Thursday, January 31, 2008

The last time I used a High Street travel agent

Our latest column for Travel Weekly (a title aimed at High Street travel agents):

When was the last time you used a high street travel agent? This is a question members of the Travolution team are asked frequently.

So, a full disclosure: I last used the services of a bricks and mortar agency in the spring of 2000, when my wife and I visited the Camden branch of Bridge The World to plan and book a rather complicated series of flights around India, Nepal and southeast Asia.

The counter agent was knowledgeable (especially about Nepal), had a trick or two up her sleeve (she made a call to Emirates to get us a decent deal) and reassuring (the trip was essentially an extended honeymoon-cum-backpacking jaunt).

So despite the near-perfect service, why haven’t I used an agency since? In some respects it’s due to work commitments – we simply haven’t had that many holidays since then, which, yes, is pretty ridiculous.

But equally the holidays we have taken have not needed someone to guide us through the detail of a booking or accommodation or package.

And herein lies the challenge to the travel agency community.

There is an argument that searching for travel – especially massively commoditised products such as flights, and a large number of hotels – is easier via the web for many a supposed ‘time-poor’ consumer.

The notion that there are cheaper prices to be found online is also a factor.

The role of the agency in the future, therefore, has to evolve to meet this very real and – to many – frightening situation.

Use the online channel in an innovative and experience-led way to reach the ‘quick dealers’, as we call them.

But equally, make sure your shop offers the type of service on complicated or niche products that, for example, is going to make a cynical, web-savvy hack want to evangelise about you in eight years’ time.

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

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