Comment: Incidents like wildfires show the value of high street agents

Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan highlights role of trade in recent tragedies

When I started Miles Morgan Travel in December 2006, many thought the idea of opening a high street travel agency was pure madness and that I was living in the past. But I had a counter view. I felt that an agency staffed with well-travelled, customer-focused and passionate travel people would always find a way to thrive. Now, as I write this 17 years on, I like to think there was some method to my madness.

Over that period, we have grown our sales every single year, except the two affected by Covid. We have had highs when our service was recognised and appreciated by a wider audience due to the circumstances at the time – the 2010 ash cloud being a great example. At the time, the reassurance of the local high street travel agent was just what people needed. But despite that, many returned to old habits of buying the cheapest option just a few years later and seemingly forgot about our value as quickly as they had realised it.

More recently it was Covid showing the worth of travel agents. And in July, we saw another major global incident that affected holidays with the wildfires in Greece, which yet again highlighted the importance of face‑to‑face agents.

Strong repeat business

So does all this mean we will see a sustained, increased level of appreciation for the high street agent (and homeworkers too)? Time will tell but we can certainly hope that’s the case.

July has seen us complete our 18th record sales month in a row at MMT, which is quite incredible. The growth is huge and is showing no sign of slowing down. Our growth, like many others’, is driven by strong repeat business and large volumes of new customers. The latter are people who used to book their holidays online themselves but are simply fed up with the lack of service provided, particularly when good service is most needed. These people are finding that getting answers to virtually anything, even small queries, is becoming increasingly difficult.

Budgets need to be put in place for next year and I’ll be doing it with a very positive outlook – growth will be on the agenda again

Chatbots, interactive voice response (IVR) and the like are all used by online players for one reason: to save money. But they can be painful and frustrating to use. Often, after 30 tedious minutes of using them, you still don’t have the answer you need and you find yourself craving the chance to ask a human being a simple question and get an answer. It’s not rocket science.

Sure, these online tools are useful for simple things like balance payments, but holidays are often complex and usually the most expensive purchase of the year for your average person – certainly the one they get most excited about. With that in mind, the whole experience of booking a holiday should be fun and should create a feeling of expectation. It’s hard for a cold online booking process to do that, but it’s where us travel agents thrive.

Retail expansion

We are reaching the end of our financial year in September, which has been another record year for MMT. Budgets need to be put in place for next year and I will be doing it with a very positive outlook. Growth will be on the agenda again next year, especially as high street rents are falling and business rates could soon be slashed. This is going on while Google continues to ramp up pay-per-click (PPC) costs and Facebook and the like continue to show our posts to fewer followers.

With this backdrop it’s not surprising to see many travel agents looking to expand their retail footprint, including ourselves. Who would have thought 10 years ago we’d be seeing a resurgence of the high street? Surely not many, but we all know these things tend to happen in cycles.

It remains the case that having your brand visible on every channel your customers are looking at is essential. But the reassurance of bricks and mortar could increasingly be the winner when it comes to securing the booking.

Share article

View Comments

Jacobs Media is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.