ABTA Convention: Travel agents identify loyal 15%

Daniel Rogers reports from the ABTA convention in Orlando, Florida, on the developments affecting UK travel brands.

Fifteen per cent of British holidaymakers have never flown with a no-frills airline, while another 15% claim that they never book with a travel agent.

The findings emerged from a survey of holiday habits carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) that was revealed at the 51st Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) convention in Florida at the weekend.

The survey, one of the first major reports into holidaymaker segments, identified a consumer group that only books holidays through agents.

PwC has named this group after its newspaper-reading preference - Tabloids.

They are risk-averse and do not use budget airlines such as easyJet or Ryanair. They are also unlikely to own a credit card, which limits their ability to make use of no-frills brands.

Malcolm Preston, partner and travel group leader at PwC, said that Tabloids were a 'valuable heartland for travel agents', which can encourage them 'to use no-frills carriers and charge a fee for the service'.

At the other end of the spectrum, 15% of holidaymakers, described by PwC as Wireds, are early adopters of technology. This group will enter travel agencies only for research and then book direct online.

Preston said that agents should 'show these people the door, because they are time-wasters'.

The segmentation study is part of an urgent debate in the travel industry over how to boost sales in the stagnant package holiday sector.

MORI research, also revealed at the ABTA convention, showed that the number of holidays taken by UK residents rose from 35m in 1999 to 43.5m in 2004, but the number of package holidays has remained static at 19.5m a year.

Although Preston claimed that the package holiday sector was 'still thriving', the major brands believe future growth lies in 'dynamic packaging', providing flexible solutions from a mixture of third-party airlines, hotels and car hire.

John McEwan, managing director of independent retail group Advantage Travel Centres, said that travel agents should rebrand themselves as 'travel providers'.

'It is the 24m holidays that are not packaged that represent the real opportunity for our industry,' he said. 'The key is charging the right fees for the value we add.'

However, Dermot Blastland, managing director at First Choice Holidays, warned that big brands should 'avoid going into commodity sectors, such as flight only, where margins are small'.

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