The demise of the travel agent has long been predicted and yet in 2016, there are still thousands of high street shops selling us holidays.
I remember attending an ABTA Travel Convention many years ago when a leading light of the travel industry (no names mentioned) said he would rather buy a new carpet for his travel agency than invest in the 'internet'. At the time I thought his comment ill-advised but he did sell his business for many £millions and most of his shops survived the take-over, so he must have been doing something right!
There is no doubt that travel agents have had to work hard to differentiate their high street offer from OTAs or other online providers.
Today's customer journey is more extensive, the options more confusing: the search, the reviews and the decision. Online travel buying is a full-time job - it takes on average 24 days before a purchase is made, following an average 1:43 hours online and 17.6 site visits. But one should not underestimate the importance of the personal touch and excellent customer service. Frequently - and depending upon the value of the holiday, there is still the comfort of talking to an individual, an expert who can reassure or advise on alternatives.
And who can help when things go awry!
In the age of unlimited access to product on the internet, small independent high street agents must continually ask themselves why would a customer choose to book with them. The answer has got to be, despite having all the power at their fingertips, there is still a perception among many consumers that popping down to the local travel agent can be more convenient. And being a fully paid up member of your local community remains a hugely powerful symbol of trustworthiness, responsibility and commitment. Big brands are still struggling to find ways to engage with people on social media without annoying people by bringing overtly commercial messages into their online social space. This is because they have not been invited in to have that sort of personal communication.