Fish and chips; afternoon tea; the weather; roast beef and Yorkshire puds; Morecombe and Wise – all great British institutions. And, in my opinion, Thomas Cook was right up there with the best of them.
How such a long-standing venerable brand was allowed to disappear is beyond sad, and there are still many questions to be answered. Over the last two weeks, I have heard plenty of comments and opinions as to why this happened, from corporate greed and bad accounting practice to Brexit and the weather. But in amongst all the anger and confusion, one similar question kept cropping up – why do we need a travel agent? Who uses a travel agent these days? I didn’t know travel agents still existed, is there still such a thing?
And yes, it’s true, this is the cyber age – the World Wide Web, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest , WhatsApp, Snapchat. We do almost everything online – food shopping, clothes shopping, socialising, online interviewing, internet dating and booking holidays. So why on earth, in this cyber age, would anyone would need the services of a travel agent? Surely we should be consigned to the relic pile along with the dinosaurs, vinyl records, pens and paper, a friendly face, local knowledge and good old fashioned customer service.
It’s a sad fact that the high street travel agent has suffered greatly since the cyber revolution – the whole world is now literally at everyone’s fingertips. But I do think we are slowly coming full circle. The very brilliant but formidable mother nature has thrown some pretty catastrophic natural disasters at us that have helped pull the independent travel agent back from the brink of extinction. Volcanic ash clouds, hurricane tom dick and harry, tsunami’s and snow on runways all cause major disruption to travel plans.
And unfortunately, as we know only too well, tour operators do go bust, air traffic controllers and pilots do strike and Ryanair do cancel flights. People are starting to realise that if they’ve booked online with wedoitcheapest.com and the storm of the century hits, they are on their own. By using an independent travel agent, if an earthquake does rock our world or the world’s oldest tour operators goes bust, we will be there for you, finding you another flight, booking another hotel or getting you home as soon as possible. We are your personal advocate if things go wrong or services don’t meet your expectations and we are always there to fight your corner.
Despite the media’s best efforts at scare mongering, far from signalling the demise of the package holiday I think the Thomas Cook collapse could well be its saviour. Consumer tastes are changing, trends are changing, and the package holiday is changing. People of all ages are getting more adventurous and an atol protected package doesn’t have to be two weeks in Benidorm or ten nights in Magaluf with Tui or Jet2. It can be anything from a fully escorted tour of Peru to a road trip across the USA, a multi-centre trip to Thailand or a trek through Borneo in search of Orang-utans.
Atol protection does work – and whilst it cannot protect you against disappointment and inconvenience, it will get you home or it will get you your money back and your independent travel agent will be helping you all the way.
So although the big yellow Thomas Cook heart has stopped beating, when we are all over the shock and the dust finally settles, consumers will hopefully begin to realise that the beating heart of the travel industry is still the independent travel agent.