TTG editor Sophie Griffiths joined Wendy Wu’s global sales director John Warr for a virtual tour of Central England where they heard inspirational stories from fantastic agencies remaining resilient in the face of the pandemic.
About them: Opened in 2018 by former Thomas Cook employees Mark and Karen, Market Place Travel has already firmly ensconced itself on the high street of Burton-Upon-Trent, quickly doubling in size to a team of four. Such was the agency’s success the team took the unusual but optimistic step at the start of the pandemic to invest more than £40,000 in a new store and subsequent shop refit as part of its “investment for the future”.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Concern for staff was just as great as the team’s worries for clients during the crisis, with Mark and Karen deciding to top up the 80% salaries of the two employees on furlough to the full 100% despite the immense pressures on the business. At the same time the duo remained committed to supporting customers, giving out their personal mobile numbers and even booking Covid tests for clients ahead of travel.
Highlight: Hearing how the team managed to secure free publicity after a local journalist saw the “for let” sign on the old store and mistakenly assumed the agency had closed. Instead, Mark corrected the journalist and turned it into a positive article about the high street – securing a great story and free advert for the new shop!
Peakes Travel Elite's Claire Moore, Wendy Wu's John Warr and TTG's Sophie Griffiths
About them: This 29-year-old agency has been growing rapidly over the last five years, with its seven staff specialising in tailormade, touring and adventure, cruise and luxury. Clever marketing tools have ensured a steady stream of new business, even during the Covid crisis.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Managing director Claire Moore was passionate about ensuring the agency was available and supportive to customers through the pandemic, working long hours and often battling with tour operators to secure refunds while also trying to repatriate clients. Between March and August, the agency dealt with an eyewatering 1,139 bookings, comprising both refunds and rebookings, equal to £1.3 million.
Highlight: Finding out how, despite the crisis, Peakes Travel Elite has still managed to secure new business though its “armchair travelling” social media campaign which later turned into Zoom coffee morning client events in January. Tour operators were invited to give presentations – the first of which led to two substantial bookings!
Spear Travels' Kim Kent (far right), Elaine Price (bottom left) and Isabel Lakin (bottom right) with Wendy Wu's John Warr and TTG's Sophie Griffiths
About them: This seven-year-old agency might have a team of three but it punches well above its weight. Its success led to it being named the company’s flagship store in 2019 and despite the crisis the team has continued to attract new business, using social media and eye-catching window displays to target younger clients and families.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Despite the challenges, customer service remained the number one focus for the dedicated Spear Travels team who worked around the clock to repatriate clients and fight for refunds. A WhatsApp group ensured Kim, Elaine and Isabel were in regular contact, with even the occasional cake delivery from Isabel to keep spirits up!
Highlight: The store’s current window display, which this month features a variety of hats from around the world as a showcase of international cultures.
Villair Travel's Carla Cole and Sonia Weston (top left) with TTG's Sophie Griffiths and Wendy Wu's John Warr
About them: This long-haul specialist is a 38-year-old stalwart of the high street in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, run by two best friends who are now not only partners in the business, but also now sisters-in-law. Training and fam trips are considered essential for keeping the 10-strong team up to date on product knowledge, while a major renovation project last year saw the agency establish a new VIP area for high-end customers.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: The agency put its mantra “we’re here to help” at the heart of its management of the crisis, keeping clients updated through social media and its website, with staff members working tirelessly to repatriate clients, largely from Australia and New Zealand, processing more than 120 refunds and transferring over 200 future bookings.
Highlight: Watching the hilarious “back to work” video the team created in celebration of the first lockdown being lifted last summer, letting customers know the agency was back and very much open for business!
Wendy Wu's John Warr answers five key questions about the operator's plans for 2021.