Retail and business travel agents

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Should a tourist decide to take a holiday, he/she is likely to visit a travel agent to inquire about various holidays on offer and prices available. Travel agents are agents for tour operators; they sell package holidays, products and services on behalf of the tour operator and are paid a commission or fee by the tour operator. Travel agents offer products and services such as; travel insurance, flights, car-hire, ferry crossings, train tickets, advice etc.

There are two types of travel agents; they are the Retail Travel Agent and the Business Travel Agent. The larger Business Travel Agents are members of the Guild of Business Travel Agents (GBTA) and make up over 80% of business travel arrangements through travel agencies. Leading GBTA Business Travel Agents are, American Express Europe Ltd, Britannic Travel Ltd, Carlson Wagonlits, Hogg Robinson Travel Ltd, Portman Travel Ltd and Seaforth Travel Ltd. The Business Travel Agents concentrate on the sale of travel related products to business clients and are sometimes located in an office within the organisation, for which they provide travel arrangements (in-house). Business travel involves getting the client to the appropriate destination for business meetings and related duties.

The Retail Travel Agents belong to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). The role of the Retail Travel Agent is to provide a location, where tourists who are seeking information about travel plans will go. The Retail Travel Agents sell arrange of leisure and recreation travel products and services to outgoing, incoming and domestic tourists. They act as a link between customers and tour operators; they are in constant contact with airlines and car hire companies. Contact is maintained over the phone, through the post and the computer systems in place e.g. Amadeus, Galileo, Sabre, and World Span.

Many Retail Travel Agents advise customers, suggest possible holidays, answer questions, make bookings and help customers with travel problems. They also sell ancillary products and services e.g. travel insurance, foreign currency, travellers cheques etc. There are four main leading travel agents, they are; Lunn Poly Ltd, Going Places, The Thomas Cook Group and Carlson Worldchoice. Between them, they sell over 60% of inclusive tours in the UK and account for 1/3 of the total number of high street travel agency branches in the UK. A tourist is most likely to choose a holiday that is an inclusive deal e.g. flights and accommodation. These deals have been designed and compiled by a tour operator.

Tour operators provide a wide range of products and services for domestic, outgoing and incoming tourists. They arrange transport, accommodation and leisure activities to make up the holiday package. Holiday packages are usually sold through travel agents. Due to customer demand, tour operators offer flexible options for their customers e.g. flight only and multi-centred holidays. Tour operators usually belong to ABTA or the Association of International Tour Operators (AITO).

Tour operators can specialise e.g. selling to the mass market, which means they offer tours to the general public and cater for all their needs and outbound tour operators who organise package holidays abroad. Examples of tour operators are; Thomson Holidays Ltd and Airtours plc. There are specialist long haul operators e.g. Kuoni Travel Ltd. Travel Scene specialise in city breaks while Crystal and Ski Bound specialise in winter sports.

Tour operators publicise their products through their own direct marketing e.g. Thomson Holidays Ltd own Portland Direct and Airtours plc own Direct Holidays. Thomson Holidays Ltd also encourages direct bookings from their brochures or packages, which are advertised and sold through travel agents. A tourist who is going on holiday can choose from a variety of different transportation methods, they include cars, trains, planes or boats.

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