Since Brad Bennetts joined Kuoni in April 2016 as national sales manager, the company’s trade team has gone from strength to strength, recently bolstering its on the road staff with the addition of a key account executive for the north and Scotland, Robin Griffiths.
Furthermore, Bennetts is currently interviewing candidates for a role with a focus on the Midlands, which when filled, will mean Kuoni will have the biggest trade relations team in years.
Bennetts explains the reasons behind the expansion: “We have realised the importance of having people out on the road. With our approach being heavily relationship-based, the best way forward is having more localised reps.”
The team is already reaping the rewards of having a larger presence – Griffiths’s remit also includes Northern Ireland, which has been performing well since he joined, with more agents coming onboard who may not have sold Kuoni previously.
The company now has 10 partner stores throughout the UK, in which the Kuoni brand has been incorporated, with added benefits for independent agencies such as training and marketing support.
But how does the Kuoni trade team actually convince an independent agency to enter into a partnership? Bennetts explains the key messages conveyed during a store visit.
“We let agents know that we are a well-established and respected brand with excellent end-to-end service. We pay competitive commissions on the whole package too, not just piecing out airline taxes for example.”
Additional benefits of entering into a partnership with Kuoni include access to the company’s Partner Service Hub, which partner stores and key accounts can call to request assistance from Kuoni’s personal travel experts.
“We have utilised the wealth of knowledge that we had with our retail team taking trade calls. There is more than 130 years of experience between the staff here. Their knowledge, expertise and attention to detail are second to none,” Bennetts says.
It certainly seems like working with the big boys has paid off for agencies already onboard.]
“Our partner stores are doing really well. I was speaking to an agency recently and their sales were 80% up year-to-date – they are really storming ahead. Another store is 56% up, one is 42% up and we have a store with sales up 21%,” explains Bennetts.
Becoming a partner store isn’t without its prerequisites; Kuoni is looking for an agency with similar business ethics who will represent the brand accordingly.
“They will remain as independent agents at the end of the day and can sell whoever and whatever they want,” he adds.
For Bennetts, building trust with agents is key and the team has done well to foster healthy relationships with Kuoni’s partner stores. Bennetts and Griffiths regularly run client events with key agents as well as inviting consultants to Kuoni’s retail managers’ conference.
“It’s all about being flexible – Kuoni hasn’t been viewed as flexible in the past and that is a perception that we are changing. Working with independent agents is all about understanding their business and working around their concerns.”
An example of when this ideology has been put into practice is in Hertfordshire, when Kuoni opened a store close to an independent travel agent. An initially frosty relationship was turned around by Bennetts, and now both stores co-exist peacefully.
“The agency thought we would steal their clientele, and since the shops were relatively close to each other, they were quite upset about that. Over time they realised that it was massively benefiting them having a strong-branded store nearby.
“As well as our price parity message there is no way our retail stores can get hold of the client’s details – we don’t ask for them so there isn’t any risk of clients being stolen. Our average discount is below 0.5% too – we are not in the discounting game.”
Although building trust with the high street stores is important – maintaining relationships with homeworkers is high on the agenda for Bennetts too. Nationwide dinners and training events help ensure that a dialogue is kept up with more isolated consultants. The Travel Counsellors Conference in particular presents a great opportunity for the team to engage one-to-one with homeworkers.
Measuring agent feedback is important too, Bennetts explains, with the team “hot” on their net promoter scores.
“The basic principle is that if we make the travel agent look good, and we do that through our product service and expertise, a healthy relationship will form. Of course the trade team and I are available 24/7 to listen to any feedback or
address any issues too.”
Bennetts has plenty of exciting news for 2017, including Kuoni’s upcoming events in April and May with author and television presenter, Simon Reeve.
“We are going to be doing two events with the trade this year, which is really exciting – Simon is such a well-known face in travel. The events will be hosted by two travel agencies that we choose who can invite their clients along. One will be a partner store and the other will be an agency that we feel will benefit the most.”
From a product point of view, Kuoni is offering a revamped touring programme which Bennetts says shouldn’t be missed.
“Travel agents really like the fact that the tours have guaranteed departures for 2017; it gives them peace of mind when selling our product. We offer the best in class of accommodation and it’s a really trade-friendly product.”
As headline sponsor for the TTG Top 50 Travel Agencies 2017, Bennetts is proud of the positive message Kuoni is sending out.
“It gets a clear message out to the top members of the trade; that we are here to support them, that we are behind them and we want to work with them. We thought it was a key opportunity to be visible as a brand that actively wants to work with and promote the trade.”