Audley Travel is starting to see the rewards of last year’s strategy change to work with agents.
Previously focused on a direct-sell model, Audley took on Greg Thurston in January 2020 with an agency sales remit, and despite something of a pause last year, the operator is now seeing a positive uptick in trade business.
Thurston said there was a “lot of positive feeling in the market” from agents, who are even driving up average booking value, with Audley experiencing a “pretty phenomenal March”.
“There are some great high-end, high-value bookings coming in via agents, to the extent that average booking value from them is twice what it is from our direct customers,” he said. “We’ve had some incredible bookings from agents, including some unusual ones for Antarctica, and a £100,000 luxury trip to the US.”
Audley, which now has offices in Boston, London and Witney in Oxfordshire, is now seeing agents contribute to 9% of overall sales, versus less than 2% when Thurston initially joined.
“Granted, we’re only a few months into the year, but it’s looking very positive,” he said. “We had been doing a fair bit already to let agents know we wanted to work with them, but hadn’t really managed to get the plan fully into fruition because of Covid, so to see this level of interest already has been great, and there are still so many things we want to do.”
He said agents seemed to value Audley’s reputation, expertise and the level of flexibility it offers. “Audley Travel is a really well-known brand, and agents may even have had clients who booked directly with us, so all this is giving them the confidence to recommend us to their high-value clients,” Thurston said.
The operator’s in-house sales team has been trained in how to work with agents and service their requirements.
“It’s about being receptive to the agents’ ideas on what the client might want, so it’s been really good to see that collaboration between our teams and agents to get a booking over the line,” he said. “We decided not to have a specific agency sales team as such, as it’s that really specialist destination knowledge of each of our people that is really appreciated.”
Successful ideas so far have included digital marketing assets such as the Adventures & Escapes e-brochure and other agent-friendly tools.
“We worked with a number of partners to allow offer a white-label version of that brochure, and other agents could use a trade version with Audley’s usual contacts removed,” Thurston explained. “We hope this was seen as one of the many signs we were keen to work collaboratively with the trade.”
Audley’s trade Facebook group is also picking up pace, and Thurston said he would be keen to see that grow so agents can access news, imagery and assets, which have all already been “warmly received”.
Virtual training has also been facilitated on a one-to-one basis, and a monthly series of destination webinars with Audley specialists showcasing their take on a country is also set to launch, starting from April and including places such as Australia.
“Even if it’s a fairly mainstream destination, we want to showcase the kind of experiences, accommodation and out of the ordinary things we would offer at Audley,” Thurston said.
Across the board at Audley, places such as US, Canada, Japan, Costa Rica and Italy are proving to be most popular generally, but Audley has also been expanding its Europe product, adding 11 options last summer, from Netherlands to Ireland, and more recently, Cyprus, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
“Italy, Greece and Scandinavia have been doing well, and it’s great for agents to know we do offer these shorter haul options,” he added.
The operator also marks its 25th anniversary this year and hopes to mark the occasion with agents later this year.
“Many people might not realise we’re 25, we started obviously as a south-east Asia specialist and have grown so much, especially in the last few years, so we will be doing various things – hopefully there will be activity for trade around this later in the year,” said Thurston.
“In the mean time, we have a new 25 Moments in Travel digital booklet which agents can share with their clients, picking out really special experiences in places we have been featuring for a while, such as having tea with Berbers in Morocco, or bear watching in Canada," he said. “It’s not offer-led, it’s about inspiring clients so it’s great for agents, as it’s not about them having to do a hard sell on something, it’s just to give ideas.”