The move by technology giant Apple to establish a high street presence should provide the inspiration for the bricks and mortar travel stores of the future, but mobile could emerge as their biggest threat.
The fourth annual WTM Vision half-day conference in London debated the future of the high street with David Burling, managing director of Tui UK and Andy Washington, managing director of Expedia taking part in a panel debate.
Burling used the example of Apple, which has a network of stores throughout the UK in prime locations showcasing its products, as an example of how the future of the high street might look.
“The travel agency has evolved and it will keep evolving. If you have bookings that can be transacted across different channels the stores of the future may be different from the stores of today.
“What is clear is that the quality of the service and advice that good travel agents can give is still very important.
“Channels are becoming more blurred. The technology will become more available for consumers to start the booking in one channel and finish it elsewhere.
“The strength of the retailer is really around the product knowledge and customer service but there is also a role for the stores of the future offering more inspiration at the very early stages of the booking.
“Who would have believed that Apple of all people would have decided to open a load of retail stores?”
Mike Greenacre, former managing director of Co-operative travel and a delegate at today’s event agreed.
“I very much agree with Dave about inspiration. The high street has greatly evolved and I think it will continue. The big change that will come is how retail stores embrace this technology.
“Where there is an Apple store it’s the busiest shop in town by a long long way.”
However, Andy Washington, managing director of Expedia UK, said: “The biggest threat to the high street us mobile.
“What’s stopping me going into a high street store getting them to do all the work and then googling it on my mobile to find it cheaper?”
Burling said Tui UK’s strategy is based around its differentiated product offering that stems from its close partnerships with hoteliers that has seen it develop a number of resort concepts.
“We want to be involved in designing a particular hotel experience with our partners. By doing that we get a better consumer experience, better repeat business and better reviews."
Burling said concepts like its Splashworld water park resorts were showing “huge growth”.
“It’s identifying the customer requirements and working with hotel partners. We can do that because of our scale.”