Opinion: The high street is alive and kicking

Opinion: The high street is alive and kicking

Arguing that consumers have a straight choice between shopping on the high street or on the internet is far too simplistic, says Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer

Following last week’s Thomas Cook announcement, there has been a lot of speculation about the future of retailers on the high street and travel agencies in particular.

It may be tempting to generalise about the high street, but shops such as Blockbuster and HMV, which suffered badly as a result of online competition and the recession, had a very different business model to travel retailers. Choosing a holiday is a personal decision with a multitude of options and variations.

Technology and the internet have been major game-changers for the travel industry in the past 10 years, providing huge opportunities for travel businesses.

We’ve seen successful businesses evolving and adapting to change by introducing e-marketing, online booking or new back-office systems and new business models.

It is far too simplistic to say that it is a choice between either the internet or the high street. These two channels provide different ways to reach and engage with potential customers.

In all of the debate of the past week, however, it’s important to remember that booking a holiday can be an emotional experience, as well as one that may worry the customer if they’re going to a new or unfamiliar destination. Sometimes the internet doesn’t have all the answers.

Talking to a travel professional with whom they can discuss their needs, tailor their itinerary or find out important information about a destination, may be quicker and easier than spending hours on the internet. And, in many cases, customers may have built up a relationship with their local travel agent whom they trust.

Abta’s most recent consumer research in 2012 found that the younger generation is the most likely to look for this guidance.

It also showed that there was an increase from the previous year in people booking an overseas holiday through their high street agent, flatly contradicting those who predict the demise of the high street; and recent statistics from GfK paint a similar picture.

The incredible job carried out by agents in recent years assisting customers through ash clouds, company failures, airport closures and problems caused by bad weather has clearly boosted the public’s recognition of the essential support provided by travel agents and tour operators.

The most successful agents have always shown remarkable resilience, adapting and evolving their business models to meet changing customer needs.

It is certain that we will continue to see changes in the way people research and book holidays – whether that’s because of the economy, the emergence of devices such as smartphones and tablets or the next big trend that none of us yet knows about.

However, one thing will never change: sometimes there is nothing that can replace speaking to someone in person.

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