The Adrian Loveridge Column – Travel Agents Worth Their Weight in Gold
During my time in Canada, starting back in the late nineteen sixties, I worked as a travel agent in Winnipeg. It was an amazing learning experience and one opportunity that I will always be truly grateful for. I threw my all into attempting to understand all the myriad of complex options and choices, knowing that largely through your own efforts that you were often able to put together, what for many clients, was the trip of a lifetime. While frequently humbling it was also one of the most personally rewarding periods of my life in travel. Even back then, almost five decades ago, the skeptics were predicting the death of the travel agent. I did not believe it then and certainly have not changed my mind now.
While on a Barbados promotion trip in Portland – Maine, many years later, I heard of the sudden death of a long-time friend, who actually lived in Winnipeg. I immediately contacted the airline who I was flying with and they were particularly unhelpful stating that nothing could be done to change the ticket and I would be forced to purchase another at full fare. I then walked into a local travel agent, who was incredibly considerate and managed to secure a bereavement fare at a substantial saving. This was at a time when travel agents were introducing a ‘service fee’ to partially offset reduced rates of commission. She apologised profusely for having to charge this ‘fee’, which I recall was about US$25, but of course, I was more than happy to have this option.
I remain convinced, that good travel agents are worth their weight in gold and will survive whatever happens in the constantly changing dynamics of the industry.
When after 30 years of selling through the British travel trade, one of our main visitor suppliers Virgin Holidays, decided to become a purely direct-sell operator, it did not seem to take the industry by surprise. Their rationale behind the decision was summed up by this statement ‘because it can no longer add the value and consistency of service it wants, if it doesn’t own the customer’, that’s according to an article which appears in the 16th October 2015 edition of Travel Weekly online.
Virgin Holidays managing director at that time added ‘Agent sales represented about 10 per cent of Virgin Holidays’ business last year (2014) and its less than 10 per cent this year’.
From at least a financial point of view, their decision seems to have been vindicated, with a growth in profits of more than 75 per cent in first year (2016) as a direct sale only holiday operator, recording a GB Pounds 19.1 million profit, due to higher passenger volumes and margins. Departures increased 4.9 per cent and 341,000 Virgin Holiday experiences were arranged for customers in more than 45 destinations.
To help understand this from a Barbados perspective, I contacted one of our largest hotel groups and they have actually witnessed a decline in Virgin Holiday bookings, but this has been made up by another airline linked tour operator. It would be interesting to analyse across our accommodation options what has been the net gain or loss in visitor arrival numbers to the destination since Virgin Holidays opted for direct sell.