By Shaun Busuttil @shaunbusuttil21 Apr 2017It’s innovate or die for storefront travel agencies. In order to stay competitive and turn the industry around, major players need to reconceptualise the whole travel agency experience. This means re-thinking what a travel agency should look like, and how it should make customers feel. Although the internet and online booking websites have re-directed many travellers to their computers, there’s still a ton of opportunity to reel in more customers off the streets and into our agencies. After all, retail ain’t going nowhere. But in order for this to happen, we – as an industry – need to get with the times and experiment with new ways of re-conceptualising the traditional travel agency. It’s basically about creating a new space and experience for the customer that recognises that things have changed in the last 10-20 years. “The agency business tends to be reactive rather than innovative… For so many years, it had been about shrinking space to lower overhead, to the point where the industry became invisible at street level.” Keith Waldon, owner at Departure Lounge, speaking to Skift. Thankfully there are already travel agencies that have taken these first exciting steps into creating the new travel agency. Take STA’s flagship store in London, for example. Ditching the traditional store layout and standard issue travel agent desks in favour of cultivating a more interactive in-store experience, STA have reconceptualised the storefront agency to appeal better to their strong customer base: millennials – who are also one of the demographics most likely to use a travel agent. Source: www.bouncepad.com Customers sit side by side with agents to discuss their travel plans here, and in-store research and self-study is encouraged via cool Bouncepad tablet kiosks. Books, atlases and magazines are also scattered throughout too, and the new store also features an amphitheatre space where agents can host events and give talks. But STA is just one example, and there are many others. You’ve probably already heard about Flight Centre giving customers a taste of virtual reality in some of its Singapore stores. The new VR tech gives walk-in a customers 360-degree virtual tours of Tokyo, the Great Barrier Reef and Hoi An in Vietnam. It’s turning out to be an effective sales tool and helps reel in customers from the streets to give them a taste of what a their holiday could actually be like. But there’s one travel agency over in the USA that’s actually allowing customers to taste their holidays in-store: Departure Lounge in Austin, Texas. Source: www.departurelounge.com Reinventing what a travel agency should look and feel like, Departure Lounge – a member of the Virtuoso luxury travel network – is an “upscale interactive travel discovery zone” that allows customers to sip on gourmet coffees, boutique wines, chocolates and cheeses whilst researching their next holiday and scheduling appointments with an in-house agent to help them put all the pieces together. “The need for a knowledgeable travel advisor is stronger than ever in a marketplace of search engines that produce a million results for just about any destination.” Keith Waldon, owner at Departure Lounge. At Departure Lounge, customers can literally get a taste of the world through its food and drink. It’s a novel concept indeed, and we as an industry need more of this thinking down here in Australia – don’t you think? Stay tuned to KarryOn for the newest design concepts to hit the industry. Have any ideas on how travel agencies can reinvent themselves to keep up with the times? Share them in the comments below. Other stories you may like Flight Centre breaks a new world record for charity Travel peeps SPOTTED in Jordan, Peru, Estonia & more AGENTS: How’s Earlybird Europe been so far? Take our 60 sec poll.