Skift Take

Agents certainly have a place in the travel process, but there's little relation between that true place and what this UK survey is trumpeting.

This flies in the face of both logic and common sense: A new survey says that the percentage of people using travel agents is increasing in England. Not only are the numbers supposedly up, they’re up 10 percent over the last two years. Even better? Young people are apparently the biggest fans of travel agents!

Photo by Cybertoad

Before you think you’re living on a different planet, take a look at who’s behind the survey: ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents.

So lets get to the release:

The percentage of people booking a foreign holiday through a high street travel agent has grown from 17% in 2010, to 25% in 2011 and 27% in 2012. In addition, the percentage of people booking a domestic holiday through a high street travel agent has almost doubled in a year, from 8% in 2011 to 13% in 2012.

And this:

Customers appear to be rediscovering the benefits and skills of travel agents with the number that value their services climbing from 30% to 40% in the last twelve months.

But wait, there’s more:

Younger people valuing high street travel agents’ ability to find what they need and offer advice on new destinations and activities. More than half [52%] of this age group also believe that travel agents are good at finding what customers need, up from 36% in 2011.

These fantastical jumps in numbers should be the biggest red flag, but they also flies in the face of large marco evidence otherwise: that the British high street is in inexorable decline from a retail perspective, and Deloitte says 40 percent of all shops could close down in as little as next five years.

Nevermind that biggies like Thomas Cook went through near-death throes last year, and TUI Travel went through bouts of heavy restructuring and financial engineering to be back in some semblance of health now.

If you want to spin, at least learn the art of subtely, push the number up a percentage or two points up. But ABTA seems desperate enough to swing for the fences on this one.

You can see how desperate the industry in the UK is from this fawning story in the Daily Mail about high-end operator Abercrombie and Kent’s “cool” office. With its iPads, vintage chests, and rustic hardwood floors it’s as if artisanal Brooklyn jumped across the Atlantic to save the travel agent community in UK.

Rather than a survey, ABTA could have dug into real revenue numbers from member agencies, looked into the number of businesses operating, and the number of people employed. Instead they turned to a survey that looked at people’s intentions, a much murkier method that you’d typically use when testing a proposed product, not hundreds of businesses operating out of brick-and-mortar buildings that have real balance sheets they’d be happy to share if they demonstrated real growth. Instead ABTA turned to something much less telling with a greater margin of error. This is what you do when you are after good PR, not good data.

So, there are only two ways you can explain these numbers: that ABTA and the agency it used just made these numbers up. The other way to explain it: all the survey respondents were families of travel agents. I’m going with the first one.


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Tags: travel agents, uk

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