London agency Colletts Travel is to expand its in-house tour operation and launch as a new luxury option for independent agents in the UK. Founder Roy Collett and managing director Neil Robinson share their plans with April Hutchinson
The business has been creating trips as Colletts Collection under its own Atol for many years, but Roy Collett, founder and brand ambassador of Colletts Travel, said the time was right to make its range of luxury holidays and experiential trips available to a wider community of other agents.
Colletts sits within the Global Travel Collection (GTC) family of premium brands in the UK as part of Internova Travel Group, and the inaugural B2B offering of an in-house tour operation has been trialled with sister GTC brands such as agency networks Protravel and Tzell, as well as Altour, another Internova business.
“As a rule, those networks of ICs [independent contractors] would usually focus on corporate travel or specialize in the entertainment sector, but have not necessarily taken care of leisure for those clients – now they are able to use us as a trusted operator; in fact they’re realising what a good tour operator has to offer,” said Collett.
In its second phase, the division will launch to the entire Internova Travel Group, potentially providing itineraries to 65,000 travel advisors globally.
Collett and Colletts Travel managing director Neil Robinson will lead the new division from the agency’s headquarters in Hendon, London.
“This recent experience of providing tour operations to those sister brands has given us a very strong grounding and great feedback and we’ve demonstrated we’re able to deliver an incredibly high level of service for a really demanding clientele,” said Robinson. “The ICs that we’ve been working with want the absolute best in class service and we know that the devil is in the detail, especially in five-star luxury. We weren’t entitled to that business just because we were internal, we had to earn their trust.
“This, combined with Roy’s and my own personal experience as agents and the incredible contacts and product insight of Colletts Collection, makes us believe we can now offer something other luxury agents will be looking for. We know trust and flexibility will also be key.”
Collett said the move to B2B tour operation was a natural evolution for the business, one which had been creating bespoke itineraries for its own clients for over 35 years.
“We’ve always specialized in luxury holidays as Colletts Travel and had our own contracts with hotels and DMCs for a tour operation, but since we became part of GTC in 2017, we’ve realised how much more we could do with all these fantastic contracts and connections,” said Collett. “The relationships we have with destination partners and DMCs gives our clients unfiltered access to some of the most sought-after experiences in destinations all across the world, and now we’re able to bring that exceptional value and unrivalled earning opportunity to other luxury agents.”
Robinson said Colletts Collection would be available for the wider community of luxury agents from late August, with an updated website due to launch in the coming weeks.
“The site will be the shop window to what we offer, but ultimately, this is about personal contact with our team and agents to build holidays together for their clients,” added Collett.
“We want our experienced staff to be able to sell the knowledge they have, and taking this to a wider audience was the next natural step, particularly maybe the homeworking agents that have got a similar set-up to the ICs we already have within our networks,” said Robinson. “I know a few agents have had some bad experiences with tour operators in the last year with refunds for example too, but we are in a sound position and will be there to support them as and when travel picks up.”
Collett said that while he appreciated there were existing luxury tour operators in the market, a combination of factors would support their growth.
“I believe we have a good reputation in the industry and we have very good connections with hotels worldwide, as well as through being a member of Virtuoso and Select – I can’t think there’s a hotel out there where we haven’t got a connection or relationship and that’s what we can share,” he said.
Robinson added agents would be able to benefit from a flexible commission structure, details of which would be revealed in the coming weeks.
“We want to allow agents to sell the price they feel comfortable with to their clients, and added to that, we feel we have some industry leading contracts, some of which are virtually exclusive and of course we will supplement that with tour operator airfares, so it’s going to allow everyone involved to be as profitable as possible,” he said.
Robinson said they would run initial webinars to share the Colletts Collection proposition with interested agents.
“We already have some contacts and ideas of who we would like to work with and will spread the word through social media and other channels, and we do have a couple of strategies that are allowing us to focus on our cost protectively in these early stages,” said Robinson, adding that agents would be able to white label much of the product too.
“During the pandemic and being part of this huge family of businesses we’ve been able to invest in a whole new telephone system, we’ve moved all of our critical IT infrastructure to a highly secure cloud-based system and invested in other new technology such as itinerary provision to clients,” he said. “We’ve thought about where we want to be as we come out of this situation and put ourselves in a position to be able to support agents on a B2B level.”
Collett added the Hendon store and office had also been completely refurbished. “As we were doing all this we realized what a sleeping giant we had in a way, so much information and experience and amazing contracts we could share with other agents.”
The Colletts Travel leisure sales team numbers five currently, with nine in Colletts Collection servicing the tour operator activity, and Robinson said they would look to increase both elements “as the market comes back and stabilizes”. He added he could also see expansion in the number of ICs joining Colletts Travel generally.
“Our business model is growing independent leisure advisors who want to join us and who’ve got the right clients to fit under the Colletts banner, and as demand grows for Colletts Collection, we want a strong team of experienced luxury tour operators to support agents,” said Robinson.
Collett said most bookings at the moment were last minute, as clients reacted to changes in restrictions. “Booking patterns have changed dramatically of course; in the last few weeks, everything has been ‘we want to go next week or the week after’, so we’re presented with a new challenge to what we were six months ago – now it’s about being able to service them via availability at hotels. That’s why, with the number of contracts that we have and allocations at hotels we’re able to support that kind of business.”
Robinson added people were now very cautious in “how and what they want to book”, particularly at the moment. “They don’t want to go too far, really only looking at a four- or five-hour flight maximum really, and outside of that, it’s looking quite limited for the next few months. Towards the end of the year, things are changing, but for now, the Greek islands are strong, and also Spain. I think that when the US opens up, there’s going be a release of huge pent-up demand, especially with families to Florida,” he said, adding people were also prepared to spend more than they would’ve done before, “because they’ve been locked away”.
“We’re also seeing a lot of cruise business into 2022 and 2023, so we do believe cruise is going to come back particularly strong in the next year to 18 months,” said Robinson.
Agents can find out more about Colletts Collection via the website.