Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, May 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
Will the independents survive? The death of the small agent has long been predicted. If the giant TMCS did not swallow them, then technology, the move to online or the Internet would get them. But to confound the doomsayers, they continue to thrive. In fact, there has never been a better time to be an independent business travel agent. The words are from Chris Morris, managing director of Wayte Travel Management, a company based in Stoke-on-Trent in the West Midlands of the UK.Speaking at the Advantage Business Travel Conference this week in Zurich, Mr Morris said the business travel market is getting bigger and the number of agents is getting smaller, with few new entrants.Advantage is the umbrella organisation representing the independent agents in Britain who mainly serve the SME market. About 125 were among the 250 delegates at the two day conference.Mr Morris said the gloomy predictions about the future of independents agents had been proved wrong. The demise of commission payments was not a disaster but "the best thing that ever happened to us â€“ we can now charge for our services."The arrival of the Internet had not ruined the independents but had been the "single biggest driver in our industry."Mr Morris said that since the Internet had arrived, his company had doubled its margins and "not paid a single penny for traditional advertisements."The Big TMCS do not have the personnel to serve the SME market. "We can provide them with good service and this is where we win," he said.He said thanks to technology and the Internet, the geographic location no longer mattered. "Our customers come from throughout the UK," he said.He also dismisses the challenge of the online companies, claiming it is not possible for them to match the traditional agencies. "It is all hype. With point to point it would work but not with anything that is remotely complex."But there are problems which could cloud the future. Good staff is one. While the regional agencies in the UK are renowned for the loyalty and long service of their staff, there is a high turnover in London.The problem, Mr Morris, said is that the industry "has simply never paid enough to attract people” with the result, there was often a shortage of good staff. "We have to create a better environment so that we don't lose people," he said.He said there were also possible worries over the Billing and Settlement Plan (BSP). Currently, if a ticket is issued in October, agents would pay for it about mid-November. But if the process is speeded up, as has been mooted, it could force agents to collect money more quickly from their clients. "If it does change, I think it will impact on the industry," he said. "It will be a sea-change, comparable to the ending of commission payments. I think it is likely that this will happen."Mr Morris said the issue of the environment had not yet affected his agency but he was in no doubt that it would. "I think it is inevitable."But he returns to the issue of service as the key to the survival of the independents. He regarded good service, where the agent knows his customer and what he or she wants, as the single most important issue for the independents."This is hugely important. Whatever business you are in, if a client phones in and ends up speaking to someone who has no idea who he is, it does not compare with dialling directly the person you want to speak to and who knows what you want."The simple rule is that if you are good at what you are doing, you will succeed and you will make money," he said.