Deben Travel boss catches up with TTG after being named UK & Ireland’s No.1 Agency during Top 50 2020.
Lee Hunt is sat behind his desk at Deben Travel. It’s 9 January 2012; his credit cards are maxed, his car sold and he has no idea what to do if things don’t work out. He’s just hoping someone comes in and books a holiday.
A little more than eight years after opening its doors, Hunt’s Woodbridge-based independent was named the UK & Ireland’s No.1 Agency in the TTG Top 50 Travel Agencies 2020 during a virtual ceremony held earlier this month.
“We’re over the moon,” said Hunt, who tuned into the ceremony while taking a post-work stroll on a beach not far from his base. “After the announcement, we held our own team call and raised a glass. If ever we needed a boost, it’s now. It’s the best thing that could’ve happened.”
Hunt joined TTG group editor Pippa Jacks for his debut One Week At A Time Facebook Live appearance last week, taking over from Claire Moore – managing director of UK & Ireland’s No.1 Agency 2019 Peakes Travel Elite.
After months of frustration due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Hunt described how the TTG Top 50 success had offered a welcome PR boost, following recent appearances on BBC Radio Suffolk’s breakfast and lunchtime shows. “It’s something our clients will certainly listen to, and to get our name out there to those who don’t book with us.”
Hunt said he’d used the broadcasts to help consumers understand industry issues, as well as extolling the benefits of booking through an independent agent amid the constant uncertainty of Covid-19.
“We don’t hide behind a big corporate brand or a call centre,” he said. “Our town is relatively small - so people talk if you give bad service and it won’t be long until that word spreads.”
Hunt said he believed Deben Travel had “done as much as we can”, and even paid customers their refunds early using cash from its government Bounce Back Loan. “It’s a risk,” he admitted. “But it’s one I’m prepared to take for the future of my business and the type of service we deliver."
“If that means we have to wait until, in some cases, March next year to cash a refund credit note, I see that as a risk worth taking.”
His One Week At A Time appearance gave Hunt a chance to reflect on his travel career so far and the beginnings of Deben Travel.
Joining Lunn Poly’s YTS scheme at 16, and via a season in Austria as a ski rep, he worked his way through the ranks at Thomas Cook to become a regional manager.
Leaving it all behind to look after Boots’ London stores, the lure of travel pulled him back – striking out on his own to found Deben Travel. “I missed travel – it does hook you in,” he said.
After reuniting with former Lunn Poly colleagues the agency took off, making bookings on its first day and never looking back. “Within those first two years of opening, we managed to clear all the debt I had built up,” recalled Hunt.
Now with its own dedicated cruise shop called Cruise Ready and an established team, Hunt said he was most looking forward to sharing Deben Travel’s Top 50 triumph with his staff and clients.
“We’re making people aware we’ve won, but we’ll have a second boost later in the year when people are in the right frame of mind [to book],” he said. “I just can’t wait to get everyone together and celebrate properly because my team are the ones putting in the effort each and every day.”
Hear from Lee during the latest episode of One Week At A Time every Monday at 2pm.