STA Travel is to launch live web chats with holidaymakers from next month to capitalise on increased web traffic to its relaunched website.

The facility is due to go live in mid-June on the STA Travel website and a number of staff in the agency chain’s Manchester call centre are being trained to work specifically on offering advice and selling to customers on live web chats.

The move follows a redesign of the website, rolled out last month, at the same time as the launch of its multi-million pound rebrand and first UK new-look branch in Sheffield to appeal to a wider customer base.

Group managing director John Constable said: “We have seen a significant increase in volumes of traffic to our site, and the challenge is how we make the most of that traffic. We recognise they will not all book online, but a lot of people are hovering around our site.”

The new function will give users an option to chat online to a destination expert, and is aimed at improving service levels rather than being a hard-sell tool. “It’s very much service orientated and about how we differentiate ourselves in the travel sector,” added Constable.

Web chats are widely used in other sectors outside travel, said Constable, although Thomas Cook has launched a similar service.

Meanwhile, Constable said the website’s new social networking forum was already generating a “phenomenal” profile for the brand online, by allowing pre, post and current holidaymakers to talk to each other, and had led to a simultaneous increase in certain enquiries.

“I wasn’t sure about it at first,” he admitted, “but I am a convert now in the importance it plays in the overall strategy.”

Web bookings currently make up around 12% of overall sales for STA Travel, both in the UK and globally.