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A study recently conducted by the credit reference agency Experian indicates the changing nature of Britain's high street, and includes information which has profound implications for the travel industry.

The changing high street

The Guardian newspaper recently reported on this report, which indicated that town and city centres in the UK have been profoundly transformed over the last decade, with the types of shop and store located within them having evolved rapidly. Consequently, the number of tattoo parlours in British high streets has tripled in a mere decade, while there have also been big increases in convenience stores and gyms. A senior data consultant from Experian, Richard Jenkings, stated that the shift in the composition of the high street indicates an environment which is becoming increasingly social in nature.

This trend has also had a massive influence on the travel industry. Whereas travel agencies were once a staple of the high street, the number of holiday shops has almost halved in the last decade. This indicates the extent to which travel customers are now migrating to online price comparison websites, and also booking and researching tourism through online portals.

Companion businesses to the travel industry have also been affected by the digital revolution, with the number of shops specialising in film processing having fallen by 70 percent in just 10 years. Naturally, smartphones and digital cameras have greatly contributed to this process.

The Experian study indicates the extent to which travel marketing is changing. Whereas destinations and tourism-related businesses could once rely on travellers and holidaymakers popping into their local travel agent in order to make a booking, today this process is as likely, if not more likely, to be conducted in private. Thus, the importance of digital marketing, of reaching customers online through a variety of innovative methods, has grown further still.

Google report emphasises digital

A report published by Google in January of this year, entitled “The 2013 Traveler's Road to Decision: Affluent Insights”, indicated the extent to which modern travellers rely on the Internet for both information and the booking process. Nearly 65 percent of respondents to this particular survey indicated that the Internet was a primary source of inspiration for travel. This figure was over six times that of those who were influenced by travel agents. Only 10 percent of modern consumers seemingly derive a significant amount of inspiration from travel agents, underlining the influence and importance of digital marketing in the contemporary marketplace.

These figures were also mirrored in the planning of travel. In this department, it was clear from the Google report that the Internet is an incredibly important source of information. Nearly 90 percent of respondents indicated that they use the Internet during the planning of a trip, compared to only 17 percent who utilise travel agents.

Not only are offline sources declining of significance for tourism, but this process is accelerating on a seemingly yearly basis. According to Google, the percentage of travellers who relied on travel agents for information declined every single year between 2010 and 2013, as modern tourists base their decision-making process entirely around digital media.

The Internet was considered by far the most important source of information, being used by nearly three times as many travellers as any other form of information, with the second most popular being magazines and newspapers. It is also important to emphasise the knock-on effect that positively impacting upon travellers can have. Around 50 percent of travellers consistently seek the opinion of friends, family and peers when planning a trip, so impressing one group of travellers can also additionally have a huge impact on the future prosperity of a tourism-related business or destination.

Engaging with travellers

Recent Digital Tourism Think Tank reports and articles have focused on the importance of digital marketing and the opportunities offered by it. A study from the Digital Tourism Think Tank partner TripAdvisor decisively discovered that socially engaging with travellers via social media campaigns can have a significant influence over the motivational factors behind travel decisions.

Another article focused on a ‘Travel Flash Report’ by Criteo, which found that connecting with potential travellers via mobile platforms is becoming increasingly important. And another report on nSight - a company which specialises in data mining and analysis for the travel industry - found that taking advantage of Big Data and analysis can be extremely valuable for travel-related companies.

As the high street continues to evolve, and the Internet has a greater influence on the nature of commerce, we can expect to see the trends indicated by the Experian report to grow still more pronounced. Both travel marketers and destinations will need to forge a marketing strategy which is focused on digital, mobile and social engagement, as opposed to trawling the traditional roots of enticing travellers.

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