John Bevan and Nick Hughes may be just one month and three days respectively into their new roles as dnata Travel B2B Europe’s chief executive and sales director – tour operations, but they say they have joined the business in a “superb state”.
“The last few weeks have been fantastic,” enthused Bevan, when we met last week for the pair’s first trade interview, at the annual Gold Medal and Travel 2 Awards in Edinburgh.
Hughes said that year-to-date figures across dnata’s B2B brands showed a 9.8% overall growth in revenue and a 13.1% growth in sales of the operators’ luxury products. While passenger numbers are up by 7.1%, the operators are seeing a higher average sales value too.
“We know we’re not only helping our partners increase bookings but actually the value of those bookings,” he asserted.
Travel 2’s Cruise Plus Product is so far up 33.25% year-on-year and seeing particularly strong growth in Asia and Australasia. Hughes said there was also a focus on developing bespoke cruise product on the luxury side.
“From everyone that I’ve met, the overriding commonality is a desire to do even better”
Touring will be another key area for 2018, and Hughes admitted they needed to increase product awareness. He added that work was being done internally on finding “those unique tours” to offer agent partners.
Travel 2’s short-haul luxury product has seen revenue grow 38.27% year-on-year with 11 new destinations added this year including Prague, Bruges and Vienna. Hughes said this was an area in which he hoped his previous experience [at Attraction World] would be beneficial – helping to get the best out of the city-break experience.
Elsewhere, he highlighted destinations that were performing particularly well for each brand.
“This year despite the exchange rate with the US dollar, the Trump effect and Brexit, Florida is performing 24% up for Gold Medal and that’s outperformed the overall Florida market, which has been down by around 10%,” he said, adding that the operator had also seen 23% growth in sales to Dubai.
Travel 2, meanwhile, has seen Singapore trading well with 22% growth in sales, while Thailand is up 16.9%. Hughes also noted a spike in bookings to Brazil, saying it was one to watch going into 2018.
The pair have not hesitated to immerse themselves in the business since joining. On the day of the awards, Hughes was busy meeting the small number of agents in attendance that he did not already know, while Bevan explained how he had spent the past few weeks shadowing a number of departments within both brands.
“Next I want to go out with the sales guys to stores and sit with agents and see how they use our systems,” he added.
While asserting the strength of the business, both Bevan and Hughes insisted there would be “innovation”.
Bevan, who previously worked in B2C positions at lastminute.com, Voyage Prive and more recently Spafinder Wellness, stressed the importance of digital usability for agents, and said there was no longer room for asking whether you “might” go on to mobile.
“If you want to be everywhere and you want to be accepted by all types of customers, you have to deliver it in whatever they consume, it’s not about you driving it,” said Bevan.
He added while he thought agents were probably still fairly deskbound from an online perspective, they would adapt to attract millennials and would use technology that appealed to that market.
“We’ve got to make sure we get that up to speed and I’m hoping with my B2C and e-commerce experience, we can really raise that game fast. Everyone thinks it’s wizardry but it’s not, it's all stuff that’s available. You can convert websites now in no time at all.”
Referencing his B2C background, Bevan said: “In a way, the dotcom thing has shaken the whole travel agency world up and it’s made them step up.
“The really good consortia and good independent agents are phenomenal because they’ve specialised.”
He also referenced the security the operators were able to offer agents, particularly given the landscape surrounding Package Travel Directive reforms due to come into force in July.
“That is going to put pressure on some agents [but] we are in such a good place to help them,” Bevan said. “Buy it from us; it’s all under our Atol, our licences – you don’t have to worry about it. Don’t try to do your own packaging on the side, stay above board – use our licences, use our product.”
Meanwhile, Bevan and Hughes both stressed the team mindset of the group. Hughes added: “From everyone that I’ve met, the overriding commonality is a desire to do even better.” Hughes said he was keen to help the sales team develop and Bevan agreed: “It’s music to my ears hearing how Nick feels about taking people forward – that’s how I’ve always done it.”
In terms of the senior leadership team, Bevan said: “It will be less about individuals — it’s about a team effort. We’ve got to bring everyone forward.”
Hughes said that despite 2017 being a “challenging” year, 350 new agents were now selling Travel 2 or Gold Medal. Yet he was quick to point out there were plenty more agents to attract to the business.
“We can’t rest on our laurels; we have to keep on pushing hard to maintain that status.”
One gap that Bevan is keen to plug is the lack of an e-learning programme for Gold Medal. “It has to be on the agenda,” Hughes said.
He also revealed details of next year’s peaks campaign with Travel 2 planning more than 30 campaigns and incentives between January 1 and March 31, 2018.
It might be early days for dnata’s new trade chiefs, but it is clear they are keen to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in. And with Lisa McAuley joining from Silversea in January, as managing director – tour operations, it seems there are exciting times ahead for both the operators and agents alike.
Gold Medal and Travel 2 recognised 41 agents and agencies at the annual awards, which saw 100 top-performing agents for Travel 2 and Gold Medal in attendance. From left: Doreen Hellens, Broadway Travel; Gayle Foster, HPB Travel Club; Sita Sisangia, Infinity Cruises; Fiona Newby, Andara Travel; and Caralyn Overs, Pure Destinations.