Travel agencies will move away from the high street to locations with high customer footfall such as supermarkets, Ickenham Travel director John Bevan has predicted.

And he forecast that high street travel agents would continue to decline.

Bevan was speaking on Monday at a Chartered Institute of Marketing Travel Industry Group debate, called Travel Agents – Are They Past Their Sell-By-Date?. The session was hosted by ABTA chairman John McEwan.

Bevan cited the example of Teletext Holidays, which has opened its first site in a Tesco store, as a sign of the shift in the retail market.

“Less and less people are going to the high street,” he said. “We will see travel agents opening up where there is higher footfall where they can grab people when they are doing their shopping.”

There are currently thought to be about 6,000 high street travel agents across the UK. However, Bevan argued that agents still had a strong opportunity if they innovated and offered a personal service.

He said: “I see the opportunity specifically in areas where the internet hasn’t got the power of speaking to the client.”

Bevan urged agents to integrate the internet as part of their overall strategy and to “use all channels to push people into their local shops”.

He gave an example of car dealerships online which allow customers to book test drives and find their local outlet. 

Lowcost Travel Group director Lawrence Hunt agreed the market for high street agents was declining, but he did offer some hope for agents: “If you are going to offer and compete with the internet you need to offer something different,” he said.

Traveltime World director Jackie Steadman agreed. She said that if agents provided a value-added service instead of discounting they could still survive, adding that her agency’s offer to customers of a limousine service to and from the airport had proved a success. 

Management consultancy E-commerce interim director Kathryn Bullock said agents still had the chance to go after niche markets by specialising in group travel or specialist markets such as cycling groups.  “There is definitely an opportunity but it is very much not pushing product but building relationships with clients,” she said.

Bullock said she was “surprised” more agents were not charging clients a fee for their services.