Twenty years ago, live chat would have meant a conversation over the telephone or in person.

It might sound passé to the digital natives among you, but we are talking about a real, live chat with a human being. In the case of an agent, it would have involved the usual chit-chat, perhaps a bit of banter, leading to some sales talk and, with any luck, a nice chunky booking.

As we all know, ‘live chat’ now means something different. And as Hays Travel’s move to create a dedicated contact centre for enquiries of this nature shows, this is increasingly how many customers prefer to communicate with their travel agent, not just their friends.

The company’s aim to grow this team is based on rapidly increasing demand from a “new breed” of client who prefers communicating through platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Other agencies, such as Barrhead Travel, have been championing this approach in recent years and a growing number of homeworkers and smaller independents have, for some time, had success using social media as a lead generator. But traditionalists need not worry.

Of course, it is important – vital, even – that travel companies adapt and offer clients the chance to get in touch in different ways. But the likes of Hays still need staff – a “new breed” of travel agent, in fact – to communicate digitally with clients. And the pièce de résistance? The actual booking and payment is still taken over the phone. They might even have a ‘live’ chat in the process.

Comment from Travel Weekly, June 20 edition