Travel agents may have to “do different things and change their models slightly” to survive the Covid-19 crisis, according to the boss of Jet2holidays, who pledged increased support for trade partners.

Chief executive Steve Heapy said: “We’re worried about high streets because they are very quiet at the moment. Will they ever get back to normal? Who knows? We’ve got to work with the government and the authorities and our travel agent partners to try and get people back on the high street.

“We’ve all got to be proactive because in my opinion, the worst thing an independent travel agent can do is sit there and wait for people to come back. We cannot just expect people to come back to the high street, we have to work hard at that.”

Heapy said Jet2holidays was going to “do its part” by introducing an independent agent finder function on its website to direct customers to their local agent should they want to book with someone face-to-face.

“In the next three months, we’ll implement our independent travel agent finder on our direct website. So if someone puts their postcode in, we will provide them with a list of the independent travel agents that are near them. So we’re not trying to separate direct from trade. We’re a leisure travel company distributing through various channels. We will bring the independent travel agents to our customers.”

He added: “We did say we would do this at our last two conferences and we’ve had other priorities. We’ve been trying to develop lots of new tools for agents and customers and it’s one thing that we didn’t do. But now is the time to do it.”

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But he said agents had to play their part too.

“Local councils should suspend some of their rules and maybe have more al fresco activities so agents can be brought out of the shops onto the pavements. Or travel agents may have to go and find the business giving out leaflets. Work your own marketing database, maybe use Zoom, maybe do house visits. We’ve all got to change the way we operate.

“But these people that we have been talking to by phone or by Zoom – we have to get them back. And we’ve got to highlight the advantage of speaking face-to-face with a travel agent. So we’ve all got to work hard to do that and to get people back on the high street,” Heapy said.

“People say to me, what do you want the travel agent percentage of your business to be. We don’t have a target. We want as many bookings as we can and we want them through independent travel agents. We’re not out to reduce that percentage, agents play a very important part.

There’s still a lot of people that rely on the service that travel agents provide and we’ll do what we can to work with them to get customers back to them.”

Jet2holidays also returned to TV advertising on Friday, which is National Travel Agent Day, with all adverts including a call to action to visit a local travel agent.

“We are pushing people to the travel agents – we are doing what we can,” Heapy said.

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