Travel Agents

How to future-proof your travel agency

Hannah Edensor

Hannah Edensor

When everything seems to be going digital and brick and mortar stores grow increasingly out of fashion, it can be a bit worrying for real world travel agencies.

But there’s still hope yet – as long as you have the right tricks up your sleeve to keep travel stores in fashion, says US travel site, Skift.

There are a whole stack of travel agencies around the world who have shaken things up in order to stay relevant for consumers. You can forget the traditional desks and meeting chairs; if you want your agency to survive the digital disruption, take a leaf out of these guys’ books!

The Local Foreigner

localforeigner

Owned by four millennial women, this chic New York – Soho to be exact – agency is anything but ordinary.

This travel agency is a collaborative workplace, writes Skift, where consultations take place in a cosy living space with couches and creativity.

Calling themselves “trusted tastemakers”, the agents in The Local Foreigner “curate authentic experiences” and “connect discerning travellers with passionate locals”.

They also have a four-step process to forging long-lasting client relationships, including having conversations about what kind of traveller someone is; play matchmaker to your ideal holiday; sketch outlines of a trip; and “shade and colour in” the details.

L’Tur

lturgermany

Per Skift, over in Germany, the Baden-Baden branch of L’Tur – which happens to be one of Germany’s largest agency groups – does things a little differently.

Think about what you want most when headed into a meeting, or better yet, a fab chat about your next adventure? Coffee.

L’Tur shares its retail space with Starbucks in an upscale mall, meaning since 2012. Genius.

Departure Lounge

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Perhaps one of the greatest pieces of advice for sustaining travel agency stores comes out of Departure Lounge in Austin, Texas, and its owner Keith Waldon.

According to Skift, Waldon opened his hybrid travel agency/coffee bar/wine bar in a cool downtown space, after researching where people most often chitchat about travel.

Waldon told the travel publication that his survey showed most people get excited and inspired about travel in social environments, such as nights out in a bar with their friends.

So Departure Lounge got rid of the desks, computers and “blocking mechanisms,” as Waldon called them, and opened up a space where agents and travellers could comfortably mingle over organic coffees, small-batch boutique wines, artisan chocolates and cheeses.

They include large touchscreens to showcase travel destinations and invite independent travel advisors to come into the space to consult with clients, while also hosting travel-related events in the plush space.

Departure Lounge is now taking off into a franchise model. The prototype franchise will open at Austin’s airport in summer 2017 and Waldon expects other branches should be open by early 2018.

While these spin-offs won’t come with a public bar like the original agency, all clients will be offered free beverage menus, while the spaces will keep that upscale lounge vibe.

And it’s working; Waldon claims his unique business model sees conversion rates for agents who meet their clients in-person at The Departure Lounge is a huge 83 percent.

Travel Design Lounge

This fresh take on a travel agency offers booze, coffee, food and experiential travel evenings (such as Italian Wine Night), similar to Departure Lounge, although plans on keeping things in-house rather than starting up franchises.

According to Skift, Jeff Cain, senior vice president of the company’s specialty divisions, said, “We are continuing to fine-tune the concept in the prototype location in Omaha, Nebraska (which opened at the end of 2015) before going on to target major cities.”

Travel Design Lounge has full-time agents working in the space, but Cain told Skift “while travel is definitely the biggest revenue driver, we do derive profits from our food and beverage sales and space rental”.

Future of Virtual Reality:

China’s luxury lifestyle travel platform, Zanadu, opened its ‘Travel Experience Space’ in Shanghai, offering customers 360-degree virtual reality experiences and other high-tech fun stuff to get people excited about travel.

Meanwhile, Flight Centre Singapore is another heavyweight getting serious about bringing VR to brick and mortar stores.

Thomas Cook UK is midway through its rollout of a new Discovery store concept, while a number of US agencies are trialling VR programs with luxe headsets like the Oculus Rift.

Skift predicts that once this becomes “the norm”, it won’t take long for agencies to offer “virtual reality rooms” where clients can explore destinations virtually before booking.

 



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