Are travel agents set to save the high street?

Research from the Advantage Travel Partnership, released at its conference in Cancun today, makes happy reading: agency members have opened 11 new high street branches in the last 12 months and 17% of members have their sights set on branch expansion in the year ahead.

Keeping the high street alive

Julia Lo Bue-Said gave no clearer indication of what the research proves than declaring that she "would be as bold as to say that [travel agents] are keeping the high street alive in some cases."

While that claim might weigh heavy on agents after 10,494 high street shops closed for the last time in 2023 and 119,495 jobs were lost as a result (according to recent figures from the Centre of Retail Research), the Advantage Travel Partnership's figures appear to back such a claim up.

The 11 new branches opened by members of the Partnership in the last 12 months represent half of the total number that have opened since the pandemic. It is not just newbies to the Partnership bolstering those figures, either: new branch openings among pre-existing members are up 55% against 2019.

Revenue from those new branches, fuelling the Advantage Travel Partnership's growth to annual revenue of around £7.6 billion, was revealed to be around £108 million.

Kelly Cookes, the Advantage Travel Partnership's chief commercial officer, said that while the "demise of the high street has been a long-term trend," the momentum is swaying in favour of the trade: "Travel agents are integral to returning the high street to its former glory."

Why are consumers returning to the high street?

But why are agents going against the curve and bucking the downwards trend befalling British high streets? From the much-publicised recent eGate shutdown to rising geopolitical tensions all impacting consumer confidence and experience in one way or another, Julia believes that, while these issues "are not great" for the consumer, they perhaps "play into the strength of booking with a travel agent."

Kelly added: "People are looking to immerse themselves in the full end-to-end experience of booking holidays and agents are diversifying to meet this need."

"From a travel agent's point of view, there is a mesage of 'Actually, no matter what it is, if something goes wrong, we have got your back.' That's ultimately what our professional sector brings: it's that travel peace of mind," Julia concluded.

The Advantage Travel Partnership Conference is taking place from May 15th to 18th, 2024 at the Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa.