The success enjoyed by retail travel agencies suggests the sector has a competitive edge over online rivals, according to Barrhead Travel’s product and commercial director.
Caroline Donaldson (pictured) told Jet2holidays’ annual VIP conference that the retail sector is acting as a “barrier” to the growth of online travel agencies (OTAs).
She said: “I think from a retail travel agents’ point of view, we’re the biggest barrier now to online travel agencies and aggregators. Customers are coming back and business is good. People are looking for expertise and advice.”
The comments were voiced after Jet2holidays’ general manager for trade sales, Lloyd Cross, asked a panel of agency representatives about barriers to success, noting the rise of OTAs.
The other panellists were Dawson & Sanderson managing director Annelene Hutton and Idle Travel owner and director Tony Mann.
During the session, Hutton said the travel industry was lagging behind others on technology.
Hutton, who joined the industry around two years ago after working as a finance director for manufacturing companies, described the technology in the travel industry as “absolutely shocking”.
She said it “blows her mind” how agents have managed to use the existing systems.
“One of the first decisions I made after stepping up to the managing director role was to invest about £1.5m over a number of years to improve our technology,” said Hutton.
She added: “The whole process I’ve been looking at is a one-stop shop where the agent can search for the holiday, book the holiday and it’s all fully integrated and loads into our back-office system.
“We’re rolling that out and if we can do that, it reduces the time the agent spends on admin so they can spend more time with their customers and ultimately book more holidays.”
All of the panellists said business has been good and they are expecting a strong peak period, which they forecast to last longer than has traditionally been the case.
Donaldson said: “We expect it to go beyond January and maybe into Q2.”
Mann said he believes there are now “10 months of peaks”, but he said marketing remains extremely important and the sector cannot afford to be complacent.
Hutton agreed that business has become much more spread out across the whole year, but Dawson & Sanderson was prepared for an “incredibly busy” peak period.
Adding a note of caution, she said there was a chance that the full impact of the cost-of-living crisis had yet to be seen.
This year’s Jet2holidays VIP conference is the ninth to be held and is the biggest to date, with around 350 delegates gathering in Belek, near Antalya.