The Selling Travel team chats to the travel industry's movers and shakers and finds out the latest news and views
“Independent agencies aren’t influenced by directional selling and operate with no boundaries”
Jessica Pook speaks to Andy Stark Managing Director of The Global Travel Group
“The Global Travel Group is a consortium made up of over 200 members, we provide independent agencies with vital support and help start-up businesses by providing the tools and training needed to put them in good stead before they go live.
"Starting up an independent agency can be daunting, especially if you are entering a new industry, and there is often significant investment in time and money. Initially, The Global Travel Group will meet with the potential member and coach them through the process, help comb through the business plan and ensure that we are the right fit for them and their business.
We have over 25 years of experience and all staff members come from a travel background. Members will benefit from initial support, from learning about the administration side and regulations to actually training on how to sell a holiday.
"We provide ongoing training for members and our team is on the road visiting new agents around the country. We also provide marketing materials for major campaigns and work with the tour operators to continuously offer our agents good rates and high commission.
"It is now easy enough to book flights to Asia or Australia direct, but the average person will spend a month researching their holiday before booking, and add to that the complexity of connecting flights, transfers, time difference, currency, accommodation, and that's when a travel agent becomes invaluable.
"Independent agencies are able to operate with no boundaries which is great from a consumer point. They often have commercial relationships with all the big tour operators but aren’t influenced by directional selling. They have the flexibility to be niche in their particular market and can offer a wide variety of product.
“Small business should really utilise social media. It's a quick and easy way to build up a following and spread word of mouth. The way that you communicate your message is key, you need to be disciplined about taking photos and putting two posts a day so that you have a presence online.
"Cruising is becoming more accessible and we’re finding members who would never normally class themselves as cruise specialists delving into the cruise sector.
"We’re finding more millenials returning to the high street agency and thanks to Instagram they often know exactly what they want. They’re happy to choose holidays based on images that they’ve seen, but when it comes the ‘boring’ bits like researching hotels or booking transfers that’s when they revert to a travel agent. Instagram is such a powerful tool for the travel industry, something as simple as a hashtag can give an agent something solid to work with.”
“Like agents, we understand personalisation and the importance of tailoring on- and off-property experiences when booking luxury travel”
Laura Gelder chats to Brenda Collin Managing Director UK, Ireland, Nordics & Netherlands, Preferred Hotels & Resorts
“Preferred Hotels & Resorts is the world’s largest independent hotel brand with more than 700 independent luxury properties in 85 countries. For more than 50 years, we’ve supported independent hotels and unique regional hotel groups around the world.
“We only work with luxury hotels that deliver authentic, one-of-a-kind experiences, from business-orientated city hotels, to mountain resorts and private island retreats. What sets us apart is that our relationships with hoteliers are equal partnerships, and that our hotels are independently-owned, locally relevant, and act as destination guides to our guests.
“Today’s clients, particularly millennials, select accommodation depending on why they are travelling, who with, and how long for. We have one master brand with five distinct hotel collections, each representing different styles of luxury and experience, and helping agents to effortlessly book the perfect stay.
The personal touch
"Like agents, we understand personalisation and the importance of tailoring on- and off-property experiences when booking luxury travel. Agents can book us with confidence knowing that, while no property resembles another, they are all unified by their commitment to delivering exceptional service and experiences that reflect local culture.
"Plus, each property is regularly inspected using our own Integrated Quality Assurance (IQA), which uses two tools to measure product and service standards: professional on-site evaluations, and a customised social media assessment tool for real-time quality assurance scores, customer feedback and performance analysis.
"Our new, more intuitive website launched this month with more relevant property information, enhanced photography, destination guides and filters that search via destination, travel theme, type of property, and level of luxury, as well as access to our points-based loyalty programme, I Prefer Hotel Rewards (IPrefer.com/TA). It gives agents benefits in the form of cash-value Reward Certificates and treats like space-available upgrades and early check-in/late check-out at more than 650 properties worldwide. "
There’s also Preferred Platinum, an invitation-only programme to recognise and support our top selling agencies. Participating hotels include some of the world’s most iconic independent properties and agents can contact Isabella Moroni, Vice President of Leisure Sales for Europe, for more information.
“Wendie Esposito, Vice President of Global Sales for Europe, and her team regularly host sales roadshows, events and fam trips and visit agents to strengthen relationships and share the latest brand news. We are committed to keeping agents informed, inspired, and engaged. ”
The future of hospitality
“Aside from the ever-increasing popularity of the sharing economy and multi-generational travel, I think sustainability is trending. Certainly within our portfolio hotels are taking tangible actions to reduce their impact, ranging from day-to-day practices to community projects.
