Belfast Telegraph

Online booking sites to blame for lack of high street travel agents, expert says

The boom in online travel sites is contributing to a decline in high street firms offering flights, the head of the UK's largest network of independent travel agents has said.

Advantage Travel Partnership chairman Steven Esom told the Press Association his organisation - which represents 350 business and leisure travel agents with around 700 outlets across the UK - has been advising members to diversify their offerings.

Mr Esom said: "Travel agents who only specialise in flights are going to find they're going very fast."

"It's about complementing flights with hotels, experiences and ground services."

"This is what we've been saying to our members... you must really build value, and if you just sell a flight, that's probably not enough for the customer."

While internet-savvy millennials may be turning to the likes of Skyscanner, Kayak and eBookers for flight deals, young consumers are approaching traditional agents to sort out on-the-ground activities.

"Quite a few millennials have travelled very, very well with their parents on family holidays and they really understand what they need and what they want," Mr Esom said.

"So for instance, they're looking for more exotic holidays, they're looking for more active holidays than their parents did, and they're more demanding because they're much better travelled.

"It is sparking growth in bespoke holidays, cultural and adventure tourism and guided tours, much of which cannot be booked online.

"We're seeing the millennials doing their research online but then when it comes to putting it all together, they're using a travel agent," he said, though also admitting many are opting for remote bookings by phone, rather than visiting the high street.

Mr Esom - a retail veteran who served as the managing director of Waitrose from 2002 to 2007 - added that recent terror threats have also sparked renewed interest in traditional travel services.

He said: "It's very much a mixed economy now where consumers will buy online for point-to-point travel, especially airline travel.

"But actually we've seen growth over the last two to three years of our high street travel agents, and the reason for that is there is so much uncertainty in the world, consumers really want good quality advice."

Consumers are seeking advice on alternative holiday destinations, or guarantees they will be offered assistance if caught in dangerous circumstances.

It follows a number of terror attacks across Turkey and North Africa, as well as recent tragedies in Barcelona and Spain's coastal town of Cambrils.

But Brits are not yet swapping their international getaways for staycations, even in light of the weaker pound.

"We haven't seen the effect of staycations at all," he said.

"They might take a shorter holiday, they might swap long haul for mid haul or short haul but the idea of going on holiday is so welded into the British psyche, it's something which consumers are very loathe to give up."

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