We’re creating a more connected travel industry, underpinned by sustainability and long-term investor relations.
Take a stroll down any traditional high street in Britain and you won’t have to look too far to find a sad array of empty retail premises. A study of 500 UK town centres by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that in 2014, net closures rocketed to almost 1000, up from 371 in 2013. But rather than writing off retail outlets including travel agencies, isn’t it time for retail to reinvent itself according to the needs of next generation consumers?
Leisure travel agencies used to be a very common sight in town centres. Consolidation in the industry has reduced the number of stores but they still have a vital role to play if they’re prepared to adapt to the times. More than ever, today’s consumers demand choice, personalisation and inspiration. It isn’t only affecting travel: successful bookshops have reinvented themselves to become retail destinations. I recently visited a Waterstone’s near London’s Piccadilly Circus with a cosy café nestled among the bookshelves on every floor. The cookery books sat beside a display of cakes available to purchase. It speaks to all the senses. So too, modern travel agents are welcoming, comfortable, tech friendly (offering the basics such as free Wi-Fi) and buzzing with ideas.
They’re not afraid to rethink and challenging everything that has gone before in light of changing consumer needs. Instead of anchoring consultants behind a desk, they equip staff with tablets to freely move about the shop and engage with potential customers in a natural setting that’s conducive to conversation.
Next generation leisure travellers have complex needs, which means it is hard to pigeonhole them. Their activity and preferences are dynamic. It is based on multiple factors such as personal experience with a destination, advance booking period, budget, and the profile of fellow travellers (such as peers or extended family groups). It suits many to research and book online, especially for familiar journeys, but they also appreciate expert advice that saves them time and money (some things never change). Thomas Cook’s research shows that 46% of consumers seek out face to face advice before making a travel purchase. That’s why some agencies provide an online booking facility within the shop to help close the sale with tech savvy consumers.
Forward-thinking travel agencies are beginning to offer a radically different consumer experience. It might include a hands-on research environment made up of interactive destination guides and online showcases as well as the latest traveller reviews. Helping make sense or it all is a local expert travel advisor who is happy to discuss ideas and swap travel experiences over a latte.
Today, you’re more likely to see a video wall than a rack of printed brochures. Touch screen displays and immersive experiences using virtual reality give customers a ‘taste’ of trekking the mountain paths of Peru or an exhilarating helicopter ride over Big Game reserves in Africa have replaced the printed poster. Importantly, the retail experience now sits within a lifetime customer relationship where communication takes place over a longer period and uses all the available channels such as social media, mobile, online and in-store. By accommodating all paths to purchase, thriving travel agents are using technology to deliver a quality, streamlined shopping experience across all channels.
No, the high street travel retailer is not dead. But you may not recognise its latest incarnation. As a former US President once said, “The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”