More than 15% of Advantage members plan shop openings this year

Seventeen per cent of Advantage Travel Partnership members plan to open high street shops in 2024, according to a new survey.

Among existing Advantage agency partners, 22 new branches have opened since the start of the pandemic, half of which have been within the last 12 months.

Advantage said the boom in retail activity shows the sector is “bucking the trend and saving Britain’s high street”.

The findings were revealed at a media briefing held the day before the consortium’s annual conference begins in Cancun, Mexico.

Kelly Cookes, chief commercial officer, said: “The demise of the high street has been a long-term trend but what we’re seeing is that travel agents are integral to returning the UK high street to its former glory.

“People are looking to immerse themselves in the full end-to-end experience of booking holidays and agents are diversifying to meet this need and ensure they are well positioned to benefit from retail footfall.”

Advantage members targeting rapid high street expansion include three-branch Sunlounger Travel, which hopes to open between 20 and 25 shops over the next five years, having launched its first in 2019.

“I think the growth of agents on the high street is primarily down to the fact that people like the personal touch – they want to get in person advise from someone who deals with travel all day long,” said managing director Iain Kirkbright. “They want the reassurance that they are making the right decisions with their money.”

Fred Olsen Travel, which currently has 19 shops, is targeting a retail network of 25 by the end of 2025.

“The pandemic showed the real worth of a decent travel agent,” said director of retail Paul Hardwick. “There has never been a greater value in being an agent, customers want someone with real knowledge and service to help them which has driven Fred Olsen on this expansion trail.”

However, Advantage members have cited staffing shortages and operating costs as potential barriers to further growth.

Hardwick added: “We are facing challenges in our expansion, particularly when it comes to recruitment and cost management.

“There were a lot of people who dropped out of the industry throughout the pandemic and left industry completely.”

Recent figures from the Centre for Retail Research revealed that 10,494 shops closed for the last time during 2023 and that 119,495 jobs were lost as a result.

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