The role of the travel agent has become more important as consumers increasingly seek advice on travel from ‘real people’ due to the pandemic.
Speaking at Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel conference, agents said the Covid pandemic had forced them to work harder but had also given them an opportunity to shine.
Haslemere Travel owner Gemma Antrobus, who is also chair of Aito Specialist Travel Agents, said: “What our clients want is more physical interaction with a person and less with a machine. Independent agents have been able to continue to build relationships.
“It’s very much about people going forward for me. It’s about how you make people feel. This is where the loyalty will come through, with personal interaction. It’s about communication and being there. I think we benefitted in the way we dealt with the pandemic.”
Clients continued to need help on travel to and from destinations and agents had to spend more time with clients on their bookings than pre-Covid, said Antrobus.
She said: “A lot of clients want to know what they need to go away and what happens if they test positive before they arrive or come back.
“Our jobs have become so much more intricate now. We are talking to clients in more detail about testing and insurance policies and giving them advice before they make a decision.”
Travel Counsellors UK managing director Kirsten Hughes predicted the next two to three years would be “remarkable” for agents, citing it as a time of opportunity for the trade.
“For a long time there will be a need for great agents to take care of their clients,” she said, adding: “People want people. Travel has become incredibly complex and agents have had to ‘relearn’ their jobs. It’s an incredible amount of work but it’s an opportunity. Our Travel Counsellors have worked relentlessly and it’s paid off.”
Hughes said travel would become even more complex when mid-haul and long-haul markets open up and consumers start to take multi-centre trips again.
Suppliers on the panel also agreed the pandemic had strengthened the importance of agents as a distribution channel.
Royal Caribbean International sales director Stuart Byron said: “We have always enjoyed a close relationship with our travel partners and the last 18 months has reinforced how close those relationships are.”
Virgin Atlantic global sales vice president Lee Haslett said just over half of current revenue now came from agent sales. But he said the company’s top agents had changed as a result of the pandemic and how agents had looked after their clients over the last 18 months.
He said: “We have a whole new list of agents that will continue to be important to us.”