The latest round of mass redundancies on the high street won’t put customers off using travel agents but underlines the demise of bricks and mortar retailing.
David Speakman, chairman of Travel Counsellors, said the announcement of 2,500 job cuts at Thomas Cook today was a “personal tragedy for each of the consultants involved”.
But he dismissed the wider impact Cook’s move will have on the public saying many still want a personal service although they won’t necessarily look to the high street for it.
“This is all part of the business changing,” Speakman said.
“You cannot expect everyone to have a computer at home, a mobile in their hands and an iPad and not expect there to be change on the high street in the way people buy and sell.
“From a business point of view the changes in the industry mean it’s just not sustainable to have so many people in travel agencies on the high street.
“Travel agents are still necessary but not from a high street point of view because it’s too expensive. The two things must not be confused – this does not mean the death of the travel agent.”
Speakman said people who buy on price alone might be encouraged to go online and book themselves but those who want service will search for travel agents online who offer that.
He believed Cook’s move was not a signal that it intends to return to high service value but to continue trying to beat the likes of Expedia online by being the cheapest.
“It’s all about the web. That’s where they are going, that’s the focus. But there will be other brands out there that are relational and other agents will step into the vacuum. This does not mean the end of the travel agent.”
Peter Fankhauser, Thomas Cook’s UK chief executive, said the firm had to link its offline and online presence better to provice its customers with an “omni-channel” experience.
“We are committed to the high street, there is no need for any speculation on that. We are entirely happy with our presence on the high street with 874 shops but we have to combine offline with online and build an omni-channel presence.”
Alan Bowen, of AGB Associates, a former legal advisor to Abta and now to the Association of Atol Companies, said:
“I think we recognise that there are too many travel agents on the high street and Thomas Cook have a long way to go to get back onto the straight and narrow.
“Thomson have been closing stores too but not making a song and a dance about it.
“They [Thomas Cook] have been saying they have been looking to do more digital sales as there’s less human involvement.”