Last year saw Kuoni consolidate its partner store network, relaunch its Worldwide College and try some new experiential marketing initiatives. National sales manager Brad Bennetts tells Abigail Healy about the successes of last year and what agents can expect in 2018.
It’s been a really successful year with our partner stores,” says Brad Bennetts, Kuoni’s national sales manager. By the close of 2017 sales for the 10 partner stores were 15% up year-on-year.
“Our strategy is to bring them closer into the fold and make them an extension of our retail network,” Bennetts explains.
And it’s not just talk. Nine partner store managers joined the company’s retail conference in Manchester in December and a number attended the overseas conference in the Maldives in June. Partner store owners were also taken to Italy in October to share success stories and discuss future plans and strategies.
Bennetts says that partner stores are supplied with the same point-of-sale materials as Kuoni’s own retail stores and that marketing director Dean Harvey goes out visiting them, making sure they are fully equipped with everything they need.
“It’s the closest we have ever worked with them,” Bennetts adds.
Looking ahead he says the past year has been about “consolidating” but they are in a “good position to start 2018”. However, he also asserts that there will never be as many as 40-50 partner stores, adding: “That’s not the strategy.”
Instead Kuoni wants to work with “like-minded agencies” and the company is keen to look at those in locations where it wouldn’t open its own store.
“Where an opportunity opens on that front, we have to consider it,” Bennetts asserts.
One such agency with a similar mindset is Travelmaker in Jersey. Having moved from a pod-location in a department store, the agency reopened in a new high street location in St Helier and Kuoni jumped at the chance to be involved with the new store. It opened in November and Bennetts says it is the most closely aligned partner store in terms of look and feel to Kuoni’s own shops.
Kuoni’s trade sales team is now at its biggest in recent years following the appointment of Amy Clark, an ex-Kuoni retail manager, as the key account executive for the Midlands at the start of 2017. Bennetts asserts that now that the team is geographically split “agents have far more local support”. He highlights why having a comprehensive team on the road is so important for Kuoni.
“The team is 100% about building relationships and making sure Kuoni is front of mind for agents. It’s a well-known, reputable brand but we focus on making it personable and approachable with independent agents.”
One way that this vision has been successful over the past year is via Kuoni’s Worldwide College, a series of events involving interactive workshops that relaunched last summer following agent demand.
“It was really successful and is definitely on the cards again for 2018, we are just fine-tuning the details,” Bennetts reveals.
Last year’s Worldwide College events also included the chance for participating agents to win a place on one of Kuoni’s fam trips.
Bennetts says that 2017 saw five dedicated fam trips last year. These included: Sri Lanka; Singapore and Bali; Mauritius; and two to the Maldives.
“Following our strategy of being personal, we take small groups on trips and these are all about experiencing the destination rather than lots of site inspections.”
Bennetts adds that following one of the Mauritius trips, three of the agents who attended made bookings to the destination within a week
“It’s great to see that immediate ROI,” he says.
Another development for 2018 is new investment from a technology perspective that will see Kuoni helping agents to make their quotes more inspirational. It allows them to create a personalised mini brochure for each client where they can include imagery and details from conversations they have had with them.
“It’s all about giving agents more tools and making them look good in front of their clients,” says Bennetts.
Bennetts says that of the 12 conferences the team attended last year, around half of them saw Kuoni do something to ensure it was front of mind with agents. For example, taking headline sponsorship of the Advantage conference.
However, he is keen to point out that Kuoni’s attention is just as focused on individual agencies too.
“We’ve worked on lots of mini-campaigns with individual agencies, such as one that has just launched where we are working with the agent on marketing to help drive customers into their store.”
Last year also saw the team run events with five tourist boards and a hotel group where they hosted agent dinners. Bennetts says this was another successful initiative that the team plans to run again this year. He adds that Kuoni also co-hosted two client events with Midcounties in Gloucester and TravelLab in Frodsham with Simon Reeve as the guest speaker.
“Each event had 100-120 clients in attendance,” says Bennetts.
He also reveals that Kuoni has signed up new talent for 2018 “in a similar vein” to Reeve, and that it will be looking to involve its partner stores in its plans.
Another successful initiative last year was a pop-up stand at BBC Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace in August. It found the TV show’s audience was extremely well aligned to Kuoni’s customers and there are plans to return this year with a chance for agents to get involved too.
More imminently, though, it’s Kuoni’s turn-of-year campaign that is stealing the limelight with a campaign that offers agents the chance to win a fam trip place every day in January as well as cash prizes for top sellers and Love2shop vouchers. It has also raised commission to 0.5% on all bookings.
It’s an enticing start to the new year and it sounds as though Kuoni has plenty of plans to keep the momentum going as 2018 plays out.