Thomas Cook has emerged as the travel agent with the best overall reputation in PRWeek/OnePoll's latest survey.
This will be welcome news for the company, which has issued three profit warnings and witnessed an 80 per cent drop in its share price this year, as well as faced threats of a cabin crew strike. The company's share price increased by 20 per cent after it secured relaxed borrowing terms from lenders.
Twenty-four per cent of those asked selected Thomas Cook as the travel agent with the best reputation, compared with 18 per cent for Virgin Holidays and ten per cent for Expedia.
Expedia was seen as the travel agent that offered the best value for money and Virgin Holidays was named the travel agent with the best customer service. Thomas Cook was named the most reliable but 79 per cent of respondents said that companies could do more to promote their reliability.
The price of a holiday was the biggest factor in choosing travel agents, with 75 per cent saying this was important. This was followed by ease of booking (44 per cent), whether the travel agent could offer the holiday they wanted (38 per cent) and whether they trusted the brand (36 per cent).
Respondents were fairly split over whether the recession would curtail their holiday plans for 2012, with 40 per cent saying it would and 48 per cent saying it would not. Nearly 44 per cent said brand loyalty in the travel sector was a myth because they choose the cheapest holiday.
Survey of 2,000 members of the public conducted by global research agency OnePoll
HOW I SEE IT
Susie Tempest, Head of PR, Hills Balfour
Travel agents aren't often appreciated for their vast skills and knowledge. A high percentage of consumers rely on their expertise and financial security and they remain a critical sales channel for consumer choice.
Unsurprisingly, the two big conglomerates in the industry - Thomas Cook, which has just merged with Co-Op Travel, and TUI, which owns Thomson and First Choice - score highly.
There are two entrants with impressive results. The first is Expedia, which demonstrates the sheer explosion of the online travel agent in recent years.
The other is Virgin Holidays, which consistently scores highly; it has a relatively small presence on the high street, but its staff are highly skilled and know their target market well. The British company has a strong brand that conveys consumer confidence. The opportunity for the other big players now is to develop their own brand values, helping them climb up the value chain and improve their reputation.
High Street outdated
62% of respondents said high street travel agencies were a dying business
48% said protection schemes for holiday makers when a tour operator went bust could be better promoted
21% said travel firms were not effective at answering complaints