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.
Fitzell was speaking during the company’s annual awards ceremony, which this year was of course held online, and attracted more than 150 hoteliers, airline representatives, DMCs and travel agents, who tuned in to hear who had received 11 awards for going “above and beyond during the crisis”.
“This year, we felt we had even more reason to recognise the wonderful partners we work with,” said Fitzell. “We are going through an incredibly challenging time, but with everyone’s hard work and commitment to excellence, I know that we can pull through and recover. We look forward to a successful 2021, working in partnership with our suppliers, where we can safely return to normal and design the most personalised luxury holidays to destinations once again.”
Mainly voted for by the Elegant Resorts team and the operator’s clients, the awards also included the Travel Agents Choice Award, which was given to Forte Village Sardinia “for the way they dealt with the pandemic, striving to ‘be free again’ and coming up with instant testing on arrival” for guests.
Among the other awards, Six Senses Resorts and Spas was voted as having Best Communication 2020, for their “creative, caring and inspirational communication throughout, including the At Home with Six Senses series encouraging the [Elegant Resorts] team to embrace new life skills”.
The Ritz-Carlton Abama, Tenerife picked up the award for Best Covid Innovation 2020 for its “new and innovative villa resort concept” and the great support given to Elegant Resorts to sell the new product.
Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa was picked for Best Webinar, while COMO Hotels & Resorts was hailed as offering the Best Immersive Wellness Content 2020.
Elegant Resorts’ team also picked Emirates for Best Airline Service 2020, saying “not only were they the most helpful this year, but also the first to have a clear and concise Covid-19 policy”.