But I am seeing increasing evidence that this is far from the case – many of our agents are both investing in shop refurbishment or, dare I say it, opening new shops.
What a premise says about a business can play a key part in the decision buying process. While many high streets are plagued with overall infrastructure issues including lack of accessibility, expensive parking and competition from convenient out of town business parks, it’s heartening to see that many agents are still intent on enhancing their customer experience through the look and feel of their stores.
It’s creating an opportunity for agents to rethink about how their store ambience impacts on the customer; what it says about their offering, and about knowing their customer, but also how their store dovetails as part of their company’s overall marketing strategy.
Over the past few months Advantage has seen at least five members undertake a store refurbishment programme as part of our consultancy initiative. This approach enables business owners to take a broad overview of what they want to achieve based on the budget they have in mind.
So what is inspiring these businesses to invest further? It’s all about thinking long-term and what needs to be done today to invest in the future of their travel agency business. As part of the identity creating process, major consideration must be given to the attraction of new customers, broadening the reach across a wider demographical and generational spectrum.
The accessibility and affordability of emerging technology such as virtual reality goggles though does provide a great opportunity to aid the selling experience, but it is still reliant on the travel agent. (As an aside, the theme of the Advantage Conference 2017 next May is “man and machine”, exploring exactly this point – how emerging technology can be harnessed by humans to enhance overall experiences.)
Moreover, despite living in a digital age, we are finding a greater proportion than expected of “younger” customers consulting with travel agents prior to booking their holiday. This is happening for a number of reasons – not just because of a nicely refurbished store. But it does demonstrate how consumer behaviour is more difficult to anticipate, and therefore ensuring every part of your value proposition is reviewed regularly is a must.
It was only in 2013 that Mary Portas completed her review into the future of the nation’s high streets. It was clear from the report that the high street needed to evolve and adapt to changing consumer behaviour.
Judging from the many examples of member investment across our group of independent agents, that lesson has been listened to, understood and, most importantly, acted upon.
Julia Lo Bue-Said is managing director of The Advantage Travel Partnership