Travel agents reap the benefits of recovery
IT HAS become the typical scenario during lunch-hour this month.
People are queuing at the counter to speak to a travel agent - a day the industry once feared had gone.
But this year, Torc Travel in Killarney has seen a 10pc to 15pc increase in the number of inquiries on last year, and one in every three is about America.
"Every second or third inquiry is about Florida. The offers are quite good if you book early but traditionally January is the busiest time of the year," said office manager Lorraine Roche.
"The ideas people are having about holidays are back to 2007, and the bigger holidays are back.
"This time last year, that wasn't the case. It was mainly inquiries about Portugal and Spain, which are still popular, but this year people want to go further afield.
"We're not quite there yet but I think people are realising how important travel agents are," she added.
Owner Aine O'Donoghue said the security offered by going through a travel agent is bringing more customers back.
"There are two levels of security; the financial security of booking through a bonded agency, but also psychological security.
"They know that if, God forbid, something happens at home while you're away, you have somebody to call and that peace of mind is invaluable for some people."
Torc Travel, like its counterparts around the country, has had to weather a few tough years but now hope they're coming out the other end.
"The travel business is tough anyway because margins are so tight.
"At this stage people are having one holiday a year, unlike in the Celtic Tiger years when people had two or sometimes three holidays.
"They are entrusting you with their money, what they've saved for that holiday, and we give them the best they can get for that," Ms O'Donoghue added.
The traditional package deal is still popular but consumers are looking for more flexibility and activity in their all-in packages.
The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA), which represents about 100 travel agents countrywide, admitted that the industry suffered during the recession. But it also pointed out that not one of its members had gone out of business in the past three years.
ITAA president Martin Scally said travel agents were also putting themselves back in the market by vigorously adopting social media to promote themselves and their services.
"The people who have survived have remodelled their businesses and this has put them in a more secure place," he said.
Annually, business conducted in ITAA members' offices amounts to €1.5bn each year - this in an industry that employs 5,500 people throughout the country.
"Spain is still the number one choice of the Irish holidaymaker but we are also seeing a lot of growth in other areas, especially in America," Mr Scally said.
Spokesman for the Irish Tour Operators' Federation (ITOF), Flan Clune, said the growth in the market reflected a recovery in the economy generally.
"People seem to have more discretionary income this year and are going further afield even though Spain still is the choice destination for most.
"We're also hoping people come back to the second holiday that was dropped when money was tighter," he said.
The Government is due to publish its aviation policy in the next few weeks.
Transport Minister Paschal Donohue said this would have the "connectivity of Ireland" at its heart.
"I am also eager to ensure the implementation of our National Ports Policy of 2013, which cites, for example, developments in cruise tourism, and to ensure that it is further progressed this year," he said.