Agents saving Britain’s decimated high streets

Agents saving Britain’s decimated high streets

Travel agents are “rising like phoenixes from the ashes” to save Britain’s high streets, according to the Advantage Travel Partnership.

At the consortium’s conference in Mexico this week, it claimed that compared to 2019, new branch openings of existing Advantage travel agency partners are up 55%.

But it admitted that the trend was regional – mainly in the Midlands and the north of Britain – and not across the whole of the UK.

Amongst existing Advantage travel agency partners, 22 new branches have been opened since the start of the pandemic and 50% of these have been within the last 12 months.

A recent survey amongst Advantage travel agency partners showed that 17% are looking to open a new branch in 2024.

Kelly Cookes, Chief Commercial Officer of The Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “The demise of the high street has been a long-term trend but what we’re seeing is that travel agents are integral to returning the UK high street to its former glory.

“New branches opening on high streets to meet the growing demand in-person sales is a trend that we are seeing amongst our Advantage travel agency partners cross Britain. People are looking to immerse themselves in the full end-to-end experience of booking holidays and agents are diversifying to meet this need and ensure they are well positioned to benefit from retail footfall.

“We’re also seeing this with up pop-up travel agents that are setting themselves up close to leading stores and in areas of high footfall so they are ideally located to attract new customers. We really hope to see this upward trajectory continue throughout the year ahead and hope that this highlights to many the importance that the UK outbound travel market has for the UK economy.”

Advantage member Sunlounger Travel opened it first brand in 2019 and has plans for 20-25 locations over the next five years.

Iain Kirkbright, Managing Director, said: “I think the growth of agents on the high street is primarily down to the fact that people like the personal touch, they want to get in-person advise from someone who deals with travel all day long, they want the reassurance that they are making the right decisions with their money.”

Paul Hardwick, Director of Retail at Fred Olson Travel, said the agency has a “really ambitious growth plan”.

“We’re currently working towards the goal of 25 stores by the end of 2025,” he said.

“The travel business was decimated during the pandemic but the entire industry really has come out stronger. People have realised that holidays are an absolute must and therefore there has been a real renaissance of the travel agent.”

But agents are still struggling with staffing shortages and operating costs.

“We are facing challenges in our expansion, particularly when it comes to recruitment and cost management,” said Hardwick.

“There were a lot of people who dropped out of the industry throughout the pandemic and left industry completely. As part of our recruitment drive, we’ve created a travel academy to bring apprentices into the business.”

Advantage has invested in an apprenticeship scheme to entice new talent into the industry.

CEO Julia Lo Bue-Said said those who left the industry during Covid are now unlikely to come back, so it was turning its attention to attracting newcomers.

Advantage has created a special course for frontline staff who are completely new to travel to help its members give beginners the basic skills.

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