Independent travel agents are ideally placed to exploit increasing demand from consumers for context, convenience and location, Hays Independence Group delegates were told at their annual conference this week.
Travelport northern Europe managing director Simon Ferguson told the conference, hosted on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, that studies have shown people typically seek convenience shopping no more than 800 yards from home.
He said this explains the booming convenience store sector in the UK with consumers prepared to pay more for good service, authenticity and local sourced goods.
“Travel consumers demand two fundamental things: experience – a desire for authenticity – and hyper-personalisation.
“Independent retailers are much better placed to deliver that than some of the bigger players. Any sort of complexity needs to involve the interaction of somebody along the way.
“And travel itself is getting more and more complex. You have the ability to adapt. It’s about the willingness to adapt. Bigger organisations just cannot do it as quickly.”
Ferguson described the Independence Group as being like an incubator for diverse business models and said the most important thing is that firms foster their own distinct culture.
“You have the power to create a culture, the power a big organisation does not have. You can set whatever culture you want in your business, and that is a true competitive advantage.
“You are all independent heroes, you have declared your independence. Celebrate your ability to adapt, to create special cultures in your businesses. Therein truly lies the secret to success.”
Ferguson cited a study by the delivery firm Hermes which has found one in five people are increasing their spend with independent retailers.
He added one third of millennials [people who reached adulthood around 2000] say they are spending more with independent retailers because they value the service and quality of products.
Independent travel agents can be “at the vanguard” of an omni-channel world, Ferguson said, which is forcing major online-only retailers like Amazon to consider physical stores.
Addressing how firms can be innovative young entrepreneur Josh Valman, chief executive of RPD International, said the key was in the execution rather than the idea itself.
Valman, who works with major engineering and manufacturing firms to rethink their approach, said innovation is purely about risk.
He said: “It’s about how we make ideas happen without blowing everything up. Risk is the primary issue whether we innovate or not.”
Valman began his business as a schoolboy having taught himself how to design and build robots and get them manufactured in China.
Before he had left school he was responsible for £20 million worth of manufacturing contracts which he managed himself outside of school hours.
He said it was vital firms get real insight into what their customers’ experience is like and to feedback that back into any product development.
Valman said today there is an “insatiable desire for things to be done immediately and to be done perfectly first time”.
So he advised delegates to find ways to test their innovations that limits the potential backlash and if they are still prototypes be honest with customers about that.
“As small businesses, you are in control of your data, your environment and, mostly, your humans,” Valman said. “You are better placed to adapt to these problems.”
Valman said for travel agents the most important things is personal relationships. “It’s about feeling that you actually cared when you sold me that holiday.”