How Travel Agents Can Survive The Digital Age Vision One

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How Travel Agents Can Survive The Digital Age

When it comes to physically booking a holiday would you prefer to do it in-store or online?

It is coming to that time of year again where people are breaking into their savings to pay for the holiday they have saved all year for.  Online research has shown years 52 per cent of consumers believe that holidays are better value for money when booked online. So it is hardly surprising that Travel Agents are having to close.

Anthony Cork, at the Wilkins Kennedy, said: ‘Travel agents on the high street were once the first and only port of call for booking holidays, but the tide has turned and we are now seeing online booking services and price comparison sites taking over.’ He also added: ‘Technology has helped. Superfast broadband makes the process of booking a holiday easier by going direct to the hotel websites to knock off another hundred pounds. The need to consult with a travel agent is rapidly disappearing.’

Back in 2013, Thomas Cook announced they were making around 2,500 staff redundant and closing 195 stores. Since the decline in high street travel agents, travel companies have been trying to almost compete with the internet and found themselves needing to improve fast. In 2015, TUI announced it would roll out a new concept store format to more than 120 stores around Europe. Their aim was to inspire customers planning their next trip with interactive tools such as interactive world maps and iPads and hopefully boost in-store bookings.

However, Thomas Cook adopted the Samsung virtual reality headset and were the first to do so within the industry. Marco Ryan, chief digital officer for Thomas Cook, believes the technology is not only boosting package holiday sales but also essential to the brand’s future strategy. He also added:

‘’Before travellers just had a brochure or information on the website to inform their choices. Virtual reality allows them to get a true sense of the hotel and the excursions they can go on – it’s been a real game changer.’’

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Thomas Cook are still aiming to target 50-60 per cent of sales to be made online within three years across its market as it continues its digital transformation. However, Marco Ryan insists that stores still have an important role to play.

One Thomas Cook store stated that one in ten customers who try the headset go on to book holidays immediately after, which is likely to expand across many stores.

What Is Expected For The Future?

With travel brands already digitising and virtualising their offer, it’s hard to imagine how much further things can evolve. However, there certainly seems to be more possibilities beyond bricks and mortar. Thomas Cook’s Ryan said "there will be future deals with companies such as Xbox so people can experience holidays through gaming at home and you’ll see people really collaborating".

Tom McQueen, Managing Director at the tech focused agency Futurice is worried that virtual reality may become a negative for companies.  He recently stated ‘’in the future people might take ‘virtual holiday’ experiences so deep and immersive there will be no need to leave their home’’.

Eleri Evans