Carrier has found itself “in the black” for the first time since the coronavirus crisis took hold and global travel was halted.
Managing director Mark Duguid said it felt like a milestone for the business, reaching a stage when there were more new bookings coming in than cancellations or refunds going out.
The operator has also rolled out its Blue Skies Ahead initiative to try and gently bring business back.
The Blue Skies campaign includes an online magazine that agents can share with clients featuring specific trips that pay heed to luxury travellers’ perceived new desire for higher degrees of privacy and space when now considering trips.
Blue Skies focuses on “exclusive collaborations, privacy and seclusion and unique experiences” in Europe, and had included exclusive use of the private island of Tagomago off Ibiza for September with private jet flights and private transfers, but the campaign was prepared before the government’s latest developments on quarantine to the island.
“We have since removed the Spanish itineraries from the campaign,” Duguid said. “We do have clients in Spain right now, and all are more than happy to continue with their holiday as planned. A number of bookings due to depart this week are impacted, with a couple opting for Greece instead rather than cancelling altogether. We’re in touch with all agents who have clients due to depart for Spain in August and are talking through options.”
Also suggested in Blue Skies is staying on a superyacht in the South of France for up to 12 people for seven nights, again with private jet flights from London to Nice (from £342,000 per group, based on 12 people sharing), while other options include hotel favourites such as Forte Village and Borgo Ignazia, all including private airport experiences and private transfers.
The initial Blue Skies Ahead ideas are to be followed up by a second edition this week, featuring up to 30 trips and resorts.
“Our Europe team are all back from furlough now and are rushed off their feet, and we are getting some very last-minute requests,” Duguid said.
“We’ll obviously focus on places it seems viable to suggest to clients. We were always going to add more itineraries elsewhere such as Italy, Greece and Switzerland, and further drops are in the pipeline for Blue Skies Ahead … all dependent on FCO and quarantine advice of course.”
Carrier has been hailed by Which? for its efforts in refunding customers during the crisis, with the business refunding £6 million of bookings but also managing a significant amount of rebooks, Duguid said.
He added it was a stance that had not gone un-noticed by agents either. “We have definitely seen enquiries and interest from agents that are new to us; half of our new bookings have been from agents who didn’t use us before.”
He added it had been important to offer quickly adaptable, clear, concise communication, both internally and for agents.
Carrier is also rolling out a new insurance partnership, which sees the operator become what is know as an “introducer appointed representative” for insurers Campbell Irvine.
The move means agents can be referred onto a company able to offer a wide range of Covid-inclusive kinds of cover and relevant for ultra-luxury travel, Duguid said.
“We know insurance has been a big issue for agents and clients, so a new relationship via Campbell Irvine will allow for more flexible policies – in particular in our case, a policy that covers higher-value bookings,” Duguid said. “Policies often only provide cover for around £3,000 in booking value – ours are often much higher than that.
“It’s all about removing barriers to sale at the moment.”
A series of window posters with inspirational and reassuring messages have also been provided for retail agents, which Duguid said had been well received.
“We understand the general consumer sentiment that’s out there, with people seeking trust, empathy and flexibility, which is tied with a move to shopping local and to more meaningful travel,” he explained, “so all those messages came into the posters, which agents tell us they have been placing loud and proud in their windows, as well as using the social media versions.”
While the government may have said recently that employers could now expect their staff to return to offices from 1 August, if the right measures were in place, Duguid said a full complement of staff would be unlikely to return to the firm’s Didsbury office for some time yet.
“We have lots of staff back in part-time mode [working from home] and we are operating flexibly within furlough outlines already, but August is traditionally the quietest month in travel anyway, plus many people have a lot of their own leave booked, so it’s unlikely we will have lots of people back here much before October,” he said.
“When we first moved to this Didsbury office, flexible working processes were integral to planning, so we’re well placed for this way of working. We have never underestimated the challenges of home life for people anyway either, in terms of family care, so flexibility for our staff and working from home options have always been in place, and we will continue to offer that.”
He said the next step was to try and take a strategic look at how the business, agent partnerships and travel generally look going forward.
“Operationally, we feel like we’re over the worst and now it’s time to think strategy,” he said. “But, I feel like the path we were already on, that of a drive to offer even more meaningful, personalised travel, and also as an employer and in how we work with agents, is proving to be absolutely the right one as we come out of this crisis, so we’ll continue with that in mind.”
Some of Carrier’s furloughed team have also been helping out with Re-engage, which Duguid identified as a charity to help during the crisis, and the company is also working with London-based Hande and sending out its new range of eco-friendly, organic hand sanitizers to clients. Hande works to support Pecan, a charity network in Southwark.