Comment: The sales tactics of some agents are appalling

Barrhead’s Jacqueline Dobson calls for an end to aggressive undercutting and discounting

Having worked in the travel industry for several decades now, I’ve been witness to hundreds of changes and the evolution of the high street travel agent. Since my days on the shop floor, technology has vastly improved, the world has become more accessible than ever, and holidays are not so much a luxury as they are a necessity.

Despite how far we’ve come as an industry, there’s always one topic that seems to rear its head, particularly around January: undercutting and aggressive discounting.

Of course, every agent wants to secure as many bookings as possible and most, including ourselves, will maximise our use of sales messaging and supplier deals to attract clients. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Offering a price match is also commonplace in our industry and I genuinely believe that when harnessed correctly, it can be used as a healthy and positive pricing tool for certain products.

Sadly, we continue to see a small minority of agents behaving aggressively in the market and undermining the whole ethos of travel agents. And, ultimately, this benefits no one.

Several of our branches have reported instances this year of clients coming in-store and telling our teams that other agents had told them to visit Barrhead Travel first for a quote and then return to them so they could beat it. In other words, some agents have refused to quote prices to customers before having written quotations in place from other agencies.

Reputational risk

In my opinion, this is an appalling practice and one that does nothing to strengthen the reputation of high street travel agents as a whole. It gives the customer the impression that there are inter‑industry price wars and leaves them feeling like a pawn in a battle to secure sales at any cost.

Value should not be conflated with cheap

In all instances that were reported, the customers ended up booking with Barrhead Travel anyway, having been left (understandably) irritated and let down by the first agent. If we, as an industry, are committed to safeguarding the future of travel agents, then we must ensure we operate with integrity and place customers at the heart of everything – or risk unnecessary reputational damage.

Valued service

I’ve said it multiple times over the past few years: I do not believe that, for the most part, our industry should be in a race to the bottom when it comes to pricing. Yes, people are looking for excellent value for money, but value should not be conflated with cheap. Aggressive undercutting or playing games with customers distract from the incredible value that all travel agents can offer holidaymakers. We are true experts offering a skilled service. We must stop underselling ourselves, our products and our profession.

I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a need for competitive pricing or strategy. Competition in all industries promotes enterprise and protects consumers; it’s essential for good business and great customer service. Without it, there is little innovation or motivation for organisations to do better.

I think the last few years have demonstrated that there is also space in the travel retail market for everyone. Trusted travel experts are highly sought-after and we should not erode the trust we have built, particularly after the last few years.

In fact, with so many agencies, including ourselves, setting sights on expansion in the near future, it’s more important than ever that we work to make sure that customers know and understand the many benefits of booking with reputable travel agents.

While aggressive sales behaviour only comes from a small minority, it impacts everyone. I hope we don’t see this practice increasing during 2024 and, instead, see agents proudly shouting about the real value they can offer their customers.

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