Travel Agents

How Aussie agencies are beating OTAs

Tara Harrison

Tara Harrison

It’s no secret that OTAs advocate the digital approach when it comes to booking travel, but many travel agencies are proving just how resourceful and creative brick and mortar stores can be.

These global travel agencies have already proven that a shake up of the traditional desk setup in-store can keep travel agencies alive and well.

But what about on our own home soil? Well, we’ve found a number of folk showing OTAs just why a real world travel agency just can’t be beaten.

Check out these lookers, featured in Travel Weekly’s February magazine issue.

Flight Centre, Sydney CBD, NSW

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This not your regular agency. The flagship hyper store for Flight Centre is its biggest in the world and assumes prime position on Sydney’s George Street, operating on multi-levels.

“At more than 20 times the size of a regular Flight Centre agency, this is the jewel in the crown,” Flight Centre Head of Leisure Travel Tom Walley says.

Here, it is all about conceptualising travel. There are explore zones, which are open spaces to trigger inspiration for travel through virtual reality, touch screens, as well as old fashioned brochures. There are discovery desks for short consults as well as consulting booths for those lengthier discussions and bookings.

Clients are met by a concierge who points them to the right expert. The inspirational target for the store is to make clients feel welcome to dream, plan and ultimately, book.

Jones and Turner Travel Associates, Paddington, NSW

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A terrace in Sydney’s trendy Paddington, this agency looks more like a home. It’s all part of the Travel Associates brand, which seeks out historic or character-filled stores.

“Rarely would you find us in a new build,” Jones and Turner agent Melinda Spain says.

Located in the village locale of Five Ways, a micro area of Paddington, the store is sat amid high-end lifestyle stores – from juices to wedding dresses.

The agency services predominantly leisure clientele, but the walk-ins are few, despite the appeal of the building. The store has been open four years in July this year.

“So many people comment on how nice it is to come up here,” Spain says. “Our clientele would not walk into this office every day. We are very much phone and email based.” Which is a shame really, but it’s all about catering for the demographics.

“They are generally quite time poor,” Spain says. Neighbours to an Italian restaurant and wine bar, they spread out their shiny wicker chairs to the front of the agency, making it appear tres Euro chic.

Gypsy Travel, Darlinghurst, NSW

gypsy

For long lasting advertising, nothing works quite like a tattoo. “We’ve had three travellers get the [company logo] gypsy head tattoo and we paid for it,” Gypsy Travel owner Gaz Palmer Hughes says.

“We just do cool shit. Making something fun. Obviously people want to book but we want it to be fun and alternative too,” Hughes says.

Tattoos of the flowing-haired gypsy will forever remind travellers of this very quirky travel agency that also boasts a ping pong table.

“It’s an alternative company I would say, for a travel agency. When you compare it to Flight Centre and STA we are completely left of field, doing our own thing.”

Designed to inspire travellers with the road trip lifestyle, Gypsy Travel’s target market is already in the country, and plans on staying in the country. No outbound to be seen here. “We do Australian locals, especially for music festivals.”

Travel Emporium, Thirroul, NSW

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There’s no other travel agency like this in Australia. Agency owner Eliza Woodward sought inspiration from 16,000km away, googling a homewares store in Copenhagen to inform design choices for this beautiful space in the beachside town of Thirroul,
80km south of Sydney.

“I was pinteresting my head off but I couldn’t find anything interesting from a design perspective,” Woodward says.

Woodward has collaborated with nearby stores in the tight knit community of Thirroul to share their wares and furniture to make the arrival appear more like a travel shop. Maps, fedoras, vintage luggage, journals and travel guidebooks set the scene before walking to a neat row of travel consultants.

“We introduced the retail aspect to give them something they can touch and feel.” The clientele, initially blue collar and mining twenty years ago, have grown up with the agency.

“Over the years we changed what we were selling. They’d start with cheap Bali packages and we’d add on a night somewhere nice and then they’d get addicted, and then we’d suggest one way business class,” Woodward says.

My Adventure Store, Sydney CBD, NSW

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In the underground level of Westfield Sydney CBD is this store and on what is a dreary Monday morning, this space has inspired walk in clients to sit on the stools and book their adventures.

Featuring a glow of neon, through a trellis-patterned front wall that could be straight out of Casablanca, this darkly lit
store has the allure of the exotic. My Adventure Store was part of the Intrepid Group, and is now under the portfolio of Flight Centre, with a predominant focus on Intrepid products.

There are four desks in the store, and posters encourage travellers to ditch the nine to fi ve and channel their energy into
adventures, from Peru to Timbuktu.

My Adventure Stores are located in hubs where escapism is rife – namely, the city for office workers on lunch breaks and the student hub of Randwick, catering for the many UNSW alumni seeking holiday inspiration.

Travel Phase, Double Bay, NSW

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This agency occupies one of Sydney’s finest retail rows in Double Bay, with a series of lowrise doll-houses on a cul-de-sac with a thick leafy median strip.

Established in 2002 by director Fay Cohen, Travel Phase is a calm space, painted a mellow mint green. The space pulls your attention toward the verdant courtyard out the back, complete with rusted high gates, mirrors and marble sculptures.

There’s transparent desks and chairs, and an inviting couch down the end with stacks of coffee table books. There’s also two dogs that are frequent members of the crew: Minnie and Molly.

The agency is imbued with items that have a story. There’s the accoutrements from a Maasai wedding in Kenya and a signed print of Jane Goodall thanking Fay for her work raising $250,000 for the chimpanzee orphanage.

“All of the GMs and reps that come to Sydney always say this is the nicest office,” Cohen says. “I did it all myself. People say its very calming. The clients love looking out and seeing the garden.”

 

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