Comment: Our industry and government must steer travel to the next level

Barrhead president Jacqueline Dobson sets out how the agency is hoping to capitalise on opportunities presented in 2024

Earlier this month, Barrhead Travel held its first overseas conference in Palma, Majorca. It was a roaring success, hosting over 250 delegates across four busy days.

Our theme for the event was ‘Next Level’. During the early stages of planning, it wasn’t a hard decision to settle on this motif given the success we’d already enjoyed during the year. Our people and our business are ready to take things to the Next Level.

Over the course of the conference, we set out our vision for how we’d accomplish this, from confirming our plans for expanding our retail division in 2024 to launching our new uniform and announcing a new USA division. While 2023 has been the year of the comeback following the pandemic, 2024 will bring opportunity like no other.

It wasn’t just about investment or physical resources. We wanted to elevate conversations about important industry issues and create an environment that sparked healthy debate and critical thinking from our people. After all, talking and sharing ideas is central to motivation and innovation. Inviting some of the UK’s most respected travel leaders helped to generate authentic debate and brought a host of perspectives to the table.

While we spoke at length about how the Barrhead Travel Group will be innovating over the next 12 months, we also addressed how the industry is reacting to both the escalating opportunities and challenges within the market.

Agents’ value

Much of this debate has stayed with me over the past few weeks and I’ve been pondering how the industry can also harness Next Level thinking. For me, one of the most important things for the industry is to focus on the value that travel agents bring. That’s something that both sides – agents and travel partners – can hone in on.

There has never been a richer time for agents to capitalise on opportunity as travel remains one of consumers’ top non-essential spend priorities. Agents must not undersell their value – we are intrinsic to growth of the global travel infrastructure as customers increasingly rely on real experts.

We spoke at length during our conference about how experiences are front and centre of consumer decision-making when it comes to holidays. Whether that was for cruise, touring and adventure, or the annual family break, holidaymakers are clearly seeking long-lasting memories and local interactions.

We’re seeing our travel partners react to this demand with more new products than ever, with a real focus on positive contributions to local economies. I believe there’s still opportunity for further product development and I’d encourage all travel providers to continue looking at how they can take their offering and services to the Next Level.

Staff wellbeing

At the same time as agents and suppliers focus on being top of their game, businesses must always assume a Next Level attitude and commitment to their people and the future talent of the industry. Wellbeing, culture and colleague engagement top the list when it comes to the priorities of employees and businesses that really listen to their people, and enacting positive change will ultimately reap the benefits.

While the industry takes its ambitions to the Next Level, it’s also high time that the government levelled up its support for travel businesses. Travel agencies are propping up high streets the length and breadth of the country, and our businesses are filled with some of the most talented and passionate people in business. Yet, government support and enthusiasm trails behind and doesn’t marry up with the volume our industry contributes to the UK economy. I personally will not stop advocating for our industry as part of our own Next Level business approach.

It’s safe to say, I’m a firm believer in the power of bringing people together at conferences. Even more so in travel where human interaction fuels success. I have no doubt our conference gave much food for thought for everyone and I for one am really looking forward to the rest of conference season. Here’s to looking ahead to the Next Level for all of travel.

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