“Pet-friendly travel is on the up, with many hotels opening up guestrooms and creating packages for guests and their pets that also positively affects the growing solo travel segment.
“We are investing significantly in the Preferred Residences collection which has doubled in size in less than two years to more than 80 properties offering transient holiday experiences that combine the space, privacy, and flexibility of a home with the luxuries and convenience of a hotel stay.
“We continue to strategically add inventory in gap destinations. Focuses currently include cities like Berlin, Edinburgh and Johannesburg and countries like Croatia, Iceland, and Scotland. We are working to increase the number of properties we represent here in the UK due to the increasing demand from both domestic and international clients.
“Hotels we’ve added to the portfolio recently include the historic Villa del Quar in Valpolicella, Italy; The Sanchaya on Bintan Island, Indonesia; Amerikalinjen in Oslo, Norway; and CitySuites in Manchester, England. For 2019, we are excited to be working on 23 hotel openings including Can Bordoy in Mallorca; Hotel Bennett in Charleston; Hotel EQ in Kuala Lumpur; and The First Roma Dolce in Rome.
“Looking ahead, we see an opportunity to continue to build on our legacy, leveraging the shift in consumer trends towards authentic, independent travel.”
“We kicked off our ‘No Filter Needed’ campaign this autumn, featuring photos taken by visitors and locals and with lots of off-season offers.”
Steve Hartridge chats to Keith Beecham CEO of Jersey Tourism Board
“We have had a pretty positive year in 2018 and had a particularly great summer, as did many UK destinations because of the fabulous weather, but our on-going challenge remains the early spring, autumn and some of the winter months. But these ‘shoulder periods’ also represent an opportunity, and one the island’s tourism players are upping their efforts to exploit.
“The fact is, Jersey is a beautiful island year-round, and offers something different depending on the season. That is what we are highlighting. We kicked off our ‘No Filter Needed’ campaign this autumn, featuring photos taken by visitors and locals and with lots of off-season offers.
“We have an opportunity for significant growth in these shoulder months and to this end we have been working hard with our airline partners and our tour operator friends and we are beginning to see numbers increase in these periods.
"Hotels across the island are also doing their bit to entice off-season visitors by adding wellness treatments, spas and more family rooms to appeal to what is It is a different demographic to the summer visitor.
“Summer is all about coming for a week or so to enjoy our beaches and our countryside, but out of the summer shorter breaks dominate, often taken by younger couples or families with children looking for a two- or three-day break. Jersey in the off-season is definitely more about wellness, outdoorsy things and experiences that see you stopping more often to breath in our refreshing air!
The perception that most hotels on the island roll up their shutters and shut their doors in the off-season also needs addressing.
“Whilst it is true that several of our smaller accommodations, that is mainly those in the guest house sector, do close in the off season, we still have round 8,000 hotel beds available in winter (in summer this tops out at around 11,000), so we have a pretty good selection available year round.
Most of Jersey’s restaurants are now also staying open year round and there has been an acceleration of new restaurant openings this year, both at the café and restaurant level. For example, a completely reburbished Jersey Crab Shack, which opened in the summer, and The Sinful Vegan, the island’s first vegan café offering ‘a 100% cruelty free’ menu, are already poplar dining spots in in St Helier.
“Things are changing on the island, but we know have to work really hard. It is a very competitive market out there and we have to try to keep refreshing our product, where we can, to help those tour operators that have worked very hard for several years to make our island a success for their business.
New reasons for suggesting Jersey
"The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which has long had links with the island and is involved in a range of conservation projects, will celebrate its 60th anniversary and will celebrate by launching a Go Wild Gorillas sculpture trail around the island.
"Visitors will be able to spot brightly coloured, artist imagined life-size gorilla sculptures which will lead them to discover not just the gorillas but also the natural settings on the island in which they are placed.
"Also new will be a butterfly and tortoise house at Jersey Zoo. Visitors will be able to walk through swathes of tropical butterflies sharing their habitat with several Galapagos tortoises."
For Jersey, like elsewhere, the impact of Brexit remains an unknown but Beecham believes the island is well placed to maintain or increase arrivals from the UK, which account for 75% of all of Jersey’s visitors.
“Whatever Brexit brings, the sun will still be shining in Jersey … we will still be trading in sterling, our fabulous Jersey Royal potatoes will still be harvested and our wonderful shellfish will still be abundant! Moreover, our visitors will still feel they have arrived in one of the safest destinations anywhere…. and they will still be able to use their UK three-pin plugs!”
