Not Just Travel is set to officially become one of the biggest franchises in the UK alongside the likes of Burger King and Subway when its membership of the British Franchise Association (BFA) is confirmed.
An investment in cruise technology platform Widgety, as well as a focus on luxury, will also help the brand continue to grow in the coming year, co-founder Steve Witt told TTG.
Not Just Travel, whose marketing arm is known as The Travel Franchise, now has almost 700 consultants in its ranks.
The business, built up by Witt (based at the Bournemouth headquarters) and Paul Harrison (based in Liverpool), has this summer taken on a new managing director, as well as a sales and training lead, with head office staff count expected to grow significantly again this year.
Managing director Annabel Wathen, whose background is in leadership and training, heads up the homeworking outfit, while travel industry veteran David Pope has been hitting the road to help franchisees build their businesses.
“We keep smashing all our figures,” Witt tells me. “We’re doubling in size every year… in terms of everything – travel consultant headcount, sales, head office staff. We’ve grown the HQ headcount by 60% in the past year.”
I ask if the business expects to double in size again in the coming 12 months.
“It gets harder because we’re so big now,” Witt explains. “We do expect a significant increase. Last year about 10.4% of our business was cruise, so we expect that to be a lot bigger this year, but everything will be bigger.”
Indeed, Not Just Travel’s conference in Windsor in December will focus on cruise (Widgety will provide consultants access to a plethora of detailed information on cruising and cruise lines) and luxury, “but also brilliance”.
Consultants at its core
While going through the application process for the BFA is not directly linked to sales growth, Wathen believes membership will help franchisees feel more secure.
Witt says joining it is comparable to Abta for the franchise industry. “It would seem we’re already one of the biggest franchises in the UK, but it’s [also] the accreditation and the process,” he says. “There’s a complaints process like at Abta.”
Wathen adds: “It provides security for the guys who bought a franchise to know they’re under that umbrella. It’s a really positive thing for them.”
However the application process, which started at the beginning of July, has been no light undertaking.
“It means new contracts for everyone,” Witt explains.
“Other franchises have done this in the past – asked people to re-sign contracts – but never on this scale.
“When we enter the BFA, we’ll be at the same level as Burger King or Subway in terms of the number of franchises.
“It’s going back to the field to say ‘you’re already in an agreement [but] we’d now like you to sign a new one’.
“So, basically, you’ve got to resell your business to everyone in it.
“That’s been quite a big undertaking at the same time as having the busiest month ever for new sign-ups.”
I ask whether existing franchisees are able to refuse; Witt explains that while they can choose to leave, Not Just Travel’s franchisees have been “quickly re-signing”.
“We’ve increased commission for everyone to 75%,” he adds. “People might claim they pay more commission than us, but do they do everything we do? We think we pay the highest commission, and give the best support and training.”
I ask the pair how they feel about InteleTravel UK, the new homeworking entrant to the UK market.
“I think competition is good,” Witt replies. “[July] was our second busiest month ever for people joining our business. So InteleTravel is here, yet we’ve had our second busiest month.
“If they’re helping open people’s eyes to the opportunity [of homeworking], that’s a good thing.
“I watched the head of it do a presentation. He was a very good speaker, very passionate about what he does. If that gets people excited about travel, I don’t have a problem with it.”
I ask what else is on the horizon for the company. “The model is always changing. It’s one of our value points, to always pioneer,” Witt tells me thoughtfully.
“This coming year we will have six trips for learning, and they’re not your typical fam trips.”
He tells me of a ski trip earlier this year that 48 agents signed up for – it was paid for, but consultants got their money back if they hit certain sales targets.
“Our sales for Canada went through the roof,” he grins. “Off the back of that, one person did a £134,000 booking. He just posted some photos while they were there.”
“There’s so much on the horizon,” continues Witt. “Our focus at the moment is getting ready for peaks.
“We’ve just seen a phenomenally busy lates market. We had to have a sudden reshuffle internally because it was so busy.
“The confidence is out there. We’re now seeing a surge of people booking for next year.
“Every month is a record-breaking month for us. That’s not to say Brexit hasn’t impacted us – would we be even higher without it? Possibly. Buying power has clearly changed this year but that’s it. UK holidays are massively up.”
Wathen adds: “With our model, people want to call up and ask advice.”
Witt reveals along with business growth, Not Just Travel will also continue to work with charities such as Cash for Kids in the coming year and, indeed, this month he and 52 others will trek to the Lost City in Colombia for charity.
He adds: “Our plan is to be champions of sustainability and the environment across the industry, not for our own benefit. We’re working on a strategy to become climate positive.”
While schemes like offering franchisees their joining fee back if they hit certain sales targets could sound like an unattainable gimmick, Wathen assures me that four people from the training day I visited when I met the pair have fulfilled the criteria.
Longevity does not seem to a problem for Not Just Travel, money back or not. Witt tells me fondly its first-ever homeworker, Agata, is still with the company having now moved to Malta and taken on four employees.
“There’s no right or wrong way in terms of how you run the business, as long as you’re doing the right job of selling and looking after people.”