Advantage Travel Partnership’s marketing manager Carolyn Hardy tells Charlotte Cullinan about the services she provides for travel agents and how independent agents can get the most out of their marketing budget
For agents keen to boost their marketing, Carolyn Hardy suggests starting with data. As marketing manager for the Advantage Travel Partnership, Hardy oversees marketing on behalf of Advantage to its agent members, and from leisure members to their customers.
While she stresses that managing data is critical, she admits that many members fail to heed this advice: “A lot aren’t very good at collecting email addresses, but it is absolutely essential. Just be honest about what customers will receive, get the right opt-ins, and it is a nice and easy way to keep in contact.”
Hardy’s team look at each agent’s customer data and run email and direct mail campaigns on their behalf. “Everything is branded from the agent, so as far as the customer is concerned it has come straight from them,” she explains.
A monthly e-newsletter is sent to 15,000 customers and prospective clients, themed on a destination or holiday type. Hardy adds: “These have good open rates, often around 30%.”
For agents on a budget, she recommends email marketing provider MailChimp, which is often free.
Advantage members also keep in touch with their top customers by sending a branded leaflet on the anniversary of their previous booking. Each month Hardy’s team send up to 2,000 personalised documents, focusing on a similar holiday to the one the customer booked the year before.
The campaign has seen healthy results, with 20% of customers going on to make another booking within four weeks of receiving their anniversary message.
All customers also receive pre and post-departure emails, and the latter is opened by around 60% of recipients.
Hardy says the key to all these campaigns’ success is that they keep agents in contact with their customers. “This is vital,” she explains. “Don’t assume they will automatically come back, so give them some TLC and people appreciate the gesture. Be as personal as you can, looking at what they have done previously.”
Trained for the task
Hardy’s expert knowledge has been honed through a career in marketing. After completing an HND in Business and Finance and a Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing Management, she spent 10 years in direct marketing in publishing, and says: “I found I liked direct marketing, as I’m interested in the cycle of setting objectives, implementing a campaign, and then looking at the results and evolving what we do.”
She joined Thomson Holidays in 1999 as a campaign manager, gaining experience in customer acquisition and retention through TV, print and direct mail campaigns.
In 2005 Hardy moved to genealogy website Ancestry.co.uk as UK marketing manager, followed by housing charity Shelter’s direct marketing team, and Advantage in 2011. At Advantage, social media is the next area Hardy is keen to tackle, and she is launching a six-month trial with five members to help them on Facebook and Twitter, focusing on content beyond offers.
As a pre-cursor to the trial, Hardy worked with member Solent World Travel to help the agency use Facebook’s local awareness ads. The ads ensured promotional messages were seen by users nearby, and those who had expressed an interest in cruise. Hardy tips it as an easy service for other agents, explaining: “Being near Southampton’s cruise terminals the agency does a lot of cruise, and this tool helped increase the number of likes they obtained. Look for tools that allow you to be more specific in your advertising.”
Hardy applies the same theory to offline advertising, and encourages agents looking to acquire new customers to focus on postcodes where existing clientele live. She arranges two annual “door-drops”, which 150 branches use to distribute booklets about their business. On average, each branch sends 3,000 booklets per postcode, resulting in 10 new households making bookings.
For keen marketers, Hardy has one final tip: “Make sure you are showcasing your expertise, as that’s why people book with an independent agency.”