Travel agencies have not moved on their sales techniques in 10-15 years, according to high-street retailer Marks & Spencer. The company has said it may even consider moving into travel itself.

M&S chief finance officer Alex Stewart, a former head of Thomas Cook, told an audience of travel executives there was “a huge opportunity for the taking”.

Speaking at an e-tid business breakfast, Stewart said: “If you look at the way travel is delivered  as a product, it hasn’t really changed – possibly because you don’t have the product you’re selling in your shops for customers to touch. It seems to have regressed back to cards in windows offering late deals.

“There is something different that could be done. The challenge is to deliver for the mass market without losing the mass market. The customer interface with the sales assistant  needs to be much better.”

He said: “Holding stock is a big cost which travel agents don’t have, so they should spend more on the shopping experience.”

M&S executive director of general merchandise Kate Bostock agreed, saying: “Selling travel should be all about the emotional experience of holidays. You’re selling the biggest treat most people give themselves and the thing they most look forward to. That emotional experience should be harnessed. It should be captured in a new and exciting way.”

Asked if M&S would ever sell travel, Bostock said: “It may be an opportunity.” The retailer already has a foreign exchange offering.

Stewart said: “We’re clear our brand can stretch across the gamut of services. Our research shows that clearly. We already do financial services and energy very successfully. Right now we’ve got enough to do in the core area of general merchandise and food, but we would never say never.”