Comment: Our industry has changed but people remain the best

Camaraderie and relationships still underpin success in our sector, says If Only’s Gordon McCreadie

I have just returned from hosting an amazing agents’ VIP fam trip to the Algarve in partnership with Elegant Resorts, attended by an excellent and inspiring group of senior individuals from our amazing industry. A few of the agents have been involved in travel for nearly five decades, which is an unbelievable achievement. Needless to say, the trip generated some cracking stories.

As I hurtle towards celebrating 40 years in our industry myself, it got me thinking about how things have changed since I started out in the 80s. On the subject of fam trips, that’s one thing that has drastically changed. Our recent visit to the five-star Domes Lake Algarve couldn’t have been more different to my first educational in 1984 with Blue Sky Holidays to San Antonio in Ibiza, aged 16, where my makeshift bed for the week was two beer crates and a breadboard as a pillow. Both trips were great but, wow, that makes me feel old!

The industry has undergone many other significant changes since the 1980s, largely driven by technological advancements, changes in consumer behaviour, globalisation and geopolitical shifts. Some have been great, others not so much. Brands have come and gone over the years, but our industry keeps evolving. Technological changes have been massive since the days of dial-up internet, and promotions have come a long way too. Who remembers Hoover’s ill-fated free flights promotion?

Revolutionary advances

Online booking platforms, travel websites, and mobile apps have revolutionised the way people plan, book and experience travel, leading to increased convenience, transparency and accessibility for travellers. Potentially the biggest revolution to date is happening right now, as we attempt to fully understand AI and its capabilities. This powerful tool could well revolutionise our industry as much as the telephone.

The deregulation of the airline industry in the 1980s led to increased competition, lower fares and expanded route networks. Additionally, the development of larger and more fuel-efficient aircraft has made long-haul flights more feasible and economical. However, some things haven’t improved for the better, with many suppliers who promote themselves as trade-friendly still willing to massively undercut agents and other operators who support them 365 days a year.

Shift in focus

There’s a much greater focus on sustainability now than there was in the 80s and far more awareness of the environmental and social impacts of travel. This simply wasn’t a consideration in 1984 when I was booking customers at AT Mays in Coatbridge for two weeks in Lloret de Mar by coach with Impact Holidays. Responsible tourism practices have gained prominence, with travellers seeking eco-friendly accommodation, supporting local communities and minimising their carbon footprint.

Mobile technology and the proliferation of smartphones has transformed the way people research and experience travel. Mobile apps provide real-time information on flights, accommodation, attractions and navigation, enhancing the overall travel experience and enabling greater spontaneity. But it surprises and disappoints me that some businesses are still relying on the same strategies to attract customers as they did in the 1980s when I used to visit these stores as a sales executive for Sunmed. They need to move with the times and evolve, or risk disappearing off the high street. Unlike the 80s, customers are looking for more than a free barrel bag!

On the other hand, one thing that fortunately has remained constant over my nearly 40-year career is the people, who are second to none and make this industry the absolute best.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been in hysterics over the years. One of my many highlights was when an older gentleman came in to the shop when I was working at Lunn Poly’s Airdrie branch and asked my colleague for a Club 18–30 brochure, to which my mate replied: “I’m sorry, sir, you need to be between the ages of 18 and 30 – not born in 1830!” Thankfully the customer saw the funny side too.

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