Agency 'digitisation' prompts high street revival

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Agency 'digitisation' prompts high street revival

Travel agencies’ “digitisation” in recent years has seen the movement of younger generations away from online and back to high street booking, experts claim.

“We have spoken to a lot of members who have seen that happening,” said Advantage Travel Partnership managing director Julia Lo Bue-Said (pictured) during an ‘Innovate’ session moderated by Travolution editor Lee Hayhurst at Travel Technology Europe 2016.

“A lot of our members are seeing a return of so-called millennials because they want that reassurance.

“A generational shift has been made possible by agents adopting better technology.

“Online can be very confusing so being omnichannel but with a high street presence is a unique selling point.

“You cannot just be on the high street any more, you have to have a variety of ways of interacting with your customer like out of hours service and social media.”

Roberto da Re, chief executive of software developer Dolphin Dynamics, said it was “limiting” to set apart the younger generation.

“I don’t think they’re that different, they just grew up being much more used to technology,” he said.

“All customers have moved on with technology much more quickly than us as an industry.”

Asked whether he thought the high street had been “unfairly talked down” in recent years, Thomas Cook’s group head of digital operations Graham Cook said: “There is absolutely a role for retail, there’s no doubt about it, but it can’t be like it was.

“There will always be a need for that personal touch but you can enhance that so much by improving your technology and digital.”

Lo Bue-Said added: “The fact that Tui and Thomas Cook are so visible in the high street shows that it’s worth investing in that kind of presence.”

Cook said he has witnessed in some companies “the P&L for retail set up in direct competition with digital”.

“Thomas Cook has tried to overcome that with top-down leadership and clear direction,” he said.

“Our group chief executive Peter Fankhauser has put the omnichannel concept as a central pillar to the business.

“Our pricing is agreed by the regional managing director. While there will be some discounting and offers from time to time, it means pricing is consistent across all of our channels.”

Kevin Paintin, client director at design company 20.20, which worked with Tui on its Holiday Design Store, said: “Time will tell which aspects of the travel retail space will show longevity.

“It can be much more impactful than the back of a computer.

“Some technological innovations work really well but may not be right for every store and every customer.” 

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