Elegant Resorts and If Only are working towards greater integration since the acquisition of the trade-only operator by Portman Travel Group last year.
Managing director Lisa Fitzell said the two brands would maintain their distinct audience and strategy, while also now helping ensure the company’s overall goal “to be the strongest player in the luxury space”.
She added that “lots had been going on behind the scenes” during months of lockdown and pauses in travel.
“We are working ever closer with If Only after a year of purchasing the business; the two brands are very different, but we will share back-office operations and work on one platform from March, which will be much more beneficial for both companies,” she said, adding that Elegant Resorts would remain focused on its “top of the market B-C, with some agent business” approach, while If Only would maintain its agent-only philosophy offering a wider breadth of product.
Fitzell added there was a big opportunity around the corner once people started to get on the move again.
“Our customers want to book with an operator more than ever, so there is lots of opportunity and we want to maximise that for the future,” she said.
The company was becoming very agile and able to “act at pace”, she said. “We’re all operating like ‘start-ups’ and that’s so much more beneficial.”
Elegant Resorts started 2020 with a head of steam, 20% up year-on-year, but has since had to make £5 million in refunds, yet had also managed to maintain 65% of customers’ amended bookings, Fitzell said.
The Elegant Price Promise gave a “book with confidence badge” that was helping keep customers onboard she said, with a focus on low deposits, easy refunds and price-matching on changed bookings. “We tried to think of every element of the customer journey and give as much confidence as possible,” Fitzell said.
She said the operator’s focus on domestic travel would also be retained for 2021. “We definitely made some decent bookings from the UK & Ireland product we launched following increased demand from clients, and we will look to keep that going forward as a great ‘topper-upper’,” she said.
Elegant Resorts will also continue looking at adding in more villa product for next year. “Next year we will keep expanding our villas, especially in the Caribbean,” she said.
Fitzell added though that it seemed impossible to think about planning a whole year of marketing in such volatile conditions, and said “moving to quarterly marketing plans” was the most practical option.
“There will be peaks activity, along with quick tactical marketing focused on beach and tailor-made in the second half of the year,” she said. “Throughout this whole period though, we have not compromised our marketing and communications.”
Online events for “top agents” would also be coming via Elegant’s head of agency sales Jon Hardcastle in the next couple of weeks, she said, with agents also able to make use of a new portal for training and white-label marketing material soon.
“It’s the next stage of our development to make things easier for agents and a key part of accelerating Jon’s successful strategy on identifying top agent partners,” she added.
Working more with high-profile sports stars could also be a possibility for Elegant, thanks to affinity partnerships via Clarity Sports – part of sister brand Clarity Travel Management – which is the official business travel partner for several top clubs such as Tottenham and Chelsea.