TTG sub editor Mary Ann Pickford caught up with the North West finalists over Zoom, embarking on a virtual tour of agencies and hearing incredible tales of tenacity during the coronavirus crisis
About them: Three-branch Cumbria Travel first opened its doors in the coastal town of Whitehaven in January 2015. This particular store counts Jet2holidays as its closest supplier and is proud to be recognised as an award-winning booking centre for the tour operator. Directors Leanne Miller and Patricia Rickerby lead the affable team supported by senior manager Katie Murray and store manager Clare Heywood.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: “United as one” is how Miller puts it. Indeed, the resilient team utilised WhatsApp to stay in touch with each other during lockdown – calling the group the Slipper Brigade in recognition of the fact that they all have been working from home in their slippers! They also kept in close contact with suppliers to stay on top of the changing travel regulations. Everyone was provided with their own mobile phones and those without laptops were supplied with one so they could efficiently work remotely. Heywood also made doorstep deliveries of homebaked treats to keep up morale, with some of the team paying it forward by delivering their own cakes to vulnerable clients in their community.
Highlight: Hearing how quick-witted Murray used her initiative to directly contact some suppliers’ chief executives so their clients could get their refunds more quickly to great success – resulting in one happy client promising to book the rest of their holidays with Cumbria Travel!
About them: Situated in Dunmail Park shopping centre, the Workington branch of Cumbria Travel typically enjoys high footfall from local shoppers. Sarah Robertson Grimshaw, who has more than 21 years’ experience in travel, first joined the shop when it opened in January 2017 as foreign exchange expert and has worked her way up to the store manager role.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Sadly the team went from 11 to six during the pandemic, however Zoom quizzes, bake-offs and doorstep deliveries kept them all motivated throughout. During lockdown they created videos to show they were still “open” and working from home. They also made clips explaining the new social distancing rules in-store. Despite their thriving social media communities, the team enlisted the help of a local young marketing professional to boost their presence in the press, securing fantastic coverage. Supporting charities is still close to their heart so for Christmas jumper day they raised £120.
Highlight: Finding out how the team helped repatriate countless clients overseas, from a couple on a Dubai cruise, a family on a Thailand holiday, two single ladies on a round-the-world trip – nothing was too much trouble for the team who made herculean efforts to get them home.
About them: Starting life 13 years ago, Designer Travel has a network of 120 homeworkers plus a retail shop and admin centre in the market town of Ramsbottom. Managing director Amanda Matthews works closely with store manager Karen Holliday and assistant manager Nigel Gregory to make their clients’ holiday dreams come true.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: It’s been a hugely challenging year for Designer Travel, yet despite the crisis it has not made any of its team redundant. Instead, it actually employed one person solely dedicated to ensuring its newly created Covid-safe travel checklist was completed for every client. The agency also rebooked 55% of bookings impacted and sold holidays throughout, generating a fantastic £1.3 million of new business from March to December. Designer Travel also kept customers engaged in a manner of ways including a sunflower growing competition, with clients receiving sunflower seeds in the post and encouraged to plant them, resulting in brilliant social media photos. No doubt its innovative ways helped the team to achieve 11,000 followers in January 2021, up from 7,000 almost a year ago.
Highlight: Hearing how the kind-hearted team raised more than £1,000 for a colleague’s 14-year-old son, Aaron, who had been diagnosed with cancer, by organising an apple pie bake-off (because that’s his favourite dessert!).
About them: This family-run agency has been in its current store since 2002, expanding the premises in 2018 when it bought next door and became a double-fronted shop. Director Phil Nuttall and his daughter Jess, the store manager, support four other consultants.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Nuttall made the decision to keep everyone employed on a full salary, further supporting the team with flexible hours, regular Zoom meetings, quiz nights and a virtual Christmas party. The team ensured the local community knew it was still trading during the pandemic, providing columns in local magazines giving updates on the travel situation and cementing itself as an expert voice by going on BBC Radio Lancashire to update listeners. The Travel Village is proud to hold a record of answering 100% of phone calls during the past 12 months, even if they had to call some clients back in the evenings. Virtual events with suppliers to destinations that were open also engaged its social media following. The team’s hard work ensured there was no shortage of thank you letters, emails and gifts from appreciative clients, who praised "great customer service and professional staff".
Highlight: Hearing about the fun videos the team posted online, including a Christmas ditty written by Jess’s musician cousin.
Travel Circle's Mark Delaney with TTG's Mary Ann Pickford
About them: This small family-owned business has been trading for 21 years and is located in the agricultural town of Longridge. Among its team are Mark Delaney, owner, and David Cookson, manager, plus three consultants. Altogether they have 68 years’ travel experience between them.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: “No matter the cost, we look after our customers” was the team's motto during the pandemic. From the get-go, Delaney allocated a list of work to be done each day as they refunded and rebooked, culminating in a rebook rate of 60% with 180 refunded bookings. Late night calls with clients stuck abroad in Australia and New Zealand became a regular thing as they worked round the clock to repatriate them. The agency paid full wages to the team during lockdown and topped up wages during furlough. Delaney held regular Zoom calls with staff, with the owner even forgoing his own salary since April last year to provide job security. To keep spirits up, the mischievous team played pranks on each other – when one staff member had to quarantine after coming back from Croatia, Delaney bought a bright yellow hazmat suit and paid a visit with an NHS clipboard and wine in tow to cheer them up!
Highlight: “No cross words from clients” to date – only gifts and thank you cards – due to the team’s proactive approach to explaining the refunds situation and being transparent about the complicated process via videos on social media.