Direct-sell online tour operator Destinology is to open its first high street store, saying it is convinced there are still opportunities for bricks-and-mortar travel agencies to be successful.
Dominic Speakman, founder and chief executive of the luxury specialist, said the firm had been looking for an opportunity to open a store for some time.
So when a former Argos store became available in the upmarket Cheshire town of Wilmslow, he took it, and hopes to have the store open by early May.
Speakman said talk of the demise of the high street was more to do with the pressure on old retail models of traditional travel agencies and the multiples.
He believes strategically located stores can flourish if they serve the right customer base and offer better value and exceptional service, even if offering the same or similar product as rivals.
“The high street everyone talks about being in decline is the model of the multiples, the bucket and spade sector, or the traditional model of a single shop working on commission,” he said.
“I agree that model is dead, but we are the polar opposite to one of those charter-based tour operators. Our model is probably a bit more like Trailfinders, who are very successful.”
The first Destinology store will seek to make full use of the latest technology to offer its customers a modern shopping experience with no brochures or offers in the window.
The double-fronted window will feature two 80-inch screens, which will be a potential source of revenue as operators and destinations buy promotional space.
Inside, there will be an ‘expert bar’ aping the ‘Genius Bars’ in Apple stores, although Speakman said it would feature tablets with 20-inch screens – larger than the iPad – and on the Windows operating system.
For bigger groups like families there will be a larger cinema-style screen on which high-definition pictures and video can be shown to customers.
Destinology has created a new multi-channel selling platform for the store based on its call centre reservation system and not on its consumer-facing website.
When dealing with an agent, customers will be talked through product on touch screens, and will be able to opt to go home and book the holiday themselves online or via email or the call centre.
Speakman, whose father David is chairman of homeworking agency Travel Counsellors, said: “We are taking high service, high-tech and very slick retailing, and putting it alongside great value for money.
“Rather than allowing customers to walk out with a brochure and never seeing them again, they will go away with a quote and we will have their email address so we can continue to market to them.”
Speakman said he would look for further opportunities to open more stores. But he estimated that there were probably only five to 10 other towns in the UK with the required local customer base.
Wilmslow is home to many high-end stores and is known for being a favourite place to live for the northwest’s most well-heeled inhabitants, including many top Premiership football players.
The new store will be managed by Destinology retail director Annelouise Speakman, Dominic’s wife, and employ about 10 staff.
Annelouise said: “We really want to raise the bar on what customers have come to expect from a high street agent.
“We have entirely reconceived the way travel retail can operate, with cutting-edge technology and personalised service. And as a direct-sell luxury operator, we are able to do all this and still offer amazing value for money.”
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