-spot for UK holidaymakers. Disappointingly, there was little said about how the antiquated system in resort, where holidaymakers are herded to a welcome meeting and then encouraged to sign up immediately for trips, might improve.
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