Comment: Our industry needs to shift its focus to prosper in 2024

If Only’s Gordon McCreadie says companies must promote a broader variety of holiday types

The UK travel trade finds itself at a crossroads. In a world marked by increasing consumer financial anxiety, climate change quandaries and a persistent labour shortage affecting all sectors, it is hard to ignore the fact the stage is set for a challenging year ahead. It will require innovative solutions, such as investing in employee training and retention programmes, and offering competitive compensation packages.

While some experts are predicting mainstream holidays will face some difficulties in 2024, the luxury and touring and adventure sectors are believed to be on track for growth – to not just survive but thrive in the face of these new and complicated realities. Key to this transformation is a renewed focus on elevating and enhancing the fundamentals: product, performance and price. By doing so, companies can reshape themselves for the better as they emerge from the once-in-a-generation crisis we all endured.

One of the most significant trends in the travel industry is the shifting preferences of customers. With consumers facing growing financial concerns as the cost-of-living crisis continues, people are becoming more selective with their travel choices. This change offers a unique opportunity for the industry to adapt and cater to evolving desires. Luxury destinations and experiences are gaining prominence as travellers seek quality and exclusivity over some mass-market destinations. At If Only, for example, we have seen a remarkable uptick in forward sales, up by over 25% on 2022 levels, and sizeable double-digit growth in packages priced at over £100,000.

Broaden our horizons

The message for travel agents and operators is clear: we must re-evaluate our marketing strategies and broaden our horizons to meet the demands of an evolving clientele. Instead of focusing on mainstream holiday packages, it’s time to promote a broader variety of destinations, holiday types and bucket-list travel offerings. This shift in focus can breathe new life into the industry and help it thrive in the changing landscape for decades to come.

Expanding conversations and collaborations with long-haul destinations and suppliers is paramount for us as an industry to move forward. The growing interest in luxury experiences and unique, off-the-beaten-track destinations provides ample room for innovation and partnership. By creating exclusive and tailored packages in collaboration with partners around the world, travel agents can cater to the desires of their clients and stand out in the market. Moreover, these partnerships can lead to a mutually beneficial relationship where agents support the growth of these destinations and get to visit them via an amazing fam trip, while offering travellers exceptional experiences.

Prioritise sustainability

The climate change challenge is another pressing issue that the travel industry cannot ignore. Travel companies need to adopt eco-friendly practices, reduce their carbon footprint, and offer sustainable travel options. Customers are increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of their travel choices, and companies that prioritise sustainability will therefore be better positioned to attract environmentally responsible travellers, who make up a growing share of the market.

In conclusion, the UK travel trade industry is facing a unique set of challenges in 2024, from financial pressures to climate change concerns and a labour shortage. However, these challenges also present opportunities for growth and transformation. To thrive in the year ahead, travel, hospitality and airline leaders must adapt by focusing on luxury experiences, unique destinations, sustainability and innovative labour solutions.

By doing so, the industry can not only weather the storm but also emerge stronger and more resilient, ready to meet the evolving needs and desires of the modern traveller. Here at If Only, we stand ready to face these challenges head on along with our suppliers and agent partners. And who knows, we might just have some fun along the way.

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