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How the high street travel agent is making a comeback

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Online bookings still account for most holiday purchases: rather than rivalling virtual transactions, the uplift in retail reflects the travel industry’s wider buoyancy. The sector has enjoyed double-digit growth for 11 of the past 12 months, the latest Barclays spending report revealed on Tuesday; in November alone, travel agent trade grew by 9.2 per cent, and airlines 14 per cent. 

And even the smallest retail travel agents are on the rise: “We’re a tiny shop but we’re doing really well,” says Clare Dudley Adams, managing director of Ponders Travel, in the village of Over in Cambridgeshire. “We have just gone over £4 million in sales, which, for a small team, is impressive.”

When radio presenter Chris Evans spotted a new Travelbag agency on his local high street in Marlow, Buckinghamshire last week, he praised how it was “disrupting” the market by prioritising physical retail. “It made me really happy to see a travel agent popping up on the high street,” he told listeners of his Virgin Radio programme. “Clearly Travelbag has realised that people… might want a bit of social interaction and personal service again.” 

That’s the key to retail’s bounce-back, says Jonathon Woodall-Johnston, chief operating officer of Hays Travel. “A holiday is a high-value purchase, not just financially, but emotionally too – and people want to book with an expert,” he insists. It’s a steady hand while you’re bamboozled by choice online, and reassurance that you’re safe from scams. “Coming into a branch gives [customers] the confidence that someone is there to look after them, from booking through to travel and safe return home.”

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