TTG news editor Jennifer Morris was joined by Princess Cruises’ senior sales manager Ireland, Rebecca Kelly, to virtually visit some of the best agencies in the Republic of Ireland
About them: Established in 1992, Emma McHugh took over Atlantic Travel five years ago. Located on the border with Northern Ireland, and therefore selling the majority of holidays from Belfast, McHugh has been battling with the implications of Brexit as well as Covid: the agency is currently unable to sell Jet2holidays departing over the border.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Despite this upheaval Atlantic has prioritised customer care, with the team pulling together and working “tirelessly” through the crisis – with some staff on reduced hours or PUP (furlough). Only one person works in the office at any one time, with shifts to avoid contact. Even when there is nothing to relay, staff call or email clients to update them on the status of their amendments or refunds.
Highlight: Hearing how McHugh persuaded a bedbank to accept hotel credits and in turn credit the agency so a group of 42 could receive a full refund from a New York hotel which wanted to retain €100pp on a cancellation.
Cassidy Travel's Sandra Mooney with Princess Cruises' Rebecca Kelly and TTG's Jennifer Morris
About them: This 16-year-old agency has exclusivity in one of the busiest shopping centres in Ireland, and has been recognised for its service on numerous occasions. Led by manager Sandra Mooney, the close-knit team have many years’ service under their belts.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: The agency took advantage of the furlough scheme, but everyone has continued to stay in touch on WhatsApp. After reopening the store on 1 July, multiple clients dropped by to see how the team was faring. Staff have continued to take part in webinars to stay abreast of the latest developments – with Mooney taking a lead on training for the whole company. Dundrum also approached a local clinic that carries out Covid testing, with a view to offering a discount scheme for clients.
Highlight: It was great to hear Dundrum “tested the water” by beginning to post again on its Facebook page with funny captions. From there it started posting more and more offers, with “great” feedback and bookings.
Cassidy Travel's Shirley Webster with Princess Cruises' Rebecca Kelly and TTG's Jennifer Morris
About them: Based across a large area of Dublin’s Swords Pavilions shopping centre, this Cassidy Travel branch, led by Shirley Webster, is a hit with the local community.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: The team worked from home but made it back to the office from July to October. Cassidy Travel’s new accounting and back office system, launched in 2019, proved “a huge help in keeping things in order” and the branch therefore made the decision to go paperless last year. Webster says walking breaks, Zoom calls, training and morning catch-ups were essential to the morale and mental health of the team. Each customer was called and assured the branch would assist them “in the best possible way”.
Highlight: It was fascinating to hear how the agency helped a couple travel to the US to collect their baby twins from a surrogate. The team worked with the adoption agency, the US embassy and the airlines to get the couple to the US and locally help arrange passports and exemptions for the baby boys!
Fahy Travel's Maura Fahy with Princess Cruises' Rebecca Kelly and TTG's Jennifer Morris
About them: Fahy Travel is one of the oldest established travel companies in Ireland. Originating as a shipping firm in the late 1800s, the business has kept up with the changing nature of the industry, and now has a dedicated “cruise shop” in addition to the “holiday shop”.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Fahy has made the most of furlough and sadly lost one team member, but quickly adapted to working at home. Specific jobs were allocated, such as updating the “Covid file” for airline refund and rebooking procedures. Despite the chaos of Covid, Fahy took to opportunity to “better itself”, setting up a training committee. A number of staff were active in contacting local politicians: one Independent government representative visited the office “to see for himself the carnage we were dealing with”. He offered to raise the matter with the taoiseach – the Irish prime minister.
Highlight: Hearing how one customer offered to pay to get another family home from Australia when their airline had no availability for weeks ahead.
The Travel Broker's Clare Dunne with Princess Cruises' Rebecca Kelly and TTG's Jennifer Morris
About them: Managing director Clare Dunne opened The Travel Broker in Dublin’s Clontarf in 1994. Leisure travel accounts for around 60% of turnover – cruise accounting for a large proportion – with corporate comprising the rest.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Hours and staff numbers have had to fluctuate during the crisis, but The Travel Broker's systems had already been set up for working remotely, so the transition to homeworking was “quite smooth”. The phones continued to be answered as if the team were in the office. Daily morning and afternoon Zoom calls kept the team motivated and focused, with wellness webinars offered throughout. Fresh posters were printed for the windows.
Highlight: Instead of concentrating on selling, Dunne took the decision to try to help the wider industry by ramping up her work on the board of the Irish Travel Agents Association and the Association of Women Travel Executives in Ireland. She is also an active member of Travel Centres Consortium and Travel Centres advisory board and has also taken part in TV and radio interviews.