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Travel agencies have rebuffed research that suggests the industry is struggling more than any other on the high street.

The Local Data Company found 358 UK high street travel stores closed in 2017 while 32 opened – a net reduction of 326 retail units.

It cited The Co-operative Travel, Flight Centre and Worldchoice as among those to have closed doors.

Thomas Cook closed about 100 stores in 2017 following the end of its joint venture with The Co‑operative Travel.

Cook’s network has reduced from 1,200 to about 600 since 2012. Tui, which has around 600 stores, said it did not close any units last year.

The research looked at 500 town centres and found 4,083 openings across all retail sectors in 2017 – the lowest number since 2010 – and 5,855 closures.

Travel agencies were reported to have suffered the biggest loss in units, ahead of banks and clothes shops.

The findings did not factor in agency openings at out-of-town retail parks or concessions within other stores such as those of Kuoni and Virgin Holidays.

Former Abta chairman and Thomas Cook managing director John McEwan said: “The high street has been pretty resilient – its overall share of the travel market has stabilised.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is down to Cook’s consolidation. Best practice in the UK is to have 500-600 locations for national coverage.

“You don’t need more; they’ve removed Co-op stores from towns with multiple locations.

“Beyond the big two we are seeing big growth. Retail is always going to be a big part of the mix.”

Jane Schumm, retail director at Hays Travel, said the 167-branch agency targets eight-12 openings a year and had no closures in 2017.

“The high street continues to flourish, and gives us double-digit growth,” she said, adding that Hays uses a “model” to assess a street’s potential before opening a store.

Sharon Munro, chief executive of 36-branch Barrhead Travel, said the agency has a “hit-list” for new locations, following announcements for sites in Edinburgh and Southampton.

“They have to be high footfall areas,” she said.
Flight Centre said it “replaces” closed stores “where possible” and had opened six in the last two years.

Agency consortia said they had seen more openings than closures.
The Travel Network Group said a “small” number of Worldchoice shops had shut but “dozens” had opened across the group, most in high streets.

Chief executive Gary Lewis said: “We’ve never seen such strength in our high street retailers.”

The Advantage Travel Partnership said “some” members had closed shops but new and existing members opened 23 high street shops in 2017.

At a glance: high street 2017 survey

Research by the Local Data Company defined high street travel agencies as those “which offer the provision and service of holiday, flights and hotels”.

The 326 net loss of high street agencies it identified from 358 closures and 32 openings puts the sector ahead of clothes shops and banks as the industry with the biggest decrease in high street units. The report put this down to “rising demand for online and apps” across all industries.

Overall, across 500 UK town centres, it said 16 high street shops closed every day in 2017, with openings at their slowest for seven years. By the end of the year, there were 1,772 fewer high street shops.

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