TTG contributing editor Abigail Healy embarked on a virtual tour of the South West to meet the five Top 50 finalists in the region and heard about green-fingered agents, tracking customers down abroad and volunteering efforts
About them: Felicity Ralfs established this small independent agency in 2013 and it has gone from strength to strength ever since, with a second branch opening last March. During the first lockdown she made the decision to furlough the team and manage the business herself.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: With the rest of the team on furlough it was down to Ralfs to deal with 160 future bookings, all while homeschooling her children and volunteering at her local food bank. Customers were reassured that their booking was being dealt with and all calls were diverted to Ralfs mobile. Once government guidelines permitted, the shop reopened with strict protocols in place and staff were brought back on flexi-furlough.
Highlight: Despite big marketing plans for the year ahead having to be shelved, Ralfs focused on upskilling herself in a tool called Canva to improve the business’ social media and poster designs.
About them: The branch was established when the original C The World business split into two shops five years ago and the team now consists of three sales consultants plus concierge Catherine and marketing consultant James.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: With team members going on and off furlough they ensured all bookings had plenty of notes so it was easy for someone else to pick up if necessary. Some clients who didn’t have smartphones needed a lot of hand holding while stuck abroad. The team kept in touch with regular virtual social gathering such as Wet Wednesdays, quizzes and bingo. They checked in with clients too calling those living alone and even visiting when restrictions allowed.
Highlight: One elderly customer was on a flight-only booking to Thailand. The team tracked down her hotel via her visa information when lockdown began and managed to get her home. She still calls just to say thank you.
About them: C The World began in owner Carolyn Park’s home in 2010 before relocating to the Post Office across the road and then two years ago, to Thornbury high street.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: A whiteboard listed where all clients were and who had spoken to them. Consultant Andre focused on immediate departures while everyone else worked on repatriations, the closest to home being from Florida. Client events took place on Zoom and the team took a “softly, softly” approach to marketing with videos and content-led pieces. A five-star TrustPilot score cements their strong customer service and with Park in possession of the “Bat phone” available 24 hours a day, it’s no surprise clients have been booking recently, with December 2020 “almost a normal sales month”.
Highlight: Tim Worrell usually organises client events for the agency but while on furlough he turned his hand to gardening. Initially offering to help his daughter’s 90-year-old neighbour he ended up with a network of elderly people requesting his green-fingered assistance.
About them: Originally a Bath Travel store, Hays Weymouth was established in 2013 and the team of eight, now headed up by manager Hayley Gadd, has 140 years’ travel experience between them.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: After a record-breaking January, the store had 1,100 forward bookings once the pandemic hit. Between April and May they reprotected 60% of bookings and had no escalated complaints. Online role plays helped ensure their communication was as friendly and informative on Facebook as it would be in person. Strong sales this January were partially attributed to time invested in Facebook and Instagram in 2020. The shop reopened in July with a clear process for making the customer journey safe but friendly. Thanks to lots of messaging about their USPs, 5 out of 10 of the latest bookings have been for new clients.
Highlight: A regular customer visited the shops once lockdown was lifted and all the Covid protocols made her feel anxious. She came into the branch and asked to stay for a moment, saying: “This feels like a safe place – you are like my family”.
Miles Morgan Travel's Miles Morgan and Tracey Murray with TTG's Abigail Healy
About them: In 2006, the Miles Morgan empire took over this store in Portishead retaining existing branch manager Tracey Murray. Despite its quieter location in a precinct it turns over an impressively large volume of sales.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Having taken the decision not to furlough immediately, the team were all managing rebookings, repatriations and refunds. A dedicated Facebook page for the shop helped to personalise communication with customers while a reactive switch to promoting UK and short-haul holidays was a strategic move. The team exceeded the centrally-set target on rebookings and managed to secure some refunds ahead of expected timelines. A proactive focus on outbound calls led to some impressive bookings while videos hosted by agency owner Morgan and promoted on Facebook enticed new customers including a £100,000 booking for a Cunard World cruise.
Highlight: As well as putting everything into looking after customers the team also baked cakes for mental health charity Mind and helped neighbours with shopping. They regularly called their more vulnerable customers just to make sure they were ok.