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Are we doing enough for travel agencies? - An insider's view, Friday 18 November 2022

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

In the second part of a new specialist series, Matt Purser – financial and regulatory expert, and friend of the Firebird Partnership – gives the latest take on the issues facing travel businesses now. Today’s focus: the importance of agencies.

They say a week is a long time in politics, and the same can be said of travel.


Over the last ten days we have seen a large number of significant stories hit the news, including Andy Freeth joining Classic Collection, MSC Cruises enjoying a record booking month in October, and dnata’s travel division revenue showing a large increase, with the Emirates group returning to profit.


However, the one story that stood out for me was the decision by Qantas to sell its stake in the travel agent, Helloworld Travel Limited.

“If Qantas really believed in the agency model, would they not have retained their investment?”

How does this affect the UK travel market when it involves an Australian airline selling its stake in an Australian agent, I hear you ask? Well, the effect isn’t a direct one. Yet it’s crucial as we consider the strength of travel agency models worldwide.


Despite Qantas being quoted as saying, “We’ll continue to have a very strong relationship with Helloworld as a trade partner, and travel agencies in general remain an important pillar of how millions of trips are booked every year”, if the airline really believed in the agency model, would they not have retained their investment?


Over the years, we’ve seen airlines increase their direct sales, reduce and remove commission to agents and, in some cases, refuse to work with agents altogether. Nevertheless, agents have a big part to play in the travel industry.

“In their hour of need, consumers turned to agents”

They are especially important in the UK market: here, Travel Counsellors have announced their annual turnover increased to £800m in the last financial year; Hays Travel have revealed that 300 of their shops are outperforming their 2022 sale targets, and Advantage Travel Centres have likewise reported an increase in sales for 2022.


If travel agents are as important as ever to consumers, why are we not all working together across the sector? During the pandemic we saw that, for many consumers, the industry appeared faceless – with airlines unwilling or unable to cope with the demand of travellers who wanted to know what was happening to their flight or refund. In their hour of need, consumers turned to agents, who became more important than ever in terms of customer support. Those same consumers seem to have stayed loyal.


If travel agent sales do drop off, it will purely be because of the wider economic situation, not because consumers are losing faith with them. MSC Cruises have recently reiterated their support to travel agents, as have others. But not everyone is supportive.

“All travel businesses in the chain hold valuable roles”

As far as I see it, all travel businesses in the chain hold valuable roles. We are certainly a lot stronger as an industry if we work together, rather than against each other – and I hope these adverse situations make us realise that all the more.


Meanwhile, don’t underestimate the support your agents give to consumers – they can really help grow your brand and business. In return, you need to make sure you support them too.


Matt Purser has worked in travel since 1989, beginning with ATOL at the Civil Aviation Authority. There he was instrumental in scoping out regulatory changes to protect consumers. In 2005, he set up the Travel Trade Consultancy (TTC) and helped grow it from a start-up to a million-pound-turnover business. Matt is an expert for the Finance & MI and Regulatory modules of Firebird’s Foundations for Growth programme.


Learn all about the programme, and get in touch with Firebird, at www.firebirdpartnership.com


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