Carrier is to take a group of luxury agents to The Ritz-Carlton Abama resort in Tenerife as a thank you and “re-set” trip in readiness for peaks in January.
Head of sales Rick Milne said the trip would be for agents who had had the highest levels of engagement with the operator throughout the pandemic.
“These are the agents who have had the most to take care of for their clients via Carrier; this is our way of giving something back to them and really trying to give them a trip that revives them a little bit in January,” Milne said.
All flights and accommodation would be covered for the trip, which will be led by a senior member of the Carrier team along with some of the reservations team who have had to work equally hard over the most testing of times, Milne said.
“We also hope the trip will reinvigorate people’s love of travel and help us all remember what it’s like!” he added. “There’s no big agenda; it’s a thank you.”
He said that while Carrier had been running a Preferred Partner programme for its top agents for many years, how that looks going into 2021 was also having to change, and would inevitably be different and adaptable.
“We can’t set targets and overrides on something when we just don’t know what the market is going to look like, and it’s very unclear what will happen more broadly speaking when it comes to events and educationals for example, all of which we would previously have offered agents,” said Milne.
“Luckily, we have a ‘supper club’, which steers us in what luxury agents really need and want; we tapped into them for all these decisions, and they are aligned with these ideas for now, and we will continue checking in with them.”
Pre-Covid days, a select number of its top VIP agents were selected by Carrier to meet up for dinner and discussion, but have recently only done so virtually.
“They gave us feedback on their needs for January,” said Milne. “And during supper club – as always – the aim was to give a genuine understanding of where we are in the business, what we know about the market and from our own experiences, and to facilitate a helpful community conversation.”
He said for now, the focus was on ensuring the right level of operational resources were in place, reassurance of support for agents during peaks, and offering marketing assistance during that period, which would be focused on destination-led, digital-first collateral.
“Peaks is a huge priority for us. We have created a ready-made, easy-to-use marketing campaign for agents; it’s an extension of how we would do things as a business and we know this is something they will really appreciate,” Milne said. “Given the good will we feel towards us based on how we have operated during the crisis, we feel Carrier has a huge opportunity we can maximise.”
Carrier also continues to produce The Paper, its own in-house journal – the most recent edition of which had a wellbeing focus, and has been sent out to key agents, who can also use the content for their own client communications.
Milne added there had been a “huge spike” and increase in sales during the last week in November, as some degree of consumer certainty resumed.
“We know various destinations and types of agent business will rebound at different times, but we feel like that week [last one in November] was really busy, with people booking short lead time departures to places with open travel corridors, such as Dubai, the Maldives and Caribbean; around 60% of the new bookings [made in this bumper period] were for 2020 departures.”
He said the operator had all its reservations team that were currently available to do so back and working to help with demand.
“We thought we might need to start bringing more people [from flexi-furlough] back for peaks but demand shows we need people now, so everyone who can work at the moment is doing so.”
Average booking value is also getting healthier, given pent-up demand as people look to trade up on the experience to make up for lost time; take extended family away for Christmas; and also realise that pressure on capacity is currently putting prices up.
“We are seeing bookings coming in around £40,000 on average – probably due to a combination of all those factors working together,” Milne said, adding the operator had finally started to see business return to £1-million-a-week levels.
Carrier has also taken on many new agents during the pandemic crisis, who Milne said have made their way to the operator based on reputation of how it had coped with the situation and supported the trade.
“Our supper club agents told us clear communications throughout the crisis, and our flexibility, had been some of the reasons why they’d felt supported and confident to work with us – and we think that’s also why new agents are now coming to us too,” he said.
Carrier is also looking at how it can support agents outside of traditional hours, trialing various ideas in December.
“Things are changing – there are many more homeworkers now, and if we can help someone get a booking over the line, whether it’s confirming seats or suites in order to secure it for agents ‘after hours’, then we are looking at a way to be able to do that,” he suggested.
He also warned however that “conversion was still low”.
“In a way, it’s up to the agent to decide if they want to put the legwork in – we know ourselves that conversion is still really difficult, so you just have to take a position on whether you put the work in, and expect that things still might not come over the line, as there are of course still a lot of uncertainties in clients’ minds,” he said.
He added the caveat that it was also not a rosy picture for everyone: “It all depends on your business; maybe if you have an older clientele it might take longer [for business to return]; equally, if you rely heavily only on shop footfall; or perhaps have a weighted focus on those more intrepid destinations – all of that may mean things are a bit slower to come back.”