TTG sub editor Mary Ann Pickford and Riviera Travel’s head of trade UK & Ireland,Tom Morgan, learnt how Yorkshire’s finalists worked round the clock to help clients during the global shutdown and how they fought fiercely for refunds on their customers’ behalf
About them: The Hull branch of Andrew Earle’s Holidays is the original store that has been going for 27 years. There are six staff at this shop, overseen by Charlotte Dallee.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: The resilient team was still dealing with fallout from Thomas Cook when Covid struck, but such is their closeness that they pulled together by supporting each other with flexible working days and Earle giving the team a cash bonus over Christmas. The team also has access to a health professional if needed. Regarding customers, staff worked in date order to get through refunds and rebooks, spreading the load across the team. To help its loyal customers, the agency has given refunds out of its own pockets even if tour operators haven’t. It has refunded £1.7 million through the branch, supported by Midcounties’ Refund Credit Notes policy.
Highlight: Hearing the astonishing story of a gentleman stuck in New Zealand, whom the agency supported throughout the whole 11-week repatriation process by being in constant contact and even helping to organise care for his dog at the kennel back home!
About them: This agency opened in December 2017 in the market town of Otley and works closely with Jet2holidays, as Leeds Bradford is nearby. Its team includes director Helen Parry, manager Beatrice Paley, part-time Dawn Lawson and further consultants from the local area.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: The five-strong group got on the front foot and made sure everyone on the team knew exactly how to explain Package Travel Regulations and Refund Credit Notes to clients. As a result of their rigorous plan, they managed to save and transfer 60-70% of bookings. They also enlisted the help of the local chamber of trade to provide Covid safety posters and hand sanitiser in the shop, while the entire staff completed a risk assessment and Covid-19 e-learning. It’s clear the Otley community is close to their heart – the team organised weekly quizzes with other independent businesses in the area and brought the shop window to their social media followers via their #ArundelTravelWindow hashtag.
Highlight: Despite the circumstances the team is constantly innovating and launched a Recommend a Friend campaign in July last year, with customers given the chance to win a city break to Rome. It gave them 15 new customers and brought in almost £5,000 in revenue.
About them: Marking 28 years of trading in 2021, the team’s travel experience spans 42 years. Clients are well supported by the team of 10, including owner Marion Owen, deputy Emma Higinbotham and Graham Porter on accounts. The agency focuses on touring and cruising, and charters its own river ships for customers.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: During the first lockdown the team set to work ensuring the shop adhered to Covid measures including conducting a risk assessment, replacing fabric chairs with plastic seating, offering appointments only to manage capacity, masks, hand sanitiser and logging everyone who enters. Owen made use of furlough for the rest of the team but they communicated throughout via WhatsApp and Zoom – not just about work but everyday life too. She encouraged the team to attend training and share with each other what they learnt. Further challenges arose with the collapse of cruise line Cruise & Maritime Voyages, as they held 97 bookings, however the agency was able to fight for refunds for every single customer affected. The agency also helped clients in personal emergencies over lockdown, including one lady who needed to attend a funeral in Germany and a son stuck in Australia who required repatriation.
Highlight: To keep the agency’s presence up and customers engaged, Owen started weekly Zoom coffee mornings in July last year, featuring supplier guests delivering presentations. The average turnout is 20, sometimes resulting in new bookings.
About them: This branch of Spear Travels has been a part of the Northallerton community for 14 years and has sister shops in an 11-store network across the UK. Branch manager Susan Farndale works with three other senior travel consultants – Nicola Raw, Lynne Wilbor and Katie Lazenby – on their mission to “wow people with out-of-this-world holiday ideas”.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Despite some of the team going on furlough, the close-knit group found ways to adapt to the new working style by keeping in touch regularly via WhatsApp and phone calls. For the team coming back from furlough, a training programme was introduced that covered Covid procedures, and they held regular training sessions to help them prepare. At the start of the crisis, Farndale worked quickly to repatriate customers abroad. However, when clients in Australia were refused boarding, she gave them her personal and home phone number to be contacted day and night. She followed up with the foreign office, Australian embassy, airlines and operators and registered them for repatriation flights a few weeks later.
Highlight: Hearing how Farndale was on the phone to clients not just to help with their bookings but also as a “counsellor”, offering a friendly voice to those who needed it, and also providing help to shielding clients by offering to do their groceries for them.
Tivoli Travel's Jo Richards with Riviera's Tom Morgan and TTG's Mary Ann Pickford
About them: An "all-rounder" travel agent with owner and director Jo Richards, who has 35 years’ travel experience, at the helm. The agency was set up in February 2016 from Richards’ home office, then moved to Mirfield high street in May 2017. It’s part of two other branches in the network, Lindley and Holmfirth, which are also based in Yorkshire.
How they navigated the Covid-19 crisis: Much to her dismay, Richards needed to furlough her staff during the pandemic, instead working solo and putting in long days to ensure her customers were looked after. Unfortunately she also had to close the Lindley branch in order to survive, and she redirected Holmfirth calls to Mirfield. In between lockdowns when stores could reopen, the Mirfield store became appointment-only and adhered to Covid protocols. Richards would often work nearly seven days a week almost up to 11pm to communicate changes to clients’ bookings. However, the furloughed team did not sit still and took part in webinars and training to keep up to date with product and Covid news. Richards kept phone lines open 24/7 and would often drive to clients’ houses after 10pm to deliver Passenger Locator Forms.
Highlight: Thanks to her entrepreneurial background, Richards is investing in new opportunities to boost her travel agency business – including a flower and gift shop. She also got into the community spirit by organising a shop window competition for Mirfield residents during Christmas.