Editor’s letter: Our cover star shows Obama is wrong about travel agents

TWgroup editor Lucy HuxleyTravel agents come in all shapes and sizes – and ages – and this week’s Travel Weekly offers proof of that.

Our latest cover star Alan Hubbard is approaching his 80th birthday, but sounds as fresh and enthusiastic as any young wannabe starting out on their career.

During almost half a century in travel he’s either not listened to, or just chosen to ignore, the doomsayers who continue to predict the death of the high street travel agent.

They crawled out of the woodwork again last week after US president Barack Obama questioned who uses a travel agent as opposed to “just going online”.

Asta – the US equivalent of Abta – was ridiculed for a robust response which pointed out that actually 140,000 million Americans use one every year.

For some commentators, the trade body appearing rattled after the most powerful man on the planet appeared to endorse the ‘Armageddon for agents’ thesis proved too tempting to resist.

In truth, Obama’s choice of words left a fair bit open to interpretation, so we had the perfect recipe to manufacture a ‘row’. The reality is, all good ‘offline’ agents, whether it’s Alan or UK travel giant Tui Travel, are having to forge futures that embrace technolgy.

The more interesting question is how they are doing this, not if. Reasonable critics of traditional agents talk of decline and not death. I’ve no doubt a focus on quality, and people like Alan, will see them endure for many years to come.

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