Essential Escapes transform into part-agent

Sister brands Essential Escapes and Tots Too have traditionally been direct-sell tour operators, but the coronavirus pandemic forced them to diversify.

Founders and sisters Emma and Deborah Barnett transitioned to a trust account in April and subsequently transformed part of the business into a travel agency booking through the likes of Lusso and Classic Collection Holidays.

“We moved over to a trust account with Protected Trust Services and they introduced us to a number of operators like Lusso, Classic Collection and a few others who are affiliated and approved suppliers of theirs,” says Emma.

“Like many, we had to furlough our staff, so we decided to have a look at ways in which we could keep the volume and service levels but be able to offload some of that to other operators where we can act as an agent.

“We still have our Atol licence and we’re still a member of Abta but we’re now maybe 70% tour operator, 30% travel agent.”

Emma says both Essential Escapes, which focuses on luxury spa holidays, and Tots Too, which is targeted at families, were “fortunate” to not have “volumes” of bookings to rearrange at the height of the UK lockdown. Most clients also chose to postpone their holiday rather than cancel.

But she admits it has been a challenge to adapt to a new way of working. “It’s been painful because you’re suddenly ripping up the rule sheet,” she says. “We’re an 18-year-old business and it’s like a start-up again. But acting as an agent is the cherry on the cake because it allows us to deal with enquiries that we wouldn’t necessarily have dealt with before.”

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