Traditional travel agents still have a role in providing customer service, despite the ongoing shift towards direct bookings, according to a report by Barclays.
The Restarting Travel report from Barclays Corporate Banking surveyed more than 500 UK travel firms in March 2022, and found that “human contact is still vital”.
“Digital advances in the travel marketplace continue unabated, with more than 40% of respondents saying their customers are choosing direct and online bookings over intermediaries,” said the report.
“Traditional travel agents, however, still have a role in providing customer service, guiding the public through issues that can impact their experience – from personalised communications to support when unforeseen circumstances arise.”
However, staffing and recruitment shortages were a feature for 92% of respondents, “signalling a need to change perceptions about career opportunities and ensure that the skills gap is filled”, according to the report author Mike Saul, head of hospitality and leisure.
He added: “Restarting familiarisation trips also spells an opportunity for businesses to nurture talent and differentiate their offer as ‘experts’.”
Barclays said many clients in the sector reported that recent fam trips have had a “significant impact on office morale and team spirit, bringing renewed enthusiasm back to the workplace”.
Travel businesses such as Althams Travel are turning to initiatives such as a four-day week under existing wage deals for its employees, in a bid to improve the work-life balance of staff.
“It is, however, a sign of how much the industry has recovered, that talent shortages reappear as the dominant challenge of this year,” added the report.
Nearly 84% of respondents said that confidence of recovery is high, thanks to pent-up demand from customers keen to travel once more, added the report.
Other major concerns included the safety and standards in response to measures taken to combat Covid-19.
Barclays also noted “a shift among clients to the protection of Abta/Atol, both of which are affording the legal and financial reassurance customers seek in more challenging circumstances such as those of the past 24 months”.
Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, featured in the report, talking about priorities for the sector, including cash, controlling costs and gaining market share.
“You can’t control how big the market is, but you can control how well you are doing within it,” he told Barclays.
“It’s about listening and responding to your customers’ needs and demands and making sure you can transition from the protect-and-survive behaviour into proactive customer engagement and business-as-usual practice.”