Special Report: Aito Overseas Conference 2016

Special Report: Aito Overseas Conference 2016

Signs that consumers increasingly value niche high street brands and the advice of independent travel agents came under the spotlight at the event in Jordan last week. Juliet Dennis reports

Indie advice is increasingly valued, finds Aito survey


Advice from independent travel agents and operators is increasingly valued by consumers, while brochures and direct mail are becoming less important in the holiday research process, according to the Aito Insights 2016 survey.

The survey is based on 18,000 completed responses by clients of 32 Aito operator members, five Aito agents and Aito headquarters and was conducted between September and November. Most respondents were over 55 (62%).

It showed 22.3% of consumers thought advice from operators and agents was important when researching a holiday, up from 20.7% when the survey was last conducted 18 months ago.

Brochures and direct mail were both regarded as less significant when finding out about new holidays, while email was proving more valuable. Brochures remained the least valued, with 20% regarding them as important.

The most important source of information for deciding where to go were travel websites, although at 42.4% this was 10 percentage points down on last year.

The survey also showed the proportion of consumers who booked via mobile has almost doubled, from 10.4% in 2015 to 20.4% in the latest survey.

Kate Kenward, Aito’s executive director, said: “Members need to have their sites optimised for all devices. Online behaviour is changing.”

When asked about financial protection, 61.3% of respondents said they would always book with a fully-bonded association member, up 5.3 percentage points.

In terms of awareness of the Aito brand, this is up 5.9% for Aito and 0.7% for Aito Agents.

'Tap into mentors and non-exec directors'


Independent operators and travel agents would do well to use mentoring schemes to develop staff and employ non-executive directors to address weaknesses in their businesses, according to former Holidaybreak boss Richard Atkinson.

Atkinson said in his experience, many Aito members had great product, customer service and a “can do” mentality but were poor at financial control, planning and information management.

“By utilising mentoring or appointing a non-executive director you can go a long way to addressing these weaknesses,” he said.

Chris Rowles, managing director of Serenity Holidays, said non-executive directors were valuable, provided they had some travel knowledge. “You can have a safe pair of financial hands but if they don’t understand our industry, you will not get the full benefits,” he said.

Jordan calls on trade to act as 'ambassadors'


The Jordan Tourism Board has called on the trade and holidaymakers to act as “ambassadors” as it battles misperceptions of the country, which hosted Aito’s conference.

Managing director Dr Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat said: “Misperception is the biggest threat. Jordan is a peaceful country – that’s the message to send. We are the calm house between noisy neighbours.”

Dr Arabiyat said the tourist board was committed to working with the UK trade. “Tour operators and travel agents play a major role to get people to come to the country. We need people to come here and be ambassadors.”

Agents and operators were impressed by what the destination had to offer.

Aito Specialist Agents chairman Gemma Antrobus said: “There is such a wealth of history and culture here.”

Aito chairman Derek Moore said: “There is a perception, even among the UK trade, that Jordan is not a place to visit.

“It seemed sensible to bring our members here to see reality belies perception.”

Travel Stop owner Bridget Keevil said the onus was on agents to “dig deeper” into what clients want.

vUK arrivals to Jordan between January and October totalled 52,450, up from 51,060 for the same 10 months in 2015.

Vince Cable warns more 'black swan' events may hit travel


Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the US may not be the last of the “black swans” to affect the UK economy, former cabinet minister Vince Cable warned operators and travel agents.

The former secretary of state for business, innovation and skills said there was no doubt Britain was heading for a slowdown, with “a few years of great uncertainty and slower growth” to come.

Speaking at the Association of Independent Tour Operators’ annual overseas conference, aimed at business owners, Cable said: “The popular political movements this year may not be the end of it.”

He said the government had yet to decide on the country’s exit deal from the EU, adding: “My colleagues tell me government is nowhere close to deciding what to do.”

Assessing prospects elsewhere in Europe, Cable said: “Austria might get an extreme far right president. Italy’s current prime minister might lose the referendum, which would create months of uncertainty. If there is another ‘black swan’ event this year it will be Italy; its banks are in a horrid state.”

Cable said the current economic uncertainty dated back to the 2008 financial crisis.

“Eight years ago there was a ‘black duckling’; we are now living with the consequences of that crisis. You cannot understand what Brexit or Trump was about without looking at the tail end of the financial crisis,” he said.

The impact of the current crisis for the travel sector was on currency, with the devaluation of the pound, he added. “Tourism in the UK is now much more attractive and profitable but it’s more costly to travel overseas.”

Cable said it was unclear what would happen on travel-specific issues such as aviation regulation covering safety, training, the environment and passenger protection.

“These are all covered by EU agreements. There is massive uncertainty,” he said, adding:

“The third-party EU agreements with the US and Canada on aviation, will these continue?”

Retail guru cites successes of niche high street brands


Make sure holidays meet expectations and that you gain clients’ trust and become obsessive about customer service – that was the message from retail guru Claire Bailey.

Bailey, author of The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, said: “Make sure the brand lives up to the promises and build up a relationship of trust.”

Bailey urged travel businesses to compete on service, not price. “Become obsessed with your focus on servicing a niche customer. If you really know a customer then you should recognise them almost as soon as they walk through the door.”

Bailey added: “A new high street is coming out of this [financial crisis]. Think about your local high street. You will see an explosion of boutique shops. People are willing to spend a good deal if the product satisfies their needs.”

She cited successful niche clothes and sportswear retailers The Dressing Room and The Sports Edit among others for building big followings.

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