Not an ideal scenario for any new managing director. But rather than wait until Rick Milne returned to find out more about Carrier’s best agents, Duguid – who joined the company in April after eight years with Kuoni – decided to get on the road and go and meet many of them anyway.
“Rick and I literally chatted in his driveway as he gave me the keys to his company car for me to use. But I’m so pleased I got out there,” says Duguid.
He went to four agent events in his first week and a similar schedule continued – including a trip to Sicily with 10 of Carrier’s best agents and their partners. “I used every opportunity to hear why they choose to put their business with us – it was the perfect induction for me, a complete immersion. Time after time, the reason came back as ‘service’,” he says.
Our trade messaging to date has been very tentative – I’m looking at a new approach in how we market to, and in conjunction with, the trade"
“And I learned about their businesses, of course. I have been overwhelmed by how impressive the agents in the luxury sector are – the quality of their businesses, their reputation and exclusive client database. I have so much respect for them. “We also had feedback about how critical those relationships are between agents and our team,” he says.
“And trust, of course, is key – without that, there is no way they would book their clients with us... their very demanding clients, I might add – just how demanding they are has been my other big surprise.”
Duguid eschewed the previous managing director’s private office and moved to sit out with everyone else. He also sat with the teams at Carrier’s head office in Cheadle to listen in on how far they go for customers, without batting an eyelid or ever questioning it. “Agents need an operator who isn’t just willing, but relishes that challenge,” he says.
Now, having absorbed agents’ opinions and Carrier’s staff ethos, he believes the company should be shouting even louder about its service levels. “We need to be more confident in that. Our trade messaging to date has been very tentative – I’m looking at a new approach in how we market to, and in conjunction with, the trade,” he says.
“We’ve been focused on product and price before. But price should never be key when talking about a luxury holiday.” Carrier may have its list of top agencies now, but Duguid believes there are more to be discovered, including those working away from the high street, at home, from their kitchen tables. But there are no moves to expand the agency sales team just yet – more a case of tweaking how they can effectively service agents, Duguid says.
Alongside Milne, there are two sales executives in the south – Georgia Bowhay and Sally Willmer – as well as Raj Mistry, business development manager, who covers the south-west, Midlands, north and Scotland and is about to take three agents and their families on a fam trip to Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai. Given that Carrier is a sister company to Kuoni under the Der Touristik umbrella, it seems obvious to ask whether Duguid would expect that brand’s retail stores to sell more of his holidays.
“We’re hoping to gain sales through all agent channels,” he says enigmatically. “But yes, with 50 stores they’re a key partner for us.” It seems the company’s imminent round of brochure launches is also a chance to send a rallying call to any new agents. An event for around 20 key agents is planned for September 12 at the company’s head office in Cheadle, followed by dinner, but Duguid adds that he is keen to hear from any other interested agents, urging them to contact the operator (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
As usual, there will be overbranding opportunities for brochures (for which agents make a financial contribution), but he says he would like to see that grow, and for overbranded digital collateral there will be no cost to agents. Meanwhile, Carrier’s annual agent awards event is planned for the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane on November 15.
Losing the ‘lifestyle look’
One major change Duguid has implemented, though, is in the area of brochure design and imagery, with Carrier set to drop the “lifestyle look and feel” it has had for a decade or so. “That kind of lifestyle photography certainly made Carrier very distinctive, but they’ve served their time now – my intention is to retire the ‘pretty ladies’ if you like, and showcase our wide range of destinations and holidays again,” he explains.
“I also felt that the imagery didn’t translate digitally. Agents agreed with the need to change too – we asked them in a focus group before we went ahead. All our staff have bought into it as well – I think everyone was ready to progress.” The first new-look brochure was Ski, launched “under the radar” in June, with the rest making their debut in September, but over the summer some key agents will also get a sneak preview.
"Last year’s business was absolutely impacted by the referendum – it’s so clear to see that now, with our particular client base perhaps impacted more than others. So I’m happy to report we’re up on last year."
“This new look for the brochures is the first step in reworking our proposition and you can expect to see a fresh new look across the brand by peaks,” he says. Another area he sees potential for growth is cruising. “I think it’s hidden that we even do any cruise at the moment. I’m not convinced agents are aware of it,” he laughs.
“The cruise lines are keen to make sure customers have a good pre and post-stay programme, so we can package all that together, making the whole thing more seamless.” Business booked through the trade is running at around 80%, says Duguid, who adds that trading has been “incredibly strong”, but he admits with a smile that he can’t take all the glory for that.
“Last year’s business was absolutely impacted by the referendum – it’s so clear to see that now, with our particular client base perhaps impacted more than others,” he says. “So I’m happy to report we’re up on last year. We’ve been trading very positively, even throughout the general election period.”
As for Duguid, his own holidays are perhaps simpler than some of those featured by Carrier – in particular, Greek island-hopping. “When I’m holiday, I don’t necessarily want to be in a luxury hotel because you inevitably think about work,” he says. “€100-a-night studio, close to the beach with a taverna down the street; there’s nothing better for me.”