However, retailers must adapt, says Mintel analyst Marloes de Vries

Thomas Cook was criticised for not innovating enough at a time when people are more likely to book holidays online

Yet the 555 shops left by Thomas Cook’s collapse were quickly snapped up by Hays Travel, and other major travel players are investing in premises on UK high streets.

What should we conclude from these contradictory signs?

It’s true that most UK holidaymakers now book their main overseas holiday online. Research for the Mintel Report Holiday Planning and Booking Process: UK, May 2019 found 83% did so. However, 12% still book in-store.

There are four key reasons why some consumers continue to book in an agency.

• One, there is the number of options available. Consumers increasingly feel overwhelmed by the abundance of travel options on offer – 21% of UK holidaymakers feel the process of researching and planning holidays is ‘a hassle’.

Agents can help travellers cut through the clutter and find their ideal holiday.

• Two, high street agents are more likely to be favoured for complex, high-value bookings that can be time-consuming to arrange and involve high expenditure. Examples include luxury holidays, cruises and multi-centre holidays.

Mintel found 23% of UK travellers who took a luxury holiday booked instore, rising to 32% of those taking an ocean or river cruise.

• Three, almost half of UK consumers believe travel agents are useful when taking a new type of holiday or visiting a new destination. Consumers’ increased desire to share stories via social media, in addition to growing visitor congestion, is fuelling demand for more exclusive experiences.

• Four, trust – although travel intentions remain strong, many holidaymakers are being cautious and brands that radiate trust are likely to resonate with consumers.

More than one third (35%) of UK adults agree things are less likely to go wrong with a holiday bought from a travel agent compared with online, while 31% trust the quality of a holiday more from an agent than online.

Although ‘Millennials’ (people aged 20-39) are tech-savvy, they are open to receiving personal advice. They have less travel experience and want confirmation that they are making the right decisions.

What do travel experts need to succeed?

In an increasingly digital world with an abundance of travel options, agents have an opportunity to present a more convenient, warmer and personalised alternative than search engines and automated filtering systems online.

However, agents have to adapt to changing holiday behaviour. Demand for flexibility is on the rise.

Half of those booking independent holidays in the 12 months to February 2019 mentioned ‘flexibility’ as a key reason for booking travel and accommodation separately, an increase of eight percentage points on the previous year.

This growing demand to customise holidays requires agents to be flexible and offer choice.

Furthermore, holidaymakers are increasingly looking for new and exclusive experiences. This can vary from finding a spot few tourists know about to dining at a good local restaurant. To help travellers find these sought-after experiences, agencies require in-depth destination knowledge that reaches further than can be found online.

Holiday behaviour is also becoming more diverse with travellers increasingly looking beyond beach holidays. Less common holiday types such as cruises and special interest holidays provide growth opportunities and agents with expertise in lesser-explored areas can expect to prosper.

The rising demand for experiences has also impacted the planning and booking process, with travel agencies being redesigned to let the holiday experience start from the moment people enter the shop.

While enhanced shopping experiences can help attract more consumers to stores, the core selling point of agents – welcoming and knowledgeable staff – should remain the top priority.

What it means

  • Travel agents able to tailor holidays to consumers’ unique requirements will remain relevant.
  • Shops with specialist knowledge should benefit from rising demand for new experiences.
  • The in-shop experience can attract new customers, while investment in high-quality staff and specialist knowledge will help brands stand out.