“LA is known for encouraging individuality, something which is reflected in our ‘Everyone is Welcome’ campaign.”
Jessica Pook chats to Ernest Wooden Jr. Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board President & CEO and Don Skeoch Chief Marketing Officer
“This is the second year of our ‘Everyone is Welcome’ campaign, an idea born in protest to the travel ban last year. We speak 224 different languages in LA and we felt it was important to respond with a message of humanity, to show that this is not a concept that represents us, " said Don Skeoch, Chief Marketing Officer at Los Angeles Tourism.
“To further encourage diversity, the tourism board launched its 'Endless Summer' promotion earlier this year, specific to the LGBTQ+ community. As part of the promotion a collection of boutique hotels are offering ‘buy three nights and get the fourth night free’. All of the participating hotels have provided a promotional code so that the travel trade can book this offer. Bookings can be made at discoverlosangeles.com.
"New for 2019, contemporary art fair Frieze will launch at LA’s Paramount Pictures Studeos. Over 80 galleries will exhibit work from international artists from February 14 – 17, 2019 reflecting LA’s position as a global arts capital. Described as a 'fushion of art and culinary', it will join Frieze New York, Frieze London and Frieze Masters on the art calendar and makes for a great day out for art enthusiasts.
“Everything is changing so rapidly in LA, it’s one of the most dynamic cities," said Ernest Wooden Jr., Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board President. "So to keep the trade up to date we have launched a new training programme for agents to become an LA Insider. It’s a visual, fun way of learning and separates LA into manageable neighbourhoods. Once you become an LA Insider you can create your own itineraries, receive updates, and unlock incentives and promotional offers. It’s an ongoing relationship between us and the travel trade to help better sell LA.
“This will be our eighth consecutive year of increase in UK arrivals. The UK has 76 weekly flights to LA, plus a new flight from Manchester due in May with Virgin Atlantic. This year we also celebrate LAX airport's 90th anniversary and as a result have invested $14 billion into building a people mover system, which will connect to five subway lines. The renovations are due to be completed by 2023.
"Lastly, Universal studios has currently closed down the Jurassic Park attraction but will relaunch with new technology, new dinosaurs and CGI annimation due to open June, 2019."
“A quarter of all UK visitors will return to us within five years, so for agents it’s well worth learning how to sell New Zealand”
Jessica Pook chats to Stephen England-Hall, CEO of Tourism New Zealand
“Being a long haul destination and typically a big-spend holiday, New Zealand can be a complex buy for the UK market. We find potential visitors want that extra reassurance that they are booking the right holiday and this is reflected in the fact that 80% of bookings are made through the trade.
"It’s so important agents feel comfortable connecting the consumer to the right product, especially as a quarter of all UK visitors will return within five years. For agents, it’s well worth investing the time to learn about New Zealand because the chances are you will have repeat clients wanting to experience lesser-known areas."
“We do extensive research into consumers and look to identify key variable motivators to ensure we provide agents with the right marketing materials. A direct example is our range of short videos that we’ve just launched. Each video focuses on a key area of New Zealand travel, such as wildlife or landscape or a self-drive holiday, so that we can provide the answer to some of the more obscure itinerary enquiries.
"There's been a great response to the videos, with 8,800 viewers, and we feel that giving agents bite-size four-minute tutorials makes the information more digestible. We follow these with our webinars, which we have been updating over the last 12 months. We've found that creating the small chunks of training has lead to an increase in views for the more in-depth webinars.
"We run fam trips all the time and we have our agent training roadshow in March 2019 in London and Manchester, with regional tourism organisations attending and a range of training exercises on offer."
“There’s a huge variant in itineraries compared to five years ago, mainly driven by FIT and the accessibility of self-drive in New Zealand. We’re seeing people who are interested in winter itinerates, food and beverage-themed trips or cycling, so there's a shift away from the traditional routes.
"The average stay for a British person in New Zealand is 28 days, so when they come they really want to see the whole country and they visit most of our regions. British visitors love to get off the beaten track, especially with a campervan.
"We are focusing on New Zealand as a health, recovery and relaxation destination. There is also a big push on conservation tourism and we are seeing an increase in visitors who want to contribute to the enrichment of New Zealand’s environment.
"As a small nation we have such strong values and this can be seen in the ban on single-use plastic bags which will be implemented next year.
