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Big jump in travel agents disappearing from High Street as internet takes over

By CreditMan Monday, July 8, 2013

Travel agencies and traditional tour operators are disappearing from the High Street in sharply growing numbers as they struggle to compete with growing competition from the internet, says Wilkins Kennedy LLP, the Top-20 accountancy firm.

According to Wilkins Kennedy, the number of travel companies going bust has jumped 36% the last 12 months, with 53 travel agencies and tour operators entering insolvency in the last year (to March 31), up from just 39 in the preceding 12 months.

Wilkins Kennedy explains that travel agencies’ and traditional tour operators’ business models are under increasing attack from a new wave of web-based competitors, from major international sites such as Airbnb, Skyscanner and Booking, to niche sites like Mr and Mrs Smith, the luxury hotel booking service.

At the same time, Wilkins Kennedy adds that the demise of travel agencies has accelerated since the recession as holidaymakers opt for DIY European holidays instead of long-haul packages.

Direct booking allows holidaymakers to benefit from lower-cost accommodation options such as self-catering apartments and holiday lets – through fast-growing sites such as Airbnb, Homestay and Wimdu - completely bypassing traditional travel companies.

Anthony Cork, Partner at Wilkins Kennedy, says: 'There used to be travel agents on every high street, but although the writing’s been on the wall for some time, now the internet is really taking over.'

'Online portals give people the option to plan and book each aspect of their holidays themselves, leaving the services of travel agents redundant. People book independently, especially for European holidays where they can use budget airlines and there is a wide range of affordable accommodation options.'

'Given the lingering recession, this is really important for many holidaymakers keeping a careful eye on their money. They are less inclined to travel to expensive far-flung destinations and are increasingly finding the internet offers them a cheap and easy option to tailor-make their own holidays.'

'At the moment, when travelling outside of Europe holidaymakers may feel more inclined to book a package holiday. There are fewer budget airlines available and especially in countries like Thailand, there is a big gap between the kind of big Western hotels that the tour operators use, and backpacker-style accommodation.'

'However, as the tourist infrastructure in many exotic destinations becomes more sophisticated, it will be harder and harder for tour operators to convince consumers that their package holidays offer a good deal.'

Recent ONS data highlighted an increase in visits from the UK to Europe but a decline in holidays from the UK to long-haul destinations.

Wilkins Kennedy adds that in particular, once popular long-haul holiday destinations to countries such as Egypt and Turkey have been heavily affected by prolonged periods of political unrest.
Most recently, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has recommended against 'all but essential travel to Egypt.'

Recent travel industry administrations include:

Enjoy Holidays Ltd – a travel agent with five high street branches – which became insolvent in August 2012. The firm was hit by demands from the UK’s leading cruise lines to demand direct payments from customers, which led to a loss of almost £2 million of cashflow.

Travel Serenity Ltd – which focused on holidays to the islands in the Indian Ocean – went into administration in June 2012. Its failure is said to have cost the Air Travel Trust £140,000, and 151 passengers have been forced to cancel their holidays.

Global Enduro Ltd – an expedition firm which organised fundraising and charity trips across the globe collapsed in January 2013, leaving 103 passengers out of pocket and is set to cost the Air Travel Trust £136,000.

ONS travel trends 2012

Source - Wilkins Kennedy