Online travel nearly killed the travel agency business, but now brick-and-mortar agencies may be making a comeback...with a twist.
Would you book a two-week trip to Italy on the same couches where you lounged with friends over a glass of Pinot Noir?
Departure Lounge, a leather-couch hangout in the heart of downtown Austin, is part of a new incarnation of travel agency. It’s not the traditional kind with a bunch of agents at desks and frayed beach posters on the wall. Instead, it’s an upscale meeting place that hosts corporate happy hours, South by Southwest events, wedding receptions and memorial gatherings. Families pop in with children on weekends or couples meet after work. It has a wall of wine bottles, its own coffee blend, sandwiches and TV screens on three sides.
Three years after opening, this brick-and-mortar mashup is profitable—and 80% of its revenue comes from selling trips. Travel agencies need to be visible to consumers to be relevant, says founder Keith Waldon. “We’ve got to get travel back on the street,” he says.
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