TTG news editor Jennifer Morris virtually visited some of the best agencies in the South East of England.
About them: This family-owned agency has served the Hampshire market town of Petersfield for more than 50 years and is now spreading its wings nationally through new digital channels. Directors James and Karen Beagrie support a team of eight.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: The agency has invested and expanded. Despite losing two staff, it has acquired new business, and rather than reducing hours has extended its “availability” to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An enhanced CRM system was developed in-house, too. Staff wellbeing was a priority, and the office was also adapted to a safe and secure environment, enabling two members of the team who lived alone to continue working together.
Highlight: Hearing how the agency arranged a wedding in St Lucia – for a couple who’d had their UK big day cancelled three times – in under two weeks!
Off Broadway Travel's Tricia Conroy Smith, Paul Rice and Natalie Bennett with TTG's Jennifer Morris
About them: Founded 22 years ago, Off Broadway Travel serves the community of Welwyn, Hertfordshire, having relocated from Mill Hill, London, in 2008. The close-knit team is led by founder Tricia Conroy Smith.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Having already set its staff up to work from home, Off Broadway was able to “hit the ground running” when the pandemic struck – and upgraded its phones in December. An Aito agent, Off Broadway has mostly supported Aito operators during the crisis, which it says has “worked in its favour”. The team made use of the furlough scheme and lost one member of staff, and Conroy Smith along with partners Paul Rice and Natalie Bennett “focused on the pandemic”.
Highlight: Hearing how the team successfully got clients home from the Galapagos Islands at the beginning of the pandemic – with multiple flights to factor in – who had been “blissfully unaware” of the pressing need to return home!
Triangle Travel's Tim Hirst and Jill Mangan with TTG's Jennifer Morris
About them: Triangle Travel's Didcot branch was created when it announced its take over of John Allan Travel at the end of 2019. The acquisition took Triangle's network to five shops at the time, with agents Penny Wesson and Jill Mangan, who had worked at John Allan for 12 years and seven years respectively, continuing in their roles.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: The company put 70% of its workforce (across the branches) on full-time furlough and created the “C Crew” – the five staff who’d stay on during the pandemic. The Didcot team was very new to the Triangle Travel way when the pandemic struck, with Tim Hirst, the manager, new to travel altogether. He, Mangan and Wesson had to learn the systems as they went along, while still delivering brilliant customer service. They offered 24/7 contact throughout the pandemic, including for concerned next of kin.
Highlight: Hearing how Wesson sought out and arranged Covid tests for clients at a local Abingdon lab. She collected kits, delivered them to clients and then took them to labs where they were tested and results emailed to clients.
Triangle Travel's Rob Kenton and Elysia Taylor with TTG's Jennifer Morris
About them: Triangle Travel's branch in the heart of historic Pangbourne is 13 years old, with a loyal customer base. When Triangle put 70% of staff on full-time furlough and created its “C Crew” – the five staff who’d stay on during the pandemic – Elysia Taylor took the helm of Pangbourne.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Taylor has run the shop, managed the window display and serviced all of the bookings. She only started with the company in November 2019 having lost her job as a rep when Thomas Cook collapsed, and has “made Pangbourne her store” “through dedication, drive and remaining calm throughout”. She also takes the lead on the whole company’s social media and marketing.
Highlight: Hearing how Taylor managed to arrange for a client’s funds to be transferred to a new booking, despite their flights being “non-refundable”.
Triangle Travel's Tim Hirst and Rob and Sarah Kenton with TTG's Jennifer Morris
About them: When Triangle put 70% of staff on full-time furlough and created its “C Crew” – the five staff who’d stay on – general manager Sarah Kenton took the helm of the Wallingford branch, as well as becoming the central point of contact and support for all Triangle branches.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Wallingford had more than 300 bookings to look after – the largest number in the network – but has had less than 18% of bookings cancel. Sarah has been keeping in touch with the furloughed staff and the team has been checking in on each others’ mental health.
Highlight: Hearing how the Wallingford store window has been continually updated, focusing on the town and the community, such as highlighting the summer fete and Remembrance Day.