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01 Sep 2015

BY TTG Staff

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The agency with 150 years of heritage but a modern outlook

Established high street agencies can still flourish in the digital age – Charlotte Cullinan talks to Irish miniple J Barter Travel about how the 150-year-old business is using the web to drive sales

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It may have been founded 150 years ago, but with its ambitious e-commerce strategy Irish agency J Barter Travel is definitely not stuck in the past.

 

The firm, established in 1865, is focusing on its website travelnet.ie in a bid to extend its reach beyond its stronghold in southern Ireland. The family-owned business has four branches and specialises in cruise, senior and active holidays. It also caters for corporate clients.

 

Managing director Tom Randles says: “We refer to the website as our fifth shop window. It has enabled us to pick up business all over the country, which we wouldn’t have gotten before. But there are only four million people in Ireland, so we have to try and scale business into other markets, and the web is the perfect way to do that.”

 

Online bookings account for 7% of sales, a figure Randles hopes to increase to 20% within three years, via increased marketing and a focus on product. Last month J Barter unveiled a mobile-friendly website and a new facility to enable customers to book flights and hotels as one transaction. Later this year, cruise products will be sold online for the first time, and a dynamic cruise booking platform will be available to the retail team.

 

“These are big additions for us and we’re really excited,” Randles says.

 

The retail team’s booking engine and the website are both powered by the eVolve system from travel technology specialist Digital Trip. J Barter has used the firm since 2010, after its previous supplier collapsed. Randles visited WTM and Travel Technology Europe, evaluating all the suppliers, and was impressed by Digital Trip. He then wrote a detailed specification outlining what J Barter required. “I’d recommend anyone developing their website to put together a similar document, as it ensures there are no grey areas between the client and the developer,” he says.

 

Randles said the interface for J Barter’s 16 agents is “very intuitive”. He adds: “It streamlines their day and increases productivity, and allows them to complete bookings faster. More than 60% of our holidays are dynamically packaged, so staff used to check multiple suppliers but can now build a quote easily and recreate it later with one click. The system rarely goes down, but if it does, they feel like their right arm has been cut off.”

 

Integrated approach

 

To help drive web traffic, the agency is active on Facebook and Twitter, advertises on Facebook and Google and sends regular e-newsletters.

 

“We integrate as much as possible, so even the offers in our shop windows are available online,” Randles adds.

 

Once an online booking is placed, it is processed directly by the admin team while any web enquiries are passed to an agent to follow up. Randles’ next goal is to evaluate the number of retail bookings generated by the website.

 

“We know the web drives business into our stores, especially for products that are not bookable online, but it’s hard to quantify,” he adds.

 

To mark the agency’s 150th anniversary it recently held an exhibition of artefacts collected by the Barter family over the years, including passenger lists from the RMS Titanic and an agreement signed by Thomas Cook. Many of the items were owned by the firm’s founder Joseph Barter. It is still a family business today, with Joseph’s great-grandson George Barter serving as chairman. Randles notes: “I think Joseph would be amazed by the phenomenal change in the business and how technology has completely taken over our industry.”

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