Travel Counsellors’ UK boss Kirsten Hughes talks her predictions for a strong peaks, how the company has gained TCs and support offered to the self-employed
Travel Counsellors is preparing for “a really strong January” after two days last week saw stronger sales than 2019 year-on-year.
Speaking during a Face To Face interview with TTG this week, and following Travel Counsellors’ virtual conference, UK managing director and chief commercial officer Kirsten Hughes said after a successful two weeks she was expecting a strong and early peaks.
“The business is in good shape,” she said. “Last week we were at 70% of last year’s sales for UK leisure, which is phenomenal. We’ve seen a definite shift [in consumer sentiment] in the last couple of weeks.
“Yesterday and the day before were actually bigger sales days for the same days in December of last year.
“It’s a bit early to say but if that carries on we’ll have a really good start to the year.
“We’re currently seeing is a lot of lates sales – people traveling in the next three or four weeks. Christmas bookings are going through the roof.
“We’re seeing a very strong December-January departure now.
“As a business we are re-energised and focused on the future. It’s been a marathon rather than a sprint, but we’re in the last quarter of it now.”
Hughes said as such the business was planning for a strong January and preparing its peaks campaign.
“I actually think peaks is going to start a little bit early personally,” she said.
“We go into this with a lot of pent up demand. We’ve seen in the last few weeks, Dubai open for us. We’re finding the Middle East and the Maldives have opened, particularly from the north. There are a lot more routes for us.”
Hughes said though that peaks campaigns would be different this year – focused on reassurance and values rather than just product.
“Fallen through the cracks”
TCs are self-employed. Asked about whether the majority had “fallen through the cracks” in terms of government support, Hughes said it had been “frustrating”.
“I think the biggest thing that most people will have learned this year is resilience,” she said.
“It’s about doing the right thing by your people.”
Hughes said Travel Counsellors had “taken some of the pressure off” where it could.
“We definitely had some Travel Counsellors that fell through the cracks. Not all of them – some took advantage of the bounceback loans or there was the small business grants depending on how big their business had been and how long they’ve been trading.
“We set up what we could in terms of financial support and advice to point people in different directions.
“Within the community, a platform was built on Facebook by one of our TCs where a lot of them shared what kinds of grants they could claim and how they’d gone through it.
“So I think initially some of those that fell through the cracks then found a way of getting some sort of support.
“Was it enough for the majority of them? Probably not. And that’s where we had to step in to see what we could do.”
Travel Counsellors has not charged monthly fees since March. Its model also sees TCs paid commission upfront for many bookings, which caused a lot of them to owe the company as refunds took place.
“We’ve deferred all those payments,” revealed Hughes. “We’ve got individual deals with our Travel Counsellors to pay back when they can.”
A welfare fund has also helped about 150 TCs, "particularly ones that fell through the cracks", and is still available.
“Do I think it’s going to get any better? Who knows? They change the goalposts on such a regular basis,” Hughes added.
“I think we’ve got to focus on getting these TCs rebooking – and quickly.
“I think we did everything we could. Are we perfect? Probably not. But we did our best and that’s allowed our TCs to do what they do best, which is look after their customers in incredibly stressful times.”
Despite such stressful times, Travel Counsellors actually has more TCs among its ranks now than it did going into the crisis.
“It’s interesting. Our attrition in terms of Travel Counsellors has actually remained level throughout the whole crisis,” revealed Hughes.
“Our attrition is normally just under 10%.
“Some people have of course said ‘enough’s enough, I can’t do this’. However we’ve actually had more people join than we have had leave.”
The business has had 120 new TCs join since April.
“If you look at history, some of the best businesses in the world started in a crisis,” said Hughes.
“In a crisis there’s always an opportunity. And I think it’s very brave of those people to join us, but actually they’ve got the foresight and courage to look at a future where travel will bounce back without doubt.
“Wanting a trusted travel advisor, who you can pick the phone up to and you can speak to and will be there for you whatever – that role is more important than it’s ever been before.
“So I actually think for anybody considering starting their businesses, there’s never been a better time.
“That may seem a bit crazy, but actually this bounceback is going to come and it’s going to come quite quickly."
Watch the full interview with Hughes On Demand, to hear more on this and her views on what increased competition in the homeworking space will mean for Travel Counsellors…