If you were born before about 1982, independent travel agencies are a common choice to organise your holiday or business trip. After all, a good independent agent will know the ins and outs of the sector including destinations, flights, and accommodation options, and will advise on the best options for your preferences. And what beats that face-to-face tailored help? Although there’s obviously a lot of overlap between the generations, those born after ’82 will largely do the work themselves–online. A multiplicity of websites will offer an astonishing variety of fares, hotels or self-catering accommodation, holiday or business rentals and you can find some great deals—if you have the time and the inclination.
But is there a middle ground? One that can offer the expertise of the independent travel agency and on-line convenience?
Tony Godley of Professional Travel Advisors thinks there is. Tony is a travel industry veteran with almost 40 years’ experience as a High Street travel agent and more recently has represented Tour Operators and Hotel portfolios to the UK Independent Travel Agent sector. Travel Radar investigated a little more with Tony.
“Pressure on the retail sector, the proliferation of online tour operators, airlines and destination management companies, and the establishment of Millennials and Generation Z as key travel customers and influencers have changed the shape of the industry. Independent Travel Agencies (ITAs) are finding it increasingly difficult to compete, particularly in the digital space where they come up against businesses with greater technical, creative and financial clout. As a result, the majority are restricted to servicing local custom which is often in decline.”
The situation is compounded by the demographic shift claims Godley. “Amongst baby boomers and Generation X, those born up until around 1982, Travel Agencies are still a natural home for their custom. But, ask any ITA how much business they secure from the under ’40s and it’s a real eye-opener. We have had conversations with literally hundreds of agents and almost all have told us this is a market that they really struggle to reach. Why? Because for them business is online, and the agents are simply not found.”
Professional Travel Advisors has conducted research amongst these younger generations and the outcome is worrying for ITAs. “They really have little idea what these people do, and they have no understanding of the benefits they offer,” says Godley. “The perception is that they are old fashioned and irrelevant now that the internet seems to have all the answers. They don’t know the difference between a Tour Operator and a Travel Agent, and they believe that involving an ITA will simply push up the price of their holidays. Of course, the frustration is that of everyone, ITAs are best placed to help with travel plans and bookings, given their experience, expertise, flexibility, access to the whole market and ability to deliver value.”
How will the Professional Travel Advisors proposition answer these challenges?
The answer is that through a website portal, travellers will be connected with the right independent travel agents (ITAs) to service their specific requirements. Each ITA specifies up to 15 destinations in which they have particular knowledge and connections, and up to 15 types of holiday experience in which they specialise, e.g. skiing, cruises, safaris. They upload blogs, reviews, images, and videos relating to each of these, along with a profile of their agency, links to their own website, social media feeds and of course, contact details.
Professional Travel Advisors promote the website through blogs, social media, and digital marketing, some of which are based upon the Agents’ content and some of which is written by their in-house team.
“Our role is two-fold; firstly, to drive traffic to the website and secondly, we want to educate the market so that all potential customers, (including the under 40 age group) do know why ITAs are important for their travel bookings”
The website has been a year in development and brings together powerful technology with a stylish design that harks back to the golden age of travel and should appeal to people for whom travel is a passion, who take as much pleasure from planning and remembering their holidays as they do from being on them.
The reaction from industry professionals, ITAs and potential consumers has been really positive. Having beta-tested through the development stage with 10 agents, we are now live and recruiting ITAs who want to be part of the programme.”
With the advent of such an online portal, we strongly recommend interested ITA’s get involved!