Gold Medal and Travel 2 chiefs say they have “taken the best of both brands” in merging the two.
Nick Hughes, dnata’s sales director, tour operations, B2B Europe, and Kerry Gallagher, marketing director, took TTG through changes to the operators during the transition period and beyond.
Gold Medal and Travel 2 will combine to operate under the single brand entity of Gold Medal, with the sub-brands Pure Luxury, Cruise Plus and Incredible Journeys also retained, with new logos.
There is no date set for the switchover and the pair said it was business as usual for now. Agents will be kept updated as things progress, with the merger due to be completed by the end of the year and a new website launched pre-Christmas.
Gallagher said: “We’ve rewritten our brand essence, which is very simply championing travel agents… they are the biggest part of our brand puzzle.”
“In the past the brands have looked quite different… but emerging from this crisis stronger, there's some real strength to be had in unity and making it really clear to agents that we are part of the same brand family,” said Gallagher.
“Whilst the Gold Medal name remains above the door, there is a lot from both brands that we want to keep and take forward.
“While call centres and marketing departments were separate, there was a lot of product crossover anyway. It’s about ensuring that we've retained the best talent across both brands to move forward within the new world.
“We've got more than 30 homeworking roles now, and that would have traditionally been in the T2 call centre.
“We understand that agents have a really strong affinity to both brands or one brand. But people are at the heart.
Hughes said: “For T2 fans, the likelihood is that they will still be speaking to the same person on phone, but ultimately they will be using in a different back office within a different name on the logo potentially, but the service element will be consistent, and the knowledge and that relationship will be consistent.”
Gallagher added no product would be lost. “We'll still continue to offer all the same long-haul destinations, cruise product, luxury product, tailor-made, complex itineraries, all of that,” she said.
Gallagher added that even the T2 hold music was considered and will be retained, due to its popularity.
She said the sub-brands would get their “equal and fair share of voice”. “There's a big piece of work that we need to do in terms of introducing that brand family and making sure every agent understands what they can gain from working with us.”
Straplines have been introduced for the brands, “to leave agents in absolutely no doubt about what each brand does”.
GM’s is “tailor-made worldwide holidays”, Pure Luxury’s “five-star worldwide holidays”; and Incredible Journeys’ “more than just a holiday”.
“There’s a level of responsibility of taking these very much-loved brands and almost reinventing them a little bit,” said Gallagher, with Hughes describing the amount of work that is going in to the merger as “gargantuan”.
Hughes said he had retained the “vast majority” of the sales team, with key account managers now known as trade partnership managers, and job descriptions updated.
“The majority” had been on furlough since the 1 April, due to return on 1 November, with 10 trade partnership managers returning (down from 13 pre-Covid).
“I am confident we've still got a good size team to enable us to face the new world,” said Hughes.
“We need the right people in place to take the information from the marketing team, put that agents’ hands and help them get those offers out, help them communicate with our customers.
“I think we truly appreciate the value that those fields sales team members bring.
“We have to make sure that we have meaningful activity.”
He said an induction plan was being devised for returning sales staff to help them be more strategic and understand their new contacts and how their businesses may have changed.
“Even in the space of the last four weeks we've had four of our key miniples either go out of business or under go mergers,” said Hughes.
“A number of agents have now got secondary jobs.
“We have to speak to each individual key account and each partner and ask them what they truly want, how and what they’re selling, which will evolve,” said Hughes.
“Some, we know, don't want any operators coming through the doors at the moment, some do.
“This has all allowed us to reset our internal KPIs. This will be some of the same personnel, but they will be approaching it in a different manner.”
Gallagher said: “We will need to look at doing a bit more with technology as well. While the trade partnership managers might not be able to go and sit in front of an agent in their store, we can do a lot more virtual get-togethers, and that's something me and my team have been working on in the background so we're ready.”
She added marketing would become more bespoke too, with some agents not wanting to receive offers yet, and others requesting them.
“We don't know what peaks is going to be like… but for now I'm absolutely planning on having a raft of activity so if agents want it, it's ready and waiting for them.”
All activity at the moment is for travel from April onwards. “Engagement rates are actually still really good,” added Gallagher. From an e-shot point of view, we're still getting between 38-40% open rates, which is actually above average.
“Some of the messaging may have changed – we talk now more about safety measures.
“We're continually assessing to make sure we’re giving agents the right kind of activity for them to be able to share with their customers.
“As the information changes, we'll be ready and trying to capitalize on every opportunity to support agents to get what businesses is out there.
“The product team keep incredibly close to all of our suppliers in-destination, picking up and any news on the ground.”
It is in fact the T2 website that is being retained and developed for the refresh with GM branding, as it has better functionality, but again, strong GM elements such as the agent's tool section will be kept, creating a “super website”.
“A key element for the trade partnership managers will be taking their partners through the new website and then making sure their teams are comfortable and understand it.”
There will be some other enhancements in terms of the way that agents can manage their bookings and the quotes that they can produce from the website. “So there will be better content and a better journey,” said Gallagher.