Latin Routes has used downtime due to the pandemic to reduce its costs and help other agents improve their businesses. Abra Dunsby hears from company director Jess Baines
With travel to Latin America off the menu for most of 2020, specialist operator Latin Routes used the lull in bookings to focus on improving the business, ready for when travel returns.
“We looked at the business as a whole and worked out what was working and wasn’t and where we could improve for the future to come back as a stronger, better company,” explains the operator’s director Jess Dennison.
The period of analysis led Latin Routes to launch various business-improving projects, from investing in a new back-office system that allows the sales team to create and send out quotes quickly and efficiently, to devising new “off-the-shelf” private tours of its most popular destinations, such as Peru, at reduced costs compared to those of 2019.
Dennison also looked at ways of reducing costs for the business, as well as for clients.
“We analysed every single cost going out of the business to look at where we were overspending, from rates to stationery. It gave us a chance to renegotiate and make changes where possible in a time when it’s important to save and condense,” she explains.
As well as making internal changes, Dennison decided to lend support externally by offering business advice to travel agents. She promoted the idea on Facebook group Travel Gossip, with the post resulting in more than 800 likes and 90 comments and Dennison being able to advise nine different agency owners about how to get through the crisis.
“Some agents wanted to use me as a sounding board as they didn’t have anyone else to talk to – for example one business owner asked about a situation she was having with her landlord and wanted advice.”
Other agents sought support on reducing costs. Dennison explains: “As I had been looking at Latin Routes’ costs, I was able to pinpoint some instances where agents were overpaying and we were able to reduce costs.
For example, I thought one agency owner was definitely overpaying for web and IT support – she was running a small agency and was paying similar to what we pay as a much bigger company.”
Dennison was able to put the agent in touch with some of her contacts to discuss working with a new tech supplier. “A lot of it was about connecting people and offering an extra pair of eyes,” she says.
Agents who want to make business changes to get through the crisis and become a success once more should consider two things, says Dennison.
“On the one side, it’s about getting the cost of running your business down to see you through for next six to 12 months, but without cutting out the important things you need to sustain the business, such as marketing, as you still need to be seen.”
She recommends all agencies run a cash flow forecast for 2021, no matter their size. “This is really important, even if there’s only one of you in the business, to ensure running costs are low.”
The other important area to focus on is analysing the product you sell, and your niche, if you have one.
“Look at the destinations and type of holidays that clients are going to be itching to book as soon as consumer confidence returns,” Dennison advises.
After this analysis, it’s important to adapt your business accordingly.
“You may always have done one thing and that may be your niche, but if that’s not a strong market right now, adapt to the market trends to make the most of this period of uncertainty until things return to normal,” she says.
To help agents boost their sales skills and knowledge of selling Latin America, Latin Routes is able to conduct agent training, as well as client webinars that have resulted in sales.
The operator is also releasing a new brochure this month, with pricing available for departures up until the end of 2022.
Its agent site (latinroutes.com/agent) has been revamped with a new-and-improved marketing hub featuring posters to download, social media posts, images, videos and a “How to sell Latin America” guide.
Agents who are seeking business advice from Dennison are encouraged to get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Of her motivations for supporting agents, she says: “We’re all in the same boat and going through difficult times in our own ways – whether that’s personally or in business – and I think kindness goes a long way.”
Helen Parry, director at Arundel Travel in Otley, explains how she cut marketing costs this year without diminishing brand visibility
“As we’re a relatively new company, we worked with a marketing company for the last couple of years that helped us with branding and social media. This did come at a cost however it looked professional, eye catching and played a big part in pushing out our name in town.
“This year and last, like most, we have looked at ways to reduce costs and marketing was high up on the list, but I was aware I needed to get the balance right between doing nothing, and wasting the money that I had spent promoting our shop already versus investing heavily to keep the Arundel Travel name at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I chose to invest heavily – not financially, but with time (I had lots of it!)
“I read everything I could about marketing on Facebook and Instagram, learning the difference between boosting a post and an advert.
“I learnt about branding and why having a brand is so important for recognition, perception and driving new business.
“I then signed up to graphic design platform Canva and spent my evenings reading their top tips, learning how to make eye-catching adverts, window posters and social media posts that shout about our brand.
“I never thought I would be creative enough to do anything like marketing, but I love the outcome! My confidence has grown, I’ve saved a fortune and, most importantly, Arundel Travel is a recognisable brand that’s at the forefront of our customers’ minds when they are ready to start booking again!”