OK - here’s a point of view from a ‘travel agent’ and someone who often is asked by the trade press for their viewpoint on things…
The issues with Thomas Cook go back a long way, before Harriet Green took charge they very nearly went bust. The mergers of the big four (Thomson, First Choice, Thomas Cook and Airtours), didn’t really do any favours for them, and they didn’t grasp the fact that they needed a different and unique product which you couldn’t find with anyone else. This was while Thomson was contracting hotels exclusively - and rebranding them, so ‘Sensatori’, ‘Sensimar’ etc.
In its basic form, a ‘packaged holiday’ through one of the big operators is very simple - its just a flight, transfer and a hotel. Its not difficult to buy that online. Drew is quite right that any ‘package’ should be ATOL protected (i.e. guaranteed financially by the CAA, so NO you don’t need to pay by credit card…) and are bound by the Package Travel Regulations - which gives you rights as a consumer. And no, you can’t buy ATOL cover for yourself, it is very expensive to acquire.
To say that ‘travel agents’ are dead is a bit misleading. Yes, we are not the first stop for those wanting a cheap beach holiday anymore, but there are so many other types of holiday available on the market and not everyone wants that sort of holiday. There are also many types of holiday almost impossible to book online - multi centre tailor made holidays are very tricky online.
There is also a real growth in the luxury end of the market - with more of a concierge / PA type style service for those who don’t have time or the inclination to do their own booking. Especially working from home which is really growing.
Also at the lower end of the market, another new home working agency is coming over from the states all Intetravel, with their promise that anyone can be a travel agent - basically selling it as a way to pay off your own holiday. They are really aggressively recruiting on social media at the moment - annoying lots of agents in the process!!
Good travel agents also add value - so we provide things like lounge passes and chauffeur transfers from home for our clients.