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Elite’s John Escott on the mixed news for travel in 2019

John Escott, general manager, Elite Travel Group, reflects on what he describes as an “interesting year ... of mixed business with no real patterns”.

Independent agents have continued to diversify in 2019 and thrive, using their strengths, experience and a high level of personal service. At Elite Travel Group we have seen continued growth in sales for tailor-made, luxury, cruise, touring and adventure holidays, as members focus on these key markets.

We have seen the collapse of 2 iconic brands, Superbreak and Thomas Cook, both events raising questions and concerns over the protection that is in place.

I recently attended the ABTA Regional meeting in Birmingham; I do wish more ABTA members would attend these events. There were important points of discussion, especially about protection, and the members there were certainly passionate about that issue. One hot topic was centred around the recent collapse of Thomas Cook and the fact that the CAA repatriated everyone, even those without ATOL protection. None of us want to see customers stranded abroad but why should those without protection be brought home free of charge? Things have got to change. Were the lessons from the collapse of Monarch acted upon? Not really, but will the lessons from the collapse of Thomas Cook be acted upon? Only time will tell.

Politically, the heated debates have not helped with consumer confidence this year. The fact that Brexit has not been resolved, one way or the other, remains an issue. The next deadline is the 31st January. This is a concern as it may hit peak sales due to uncertainty. In less than one week we have a general election and it will be interesting to see whether the outcome of that has an effect. Luckily, many consumers seem to be ignoring the political uncertainty as they see their holiday as an essential. Long may that continue.

 One positive this year was the recent report from ABTA which showed that more Brits are heading off on holiday; good news for us all. The main points of the report are as follows;

Nearly 9 in 10 Brits (88%) took a holiday this year, the highest figure since 2011.

Millennials and Generation Z are increasingly turning to travel professionals to book holidays. More than a third of 18-24 year olds booked using the services of a travel professional (34% vs 31% in 2018). This age group are most likely to book with a travel professional because they believe they have a better holiday when they book through them (20% vs 14% average).

UK holidaymakers are demanding higher-end experiences at affordable prices. Whether it’s the type of trip they book, where they stay, how they travel or what they do when they’re away – they want these facets without breaking the bank.

UK holidaymakers reveal a taste for globetrotting. Today’s travellers are branching out and going further afield. This is supported by affordable flights and more fuel-efficient aircraft putting long-haul trips within reach of more UK travellers.

Younger travellers continue to embrace cruise holidays. More than a quarter (28%) of 18-34 year olds have taken a cruise, up 6% on last year.

This confirms the underlying strength of the travel industry and it is great to see more 18-24 year olds seeking help from a travel professional.  This heralds a great opportunity for the future of the Independent Travel Agent and one which must be grasped and acted upon.

It is important that we do embrace change in an ever changing world. We have to adapt to what is relevant to our customers. We need to embrace technology and not see it as a threat. Social media if used correctly can ensure you are in contact with your current customers but is also invaluable in attracting new customers. During 2020 we will be working closer with the Elite Travel Group members to offer support with their digital strategies. I know some members are using it effectively already and starting to see results.  Any business needs to ensure a steady flow of new customers to survive and as mentioned earlier the Millennial offers this opportunity.

2020 will offer opportunities for us all. There may be some bumps along the way but by working together, we will optimise the chances of going from strength to strength.

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