TTG Luxury editor April Hutchinson and Celebrity Cruises’ Jonny Peat made virtual visits to the five agencies across the country in the Top Luxury Agency category
About them: A Virtuoso member agency, Beaver Travel has been in this affluent area of Hertfordshire for almost 60 years and is run by Gary Green, Andrew Devine and Sally Wallis, with 14 staff. They went storming into 2020 with a 17% year-on-year increase, partly driven by their 2018 high-end refit of the shop.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Devine realised the business could be more agile than he previously thought, switching quickly to efficient remote working; so much so Beaver Travel is now considering an expansion into homeworking for new agents. They prioritised actions on a “traffic light system” and managed to keep 65% of client business on the books, creating a “Covid pack” of useful information for clients, including where to get a test for travel, while also building a new website. Wallis took care of the social side, including a “murder mystery” night, yoga classes and the virtual Christmas party.
Highlight: The team realised just how many bookings they had for solo travellers, so made it a particular mission to reach out to these clients to check they were OK during lockdown.
About them: Founders Karen Pocock and Amanda Matthews take care of a network of 102 associates, with 23 new ones even joining in the past year – there is also a shop and admin office in Ramsbottom.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: They managed to keep 55% of bookings and in October, two senior appointments were made to ensure they could continue to run a smooth and well-supported organization. Daily “drop-in” hours on Zoom were available for associates with Matthews, who offered the same thing for clients and also made regular reassuring videos for social media. Other outreach included quiz nights, charity bake-offs and a friendly sunflower growing challenge. Thanks to persistent, positive marketing and sales activities, associates managed to secure £1 million in bookings for the Christmas period.
Highlight: Hearing about courtesy calls made to older clients to see how they are doing; the continued overall proactive focus on client communications; and the social media and engagement ideas homeworkers could use.
About them: This family-run agency in Bangor, Northern Ireland will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022 under the steady hands of Scott Parker, his father Raymond and Chandra Rowan. Feherty Travel has also been flying the flag in Ireland for Kuoni as a partner store since 2018.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: The team were determined to provide the utmost service throughout and staff were kept as long as possible to deal with hundreds of bookings before Feherty made use of furlough, which was topped up for several months. Staff quiz nights and pizza deliveries helped boost morale. The team negotiated deals for the cost of Covid tests for clients and January saw a “vaccine” bump in sales, including one day that was the best since the crisis started. Parker managed to get away on a several trips himself to encourage confidence in travel, including Croatia, Dubai and the Maldives.
Highlight: Hearing how Raymond Parker had been hoping to transition into retirement but came back to help, whether as a wise sounding board, leaving bottles of wine outside staff’s houses, or taking shopping and newspapers to housebound elderly clients.
About them: Five years young, Swords Travel includes a contemporary shop in Wimbledon run by dynamic duo Mark and Stuart Swords and a new homeworking division, launched during the pandemic.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Colleagues Alex and Francesca initially went on furlough, with the Swords taking on all amendments and refunds between them, achieving a 62% rebook rate. Swords Travel Associates was later developed as a new homeworker business model and alternative to redundancy; Alex decided to give it a try, but Francesca moved on. It has since taken on a life of its own, with seven homeworkers signed up across the UK. The shop was open when it could be on an appointments basis, with Stuart Swords consistently creating fresh window displays throughout. Marketing activity included Round The World in Lockdown, which saw them partner with suppliers to give presentations for clients around six destinations during six weeks in November and December, securing £70,000 in business.
Highlight: Hearing how a LinkedIn post about “workcations” got them a month-long £40,000 booking to The Ritz-Carlton Abama in Tenerife for a family of four.
Winged Boots' David Ox with TTG's April Hutchinson and Celebrity's Jonny Peat
About them: The Romford-based specialist grew from David Ox organising travel for his “little black book” of clients, to today’s business of 20 people looking after around 1,200 wealthy clients. Winged Boots is also a part of Ocean Holidays, sharing the same accounts, HR and IT structure.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Some staff went on furlough – everyone is back working in some capacity now though – so it was “all hands on deck” early on. Ox also went back to his sales roots, booking £1 million worth of travel, and juggling calls with clients on Christmas Day. They managed to keep 70% of bookings in the system, took on 250 new clients in 2020 and also managed to achieve 50% of what they booked in 2019 in new business. The team started a regularly updated Covid Travel PDF for clients, worked with a local mobile testing service in Essex, secured reduced costs for Covid-19 tests and worked with providers such as Battleforce on new levels of insurance.
Highlight: Winged Boots took the unusual step early on of partnering with Maddox Gallery to arrange a webinar with a top virologist for clients of both brands to discuss what was happening with the virus.
Celebrity Cruises' Jonny Peat answers five key questions about the luxury cruise line's hopes and plans for 2021.