The chairman of the Advantage Travel Partnership believes independent agents are well-placed to build consumer trust and adapt to new, authentic ways of communicating with customers – new and old.
Steven Esom was quizzed on the issue of trust in the travel sector during a panel discussion with BBC Scotland Editor Sarah Smith at the consortium’s Vivolution conference in Cadiz on Saturday (18 May).
Esom said there had been a "seismic change" in the retail market in recent years, with many larger brands having lost the art of communicating with their existing customer base, while also failing to engage a new, younger and more socially and environmentally-conscious generation of travellers.
He referenced the troubles faced by Thomas Cook when the value of the historic travel company’s shares plunged to less than 12p on Friday (17 May) after revealing massive winter losses, adding these difficulties faced by larger businesses were contribution to consolidation at the top.
"Our businesses have to be much more agile," said Esom. "Agility is something which monolithic, old-style businesses are finding real problems with."
Esom said the broader issue of consumer trust should be seen as an opportunity for independents, who have a more engaging message to give consumers – or risk losing out to others.
"When I look at the Advantage business model, made up of independents servicing very clear customers with their needs, I think it’s something we can really bring to the market, that real connection," he said.
"But you need to earn that right to be authentic. I think everyone is struggling to find new, authentic ways of communicating with the customer. And if we don’t find that way, someone else will and we’ll lose the attention of that customer."
On the issue of trust, Esom said he felt Advantage members were "in the sweet spot" to go about this process with some consumers actively having to consider whether their holiday will actually go ahead or not.
"We’ve seen a lot of publicity about fake holidays too," he said. "Holidays are the single biggest disposal income item on which a consumer will spend each year. The consumer stops spending when they can’t trust someone to give [them] that really important purchase.
"We’ve got great independent agents out there who can build that trust. It’s really easy to lose it, but we’re in a great place to build it."
Meanwhile, on Brexit, Esom said Advantage had focused on "cutting through the grey areas" and providing clarity for members.
"We know our sector very well so we’re just trying to make sense of what we can but also control what can control, he said. "If we do that well, hopefully we can manage the rest."
He added the process was clearly taking a toll on holidays. "It’s as if the consumer is having a holiday at the moment – we really want them to be out there enjoying themselves," he said.