"Agents can access all the videos along with a new animated 'Middle-earth’ map showing multiple options for travel to New Zealand at the click of the button – you can see this map and all the trade training tools here"
“If you want to see what real America is all about I pitch you Kentucky. We’re the front porch to the south and the gateway to the Midwest”
Laura Gelder meets Kristen R Branscum, Commissioner at the Kentucky Department of Tourism as she's in town to meet UK trade and press
“We ask people what they know about Kentucky and the most common replies are the derby, increasingly bourbon and, of course, KFC! So there’s a long way to go in terms of education.
“If you could only visit one state and you wanted to see what real America is all about I would pitch you Kentucky. We have such varied topography and different visitor experiences throughout the state.
“Kentucky is the front porch to the south and the gateway to the Midwest – the northernmost southern state. We see traffic coming up from the south, including people who started in New Orleans, as well as from Chicago (4.5 hours from Louisville) Washington D.C and Philadelphia – 75% of the US population is within a day’s drive.
“We want agents to know you can have a composite itinerary in Kentucky. Central Kentucky is the rolling bluegrass, white fences and horse farms we’re famous for, but in the west we have the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers and our two largest lakes and in south Kentucky there are even more lakes and waterways – more shoreline than Florida in fact! Head east and you hit the Appalachian Mountains or North and you’ll find our biggest city Louisville.
“There’s so much of Kentucky which people don’t know about, like the old river town of Paducah at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Thanks to an innovative artist relocation incentive it’s now a UNESCO Creative City and the reinvigorated downtown is hopping, with coffee shops, trendy restaurants, studios and galleries.
“Owensboro in the northwest is a centre for barbeque and bluegrass and its downtown has been refreshed with new river walks, parks and hotels. After a 15 million dollar upgrade, the new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum opens this October with rotating exhibits, theatres and an interactive ‘pickin’ room where you can play instruments. There’s a real resurgence in bluegrass now – or newgrass – and a greater international appreciation which we’re capitalising on.
“Brits will love renting a houseboat in the Southern Shorelines region. Visitors can self drive or get a captain and some boats are pure luxury, with five bedrooms, a hot tub and a chef’s kitchen! You can enjoy watersports like jet skiing or find your own island and build a camp fire.
“Horse farm tours are getting better and better. You can learn about the breeding process and what they get for a 350,000 dollar stud fee. Seeing a race at Churchill Downs or Keeneland is a must and it’s on year-round, excepting winter, with night racing in June. In November you can experience the horse sales, watching the world’s best horses sold for millions of dollars.
“Visitors can have a bourbon experience all over the state, from rural towns to the urban bourbon experience in Louisville. Head to Whiskey Row, a revitalized part of downtown home to lots of distilleries, both historic bourbon brands and start-ups.
“I never liked bourbon straight until I was taught how to taste it but now I can appreciate all the complex flavours and I know what I like. That warm sensation you get after taking a sip - they call it a Kentucky hug!”
“We’re here to educate agents on the most diverse product in the Caribbean, but for us it’s not about adding volume, it’s about finding quality”
Laura Gelder meets Glen Beache, CEO of the St Vincent & the Grenadines Authority, on the eve of its first UK trade roadshow
“In the past we were marketed as a very high-end destination which was a mistake. We do have famous high-end properties, especially in Mustique, Bequia and Canouan, but we have much more – boutique hotels, three private island resorts, the Caribbean’s first Mandarin Oriental in Canouan and many more hotels in-between. We’re currently in talks to add an all-inclusive resort to St. Vincent too.
We have arguably the most diverse product in the Caribbean – 32 islands and cays and a mix of mountainous volcanic and low-lying coral islands with both black and white sand beaches. We court four niche markets: sailing, for novices and experts; diving, with everthing from small critters to big sharks; romance, including weddings and honeymoons; and adventure, incorporating eco tourism.
In February 2017 we opened our international airport and we now have direct flights from Toronto, New York and, from December 15, Miami. Most Brits get to us via Barbados, Antigua or Trinidad but the new Miami flight connects perfectly with a British Airways flight.
Compared to our neighbours we are relatively new and this means we can make sure we don’t make the same mistakes as some of them. We need to move forward, but sustainably, so that when people visit they really feel where they are and have a truly great experience, enjoy our culture, people, festivities and food. We don’t want mass tourism – Ideally I want there to be a waiting list for people to fly into St. Vincent and the Grenadines!
Our tagline is ‘the Caribbean you were looking for’. We are developing but not over developed. Our tallest building is just five storeys high! Driving along you still have that natural feel which is what the Caribbean is about.
You can climb our volcano La Soufrière, hike our nature trails, or visit Fort Charlotte - the only fort in the Caribbean with its cannons facing inland. We’re also setting up new farm product so that visitors can see how we grow out fruit and vegetables.
