High street agents are proving resilient in the internet age against all predictions, Travel Weekly head of news Lee Hayhurst reports from Hays IG overseas conference
Convenience has always been cited as one of the biggest factors behind the astonishing rise of the internet in our lives.
Along with the proliferation of mobile devices, it has also been blamed for a concerning fall in the average human being’s attention span and the rise of a generation expecting instant gratification.
And if you are a high street travel agent it was also expected to be your death knell, and yet there are still thousands of you out there.
So could the forces mentioned above actually be helping to keep you in business? That was a question discussed this week at the Hays Independence Group annual overseas conference.
Before explaining why this might be the case, here are a few facts from the Hays Group just to underline the resilience of the high street:
• Four years on from buying Bath Travel, Hays estimates today it employs 200 more people in that business, mostly retail agents.
• Hays did not close a single store after buying Bath Travel and in fact quickly re-opened three and now has around 70 shops in the group, up from around 60.
• The Hays Independence Group consortium has the highest number of branches in its history at around 200.
• Hays Travel itself is growing its high street presence outside its northeast heartland and has opened 14 stores this year alone.
Some of the reasons for this are specific to the travel sector including increased wariness among consumers following terrorist attacks and natural disasters and travel company failures.
This has not only seen increased demand for reassurance, but the revival of the package holiday, which in some instances can offer greater value than component sales.
However, is there something more fundamental going on in terms of how people behave?
Hays Travel managing director John Hays and Simon Ferguson, Travelport northern Europe managing director, due to address the IG conference today, think there is.
Both picked up on a trend in non-travel retailing towards the convenience of the local store.
Hays said the large supermarket chains are starting to see their huge hypermarkets suffer in an age of online delivery and click and collect.
As a result they are investing in local convenience stores. At the same time there’s burgeoning interest in farmers’ markets and anyone who sources their product locally.
Tied to this is an increasing demand for good service, and all of this is being amplified on social media where people talk about things they have discovered that are local, that are close to them.
Hays cited the example of the booming real ale sector and also premium heritage local brands – illustrated using a brand producing northeast “delicacy” peas pudding.
In the age of unlimited access to product on the internet, small independent high street agents must continually ask themselves why would a customer choose to book with them.
The answer has got to be, despite having all the power at their fingertips, there is still a perception among many consumers that popping down to the local travel agent can be more convenient.
And being a fully paid up member of your local community remains a hugely powerful symbol of trustworthiness, responsibility and commitment.
Big brands are still struggling to find ways to engage with people on social media without annoying people by bringing overtly commercial messages into their online social space.
This is because they have not been invited in to have that sort of personal communication. The local travel agent has no such problem precisely because they are a local.
The desire for convenience allied to authenticity might just be the reason why your travel agency survives the age of the internet against all predictions.
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