Looking back, 2010 was a trying year for the travel industry with the likes of the ash cloud, BA strikes, riots in Greece and trouble in Thailand coming on top of the effects of the recession. Yet against this backdrop, independent travel agents have been experiencing a renaissance.

Despite having less money in their pockets consumers have maintained the desire for a decent, quality holiday and have not been willing to sacrifice their prized getaway. I read with interest the comments of Andy Cosslett, boss of Intercontinental Hotels Group with 4,500 hotels worldwide, who said in the Sunday Times the recent crisis taught him that business travel may fluctuate but leisure travel stays solid. It’s also been apparent to me that many people, suffering from ‘internet booking fatigue’, have been returning to the High Street to book at the expense of DIY holidays.

Members of AITO Specialist Travel Agents, a group of 130 independent agents across the UK, have reported increased footfall and more ringing phones in their shops and it’s tremendously heartening that discerning consumers are realising the true value of agents’ expert recommendations, the depth of their knowledge, the sheer range of products available and the excellent value that agents’ personal service offers, not to mention the relief of cutting out countless hours trawling through websites.

AITO Agents have found the ability to sell the diverse holidays offered by AITO tour operators invaluable during this time. For their part, a record number of AITO operators (more than 70%) are now selling through AITO Agents, in recognition of the business they pull in.

But what will 2011 bring and what challenges will agents face during the coming year? It’s difficult to foresee events such as the ash cloud and hopefully we won’t be in line for a situation like that for a very long time, but we do know the economy is still finding its feet and consumers will be demanding excellent value.

The internet has done a lot for the travel industry and there’s a lot more potential in it yet, but I’m confident the travel agent renaissance will continue and it’s the expert skills of independents that make them so well placed to maintain this momentum and enjoy a profitable 2011.

One of the key attributes of independent agents is their flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing economic climates, travel trends, consumer priorities and dynamically package to offer exactly what customers are looking for. The merger of Thomas Cook and the Co-op means it’s likely consumers will be directionally-sold products and these may not always be in their best interests. With the decline in the choice of independent High Street agents this signals, the rise of AITO Agents can fill the void.

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