Agent bookings to fall to 37 million by 2013

Mintel carried out its consumer survey with researcher GfK NOP in September 2008 and concludes the proportion of people booking in high-street agencies or visiting to pick up brochures or speak to staff have all declined since its last survey in 2006.

As a result, it downplays suggestions of a revival on the high street while noting a bedrock of support for high-street agents.

Despite the relative stability of high-street sales over the past five years – with agency sales of 20.5 million in 2003 and 20.8 million last year – Mintel predicts the high-street market will decline by almost two million holidays over the coming five years. It forecasts total bookings by agents, including online and by phone, will fall from 45 million last year to about 37 million in 2013.

Researchers asked a sample of 2000 adults aged 16 and over whether they had used an agency in the past two years.

The proportion visiting an agent to look at brochures was 11 percentage points down on 2006 at 19%. Those visiting to speak to staff was down five percentage points, also to 19% – although clearly there will be some crossover here.

The survey found 25% visiting an agent to make a booking. However, this could not be compared with 2006 as the same question was not asked two years earlier. This percentage broke down as 18% buying a package holiday or short-break, 7% a flight or accommodation only, and 6% a UK break. Again, there will be some crossover from respondents making multiple bookings.

More than one-in-four respondents had not had a holiday in the last two years (28%), so the proportion of holiday-bookers using a high-street agency was in fact close to 35% – and this was for all holidays, overseas and domestic. That figure also leaves out bookings with agents online or by phone. Mintel points out there has been a “morphing of bricks and mortar agents into a multi-channel selling environment”, meaning the percentage does not reflect the totality of agency sales.

Mintel suggests the fall in numbers consulting agency staff is “perhaps most worrying” and concludes: “The industry faces a major challenge in persuading more consumers to swap the comfort of their home broadband connection for the advantages of ‘face time’.”

However, it would be intriguing to see a comparison of the average amount of time consumers spend researching holidays now and two, four, eight or 10 years ago.

The report’s breakdown of consumers most likely to use an agency provides some interesting conclusions.

Higher-income households and skilled manual workers are most likely to book in a high-street shop – particularly, it seems, if they read The Times. This may be in keeping with a Mintel conclusion elsewhere in the report that, “Visitors to the high street are on the whole more conservative.”

Mintel finds agency customers peak in the age group 25-34, and across all age ranges they are more likely to travel without children, while Londoners and those in the North West are least likely to book on the high street.

Somewhat contradicting the finding on agency use among better-off consumers, Mintel quotes a study examining consumer preferences for packages versus independent holidays in July 2008. This found independent booking “very popular among high income groups”. However, people in this group may travel several times a year, allowing scope to book both independently and with an agency depending on the type of holiday.

Mintel suggests those using high-street agents to book single holiday components do not share “the stark high income and South East profile of independent travellers as a whole”. It concludes: “Many high-street shops may be seeking to grow their single-component business, but they are not making inroads into the independent demographic.”

More information:

* Travolution: Mintel Reports

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