Holiday Makers

Holidays are fun. Booking one isn’t. Clare Dowdy looks at four travel agents’ latest efforts to reinvent themselves and improve the experience

“Travel retailing has stood still for too long,” admits Gerry Reilly, managing director of First Choice’s new retail concept, Travel Choice. While the rest of the high-street has been reinventing itself to offer a more encompassing retail experience, travel agents have continued to be synonymous with long queues and little differentiation in officious environments. All this for one of the biggest and most exciting purchases of the year.

And people are likely to spend even more on holidays in the future. According to Mintel’s research into how we spend our free time, more than half of all adults interviewed claimed to have less leisure time than they did five years ago. “However, nearly half also say that they have more money to spend on leisure activities than they did five years ago,” says a Mintel spokeswoman, “Therefore, consumers can be said to be increasingly cash-rich and time-poor: even if they have less time available, they may spend more money when they do go out.”

This attitude ties in with the travel agent’s new approach. Jonathan Blakeney, director of First Partnership, which has redesigned middle-market travel agent Travelbag, explains: “Traditionally, travel has been a very low margin business, so most [travel agents] are looking into tailor-made holidays, which offer a higher profit through a higher spend in-store. So more stimulating retail environments are being created, geared towards customer service.” First Partnership also designed STA’s latest interiors.

20/20 creative director Bernard Dooling likens traditional travel agents to banks – which have been guilty of packaging the customer to suit the product – and estate agents – with their less than honest reputation.

There is still a belief that retail environments play an important role in buying holidays – one which on-line booking cannot match. “If you are going to be more adventurous [with your choice of holiday], face-to-face staff will work well,” says Design House director John Larkin, who anticipates a trend towards bespoke holidays, where details are tailored to the client’s needs.

Four new retail formats have launched in the past six months, aimed at accommodating these needs and creating some differentiation in a market which suffers from a lack of brand loyalty.

The new travel retail formats are: {storyLink (“DW199909170056″,”Holiday World”)} from Going Places, {storyLink (“DW199909170057″,”Travel Choice”)} from First Choice – both by Design House – {storyLink (“DW199909170055″,”Thomas Cook Plus”)} from Thomas Cook – by BDG McColl – and {storyLink (“DW199909170054″,”Travelbag”)}, by First Partnership.

All have done research, and all pledge a renewed effort into customer-focused services. This is reflected in new reception areas, themed zones, audio-visual stimuli, strong graphics, cafés and children’s entertainment – all an improvement on traditional travel shops, but differentiation, it seems, is still to be achieved.

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