Social media has changed how destinations market themselves. These days just having a wonderful beach isn’t enough. It’s all about the experience and the bragging rights that go with it.
Action for agents
We have a lot of islands – I always say you pay for one island and you get 31 free! This poses a challenge for marketing but that’s what doing roadshows is all about. We’re also planning to introduce online training in the UK again, reward agents who sell us and host a lot more fam trips so they can really experience our product. It’s about them drinking the strongest white rum in the world, visiting the oldest botanical garden in the western hemisphere and swimming the clear waters of the Tobago Cays.
We’re a former British colony so the UK market is a very important market for us. The priority is to get a direct flight from the UK and we have government backing to make that happen so watch out for an announcement soon! But for St Vincent and the Grenadines it’s not about volume, it’s about quality."
“The trade constitutes 20% of our business but we’d like to grow this. Once considered too expensive, we're now surprising agents with our lower pricing, but still delivering five-star service”
Jessica Pook chats to Simon Lynch, Head of Sales at Abercrombie & Kent
“Abercrombie & Kent has been specialising in luxury travel for over 50 years and now has 70 offices around the world. With a profile of over 100 destinations divided into programmes including tailor-made, escorted touring, villa holidays, plus beach and ski programmes, we work closely with the trade to provide competitive pricing without compromising on the luxury experience.
“We have a really strong team on the ground (a 99-person team in China and a 1000-strong team in Africa), so when you book a holiday with us it’s the team in that destination booking your holiday with that specialist knowledge.
We’ve also expanded our Agency Sales team with new Sales Managers: Mark Harris (formerly at Wendy Wu Tours) covering the South of the UK including London, and Diogo Castanheira (previously at Hainan Airlines) covering Northern England, Scotland and Ireland. Both have a strong escorted touring background.
Revamping escorted tours
“We’ve always sold escorted tours but we are re-launching our immersive tours to better suit the British traveller. It’s a slower pace of holiday with an emphasis on free time and a ‘Design Your Own Day’ offering which gives clients the freedom to customise their excursions rather than being on a fixed itinerary. Whether that is culinary, art, adventure or culture, that flexibility is at the forefront of the experience.
“The trade constitutes 20% of our business but we’d like to grow this figure. Where we were perhaps considered too expensive in the past, we’re now surprising agents with our pricing. We’ve seen it come down in the last five years without cutting back on any of the five-star A&K elements and we are very proud of the price point that we are able to deliver for the trade. We seem to be winning agents over with our Europe tours, which deliver on service, knowledge and price.
"Agents can access preferential commissions, educational trips and more on our Preferred agency programme: abercrombiekent.com"
“We work with some amazing agents who really know their product and we work tirelessly to nurture their business – 99% of our holidays are sold through the trade”
Laura Gelder chats to Vishal Patel, Sales & Marketing Director at tailormade specialist Travelpack
“Travelpack's roots are in flight sales but now we are tailor-made long haul specialists. India is our star destination as our team have an immense wealth of knowledge on it. They’ve lived there or been multiple times and know it very well. Our sister company is an India-based supplier, meaning we have access to a huge range of value products and an ability to be creative and add value. We can request special extras like Champagne in your client’s room or book a local restaurant, quickly and at a reasonable price.
“Our team work tirelessly to help agents. If an agent rings saying their client has a better quote from a direct sell operator we will do our absolute best to try and match or beat it and help the agent keep their business – even if it means cutting our margins. If things go wrong we are always on hand to help: my sales guys can access me 24/7. And if we make an error we’ll honour it. We also have lots of initiatives to help agents drum up business. We provide promotional materials and Facebook banners and support agents with their events like wedding showcases. We value the business we have and we nurture it – 99% of our holidays are sold through the trade.
“Travelpack still leads in selling holidays to North America, India, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, but one of our fastest-growing areas is Europe, where our passenger numbers have gone from nothing to almost 1,000 this year. We also offer packages through partner tour operators like Intrepid and G Adventures. We excel at events and have packaged holidays around sporting events from the World Cup, cricket and boxing to more unusual ones like the World Figure Skating Championships and niche music festivals in the USA. We’ve managed the impossible – including tickets to sold-out events across the world, from Ed Sheeran gigs to NFL finals!
“We're planning for growth but it will be controlled. We’re investing in staff and technology and strengthening agent relationships will continue to be key. We’re extremely grateful for agent support – agents are our bread and butter! It’s not an easy industry and direct sell competition will only increase. But if we can continue to add value and service we will be ok!”
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