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UK travel agency market losing out to online retailers

Press Release   •   Feb 04, 2013 13:54 GMT

Despite Britain having the most outbound tourists in the world, the travel agency industry is in danger. Familiarity with the routine associated with international travel means that more Britons are now content to book travel independently.

Meeting them halfway are the providers of travel services otherwise sold by travel agencies, such as airlines, with online booking and aggressive marketing. It is estimated that about one-third of all travel bookings by Britons are undertaken independently online.

It could be claimed that Thomas Cook was the world's first travel agent, when he started running tours by rail from Leicester to Loughborough in the mid-1800s. After Cook came many others who capitalised on the public's growing desire for holidays and society's new means of mass transportation, the train.

Within 50 years, tour operators were opening offices to the public, and these were the first true 'travel agencies'. They grew by the hundreds, and then - following the advent of the air package holiday in 1950 - by the thousands, until the number of travel agencies in the UK reached a high of over 8,000 in the early 1990s. Today, there are some 7,000.

Since 2008, the industry has had to cope with the onset of the global recession. Bricks-and-mortar stores, with their associated high overheads and operational costs, have also faced rising competition from the flurry of online tourism information and booking services.

In the UK over half of all consumers book their holidays online. The UK is the largest online travel market in Europe and is projected to remain the largest share of Europe's online travel market in 2013, followed by Germany and France.

In the period between May and July 2011 Thomson was the most popular website in the Travel Agencies category with 8.04% market share followed by Expedia.co.uk and Thomas Cook.

Teletext Holidays was the fastest moving agency of the quarter, increasing market share by 1.12%. Expedia.co.uk was the biggest loser of the top 10 losing 1.11% market share.

Travel agents are exactly that - agents - and, as in many other industries, act as 'middlemen' between the principal (often the tour operator) and the customer. One trend in commerce today is the demise of the middleman, as technology and other factors lead people into buying direct from the manufacturer.

For more information on the UK travel agency market, see the latest research: UK Travel Agency Market

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