Elegant Resorts’ new managing director has confirmed the operator will place greater emphasis on working with agents in the coming year in her first trade interview since she started in the job.
Lisa Fitzell took the helm at Elegant Resorts on April 9, replacing Michelle Sephton, who stepped down after more than 20 years to “take some time out and rethink her future career aspirations”.
Fitzell’s 30-year career has been international, to say the least. She’s worked in Toronto and Sydney for Goway Travel, in London for Tui specialising in its Australasian product before spending more than five years at STA Travel, also in product development. Most recently, Fitzell’s career took her to Bangkok, where she managed 600 staff across 12 countries for Diethelm Travel.
But Fitzell hails from Preston – previously holding positions at Tailormade Travel and Gold Medal – and speaking to TTG this week, she described a feeling of coming “full circle” when she arrived at Elegant Resorts’ Chester headquarters.
Increasingly specialised tailor-made travel and new quality product will be a key focus for Fitzell, as well as working more closely with the trade. Matt Vlemmiks, Elegant Resorts’ head of product and commercial, told TTG in January 40% of the company’s business was generated by agents.
“We offer lots of trade benefits, including loyalty points,” said Fitzell. “Agents are very different to how they were even five years ago, though – they are specialising more and more too.
“I want us to embrace B2B, but it can’t be a scattergun approach. We have to work with the right people.”
The operator has recently launched Antarctica, with Iceland, Costa Rica, Tanzania and Japan to follow this year. Its growing villa, ski and cruise offering will also be developed by dedicated product teams.
“I like getting under the skin of destinations,” said Fitzell. “In every role, I gravitate towards product. Tailor-made, experiential, luxury bespoke travel is huge now across all destinations. As an industry, we’re getting better at it. That has to be a focus for us.”
However, Fitzell’s immediate focus will be much closer to home.
“I’ve been holding sessions with each department,” she explained. “I’m trying to meet every employee. It’s all about the people, and the numbers follow.
“I’ve worked with leaders who have not listened,” she added. “People must buy into you.
“I thrive on opportunity and challenge. I don’t like being in my comfort zone. Elegant is in a good place. It has a really strong structure, really good people. That was one of the main reasons I decided to come.”
She continued: “It’s a fantastic brand, great at personalisation, on the ground care and after care. Lots of our staff have worked here for more than 10 years too.
“There is so much experience and talent in this company, which shows in our repeat bookings.”
On a personal level, Fitzell explained she would like to stay put “for a long time”.
“It was the right time to bring my daughters [aged 10 and 11] home,” she said. “They’ve had an amazing experience but I’m excited to come back to the UK.”
Elegant Resorts is planning a number of celebrations, events and special offers to celebrate its 30th anniversary year in 2018.