Comment: Consumers want to buy from local people they trust

Demand for reputable high street travel agents is set to accelerate, says Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson

I recently read an article about how the previously unloved and almost forgotten QR code made an astounding comeback during the pandemic.

After launching in the early 2000s, it was on the point of fizzling out. But it turns out that we just weren’t quite ready for the QR code and its world of possibilities. At the time, QR-reading was still clumsy, and when the reader technology finally became standard across smart phones, most of us had moved on.

Fast-forward to 2020, when businesses and people needed solutions that were easily accessible during the height of the pandemic. Thankfully, businesses didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, because what they needed was already there.

In some ways, I think travel agents can identify with the story of the QR code’s revival. Although agents have remained a staple part of the holiday-booking process since the birth of the internet, it’s true that some people did alter habits and decided that booking independently online was the best option.

It’s perhaps worth mentioning (as I find it almost ironic) that when most other industries abandoned the wide use of QR codes a decade or so ago, travel businesses such as airlines made full use of its possibilities in ticketing and check-in options. We saw the opportunities when others didn’t.

Changing attitudes

The pandemic has fundamentally changed how people want to book their holidays. Among many, particularly the younger demographics, we are witnessing a sea change in attitudes that is resulting in a sharp rise in demand for a reputable travel advisor.

Just as people have been wondering how we lived without the handy QR code for so long, travellers who were once loyal to booking online are wondering why they didn’t use agents before.

We launched our Book Human campaign this year – following in the footsteps of our parent company, Internova Travel Group, which pioneered the campaign in the US. Book Human embodies everything we believe in as a business, so it made sense to bring it to life in the UK leisure market.

The ethos of Book Human is something the whole industry can benefit from: depositioning technology in favour of human beings. Travel is one of the most personal purchases you can make, and holidaymakers deserve to book their well-earned getaway with someone who genuinely cares about their trip. While technology will enhance the customer experience – or help the advisor with efficient booking processes – there is no replacement for booking your holiday with a real person.

Reap the rewards

Whether you’re a tour operator, airline, hotel, cruise line or ancillary, point prospective clients towards their local travel agent and you will reap the rewards. Booking travel is no longer just about making the travel arrangements, it’s a full-service concierge offering with everything from interpreting complex travel guidance to recommending local artisan coffee shops.

The human touch of a travel agent will augment any guest experience before they even arrive in resort, step on a plane or embark on their cruise.

And it’s not just in the travel sector where consumers are returning to the human experience. Across the retail and service ecosystem, there is demand for a personal service, delivered locally. While city centres are still healing and recording lower levels of footfall, suburbs and town centres are enjoying faster recoveries. Why? It’s simple – people want to buy from local people they can trust.

The demand for a return to reputable high street travel agents is set only to accelerate this year. While our services as travel agents are different – and much more complex than that of the revitalised, yet still humble, QR code – they share a common theme: the solution that consumers were seeking was there all along.

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