To add value as an agent it really helps to have experienced a destination yourself, writes Kathryn Ward, retail director of Tui UK

It’s been a great start to the year for us and the recent cold spell has resulted in customers looking for late offers as well as booking their holidays in advance for next year.

Over the coming months we’ll begin our focus on training and fam trips for our retail agents.

At this time of year our agents need to be prepared. To add value as an agent these days you need to have so much knowledge and it certainly helps if you’ve been somewhere yourself.

We have 16 in-house educational trips planned this year: over the next six months, 527 retail agents will visit many of our popular hotels and destinations.

Our focus will be on agents experiencing key commercial destinations, differentiated product and top-selling excursions.

The value of these fam trips is really noticeable. In 2012, 99% of retail agents who went on a fam trip said they subsequently felt more confident selling the destination or product.

The high street has been in the spotlight again this month, with some travel agency closures. It’s a reminder to us all that a strong business model is key to encouraging footfall into shops.

Product alone isn’t enough, though. It is clear that to evolve we must consider the new ‘multi-channel’ and new-generation customer. Buying habits are changing so much and, like many businesses, we are looking at what the service at Thomson and First Choice will look and feel like across all our channels in the future.

As all Travel Weekly readers will be aware, we do not yet have a delivery schedule from Boeing for the Dreamliners we ordered.

We have therefore had no choice but to use alternative aircraft for flights scheduled for May and June to Florida and Cancun.

Although some of our customers are disappointed, generally they understand that it is outside our control. Most have either booked alternative holidays or want to wait until we do have a delivery date for the Dreamliner.

There have been very few cancellations in our shops, which shows the importance of having solid communication plans in place.

On one final note, I agree with the recent comments by Abta chairman John McEwan about consumer TV shows highlighting bad holiday experiences.

Programmes such as David Attenborough’s Africa are far more valuable. During January, when this series aired, we saw online searches for Kenya rise 72% on the previous year. Let’s see more quality programmes and less of the doom and gloom.