TTG contributing editor Abigail Healy caught up with the five finalists in the Top Touring & Adventure Agency category and heard tales of repatriations, upskilling staff and virtual candle making
About them: This family-run agency has been trading for 35 years. It has a high street store in Sale, Manchester yet most business is done online. While it sells everything it is best known for tours and river cruise with around four-fifths of its sales in the touring sector.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: While no redundancies were made, many of the team were furloughed with three staff working between March and November. The team were in touch with all clients from day one, often on the phone until 11pm. The store reopened with covid protocols in place in June and they made some last minute bucket and spade bookings. When online enquiries went quiet, Facebook proved a successful tool in generating new touring leads while a blog pushing messaging about booking with confidence with an independent agent has been going out each week.
Highlight: An award from Titan for consistency in bookings helped affirm their impressive overall rebook rate of 65%.
About them: Now in its 46th year and owned by American parent company Internova, Barrhead Travel has a clear strategy to grow on the high street, having opened 15 new stores pre-pandemic taking it to 99 stores plus its franchises. A new strategy in 2019 has helped the sector make up around two thirds of its business.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: While focusing intently on existing bookings that needed amending or refunding with robust processes in place, Barrhead also had a steady eye on the future. A five-point plan that included upskilling staff in product and marketing plus segmenting its customer database set the company up with a positive outlook. As did a virtual cruise event in November with 500 clients in attendance.
Highlight: As well as travel-related training, the team has used Zoom for virtual pub quizzes, baking classes and even candle-making sessions.
About them: Now spanning 18 stores across the south west and Wales, Miles Morgan Travel serves a mid-upmarket retired, affluent customer that makes it a neat fit for the touring and adventure sector.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Deciding not to furlough any staff initially meant the team could get ahead with refunds and amendments. Once furlough was implemented a “changing of the guard” system meant that all staff worked on a three weekly rotation. Owner, Miles Morgan, and general manager, Mandy Shilto, operated “Mission control” – contacting suppliers and transferring them to consultants. The team retained more than 70% of touring and adventure bookings and managed some impressive repatriations including a couple stuck onboard a Holland America Line ship for four days.
Highlight: Morgan’s videos to update clients on topics such as reprotections, refunds, future bookings were a big success. In particular one where he offered the team’s services to help local people with their shopping which garnered 36,000 views.
About them: Set on a cobbled street in Exeter, Nomadic Travel is a specialist agency born out of owner Rob Hitchings’ own wanderlust. Around 40% of business is small group tours while the remaining 60% of sales are tailor-made adventurous holidays.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Instead of celebrating the agency’s 20th anniversary last year the tight-knit team of three turned their focus to dealing with customers’ affected travel and bookings. Not one client was left out of pocket and there were complicated repatriations to deal with. Looking ahead the team has focused on single-room accommodation for solo travellers and self-guided trips and has also added UK product.
Highlight: One repatriation saw a couple in New Zealand with the wife unwell in hospital when the pandemic hit. They rebooked flights but with hubs closing rapidly it proved tricky with the team phoning the couple and the Foreign Office daily. After three weeks they eventually managed to get them safely back to the UK.
Triangle Travel's Rob and Sarah Kenton and Tim Hirst with TTG's Abigail Healy
About them: Starting out with one store near Reading, owners Rob and Sarah Kenton and the Triangle team now run six branches and host their own escorted tours, Triangle Trips – some of which sell out in hours.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Furloughing 70% of staff left a team of five, the C Crew who were on duty from the start of the pandemic. The team booked customers on the last flight out of New Zealand, helped an Indian National with no computer to sort an application to return home and perhaps most impressively, got a Triangle Tours group of 20 home from south-east Asia in March when restrictions were closing in around them. Zoom events for clients have seen good take up and increased focus on social media has boosted engagement.
Highlight: Working smarter not harder… With a new CRM showing when their busiest periods were, Rob encouraged the team to work based on this rather than just being sat at their desk for the typical working hours.