Interview: Mark Swords, director, Swords Travel
I got into travel… as a holiday rep. I worked for Thomas Cook, Stuart [Swords, co-director at Swords Travel] worked for Tui overseas. We did that for about three years, moved back to the UK and worked in retail from there. I then moved into different roles in Thomas Cook, then went to work for Travel 2. I then moved to MSC Cruises for about a year before I decided to set up Swords Travel. Initially I set up on my own from home. And then we decided about six months ago that we needed to get out of our home office. Stuart had been working full-time up until this point and he decided to come into the business as well.
I have grown my business through… networking. I joined a local business group called BNI (Business Networking International). Once a week, you meet local business owners and get 60 seconds to talk about your product and what’s going on in the travel industry. We also use social media and make sure the content is inspirational – image-led and supplier-led – and educational. It’s a crowded market, so we differentiate ourselves with knowledge.
The part of the business that is growing the most is the… family market. Where we are, in Wimbledon, it’s quite a family area. We get a lot of honeymooners as well, and we create really bespoke itineraries for them. I think where we’ve done really well from a growth point of view is using specialist suppliers.
The supplier we have the strongest partnership with is… Carrier. We work really well with them. We’ve also worked well with Caribtours over the past year or so. We’ve really got to know the teams. Our partnership with Africa & Beyond is strong too – they’ve been really good recently.
The biggest highlight of 2018 for us was… 100% winning the Aspire Independent Agency of the Year award. We’ve only been going for two years so winning an award like this was amazing. We’re still over the moon and the exposure from that has really helped as well.
My industry bugbear is… the procedures you have to go through with tour operators. This is especially true of some of the larger operators: they’ve got so many processes they make you go through and you just don’t get that personal service. This actually affects your experience with that tour operator and consequently your customer’s experience with you.
If I could change one thing about the industry... I’d change people’s perception of travel agents. People think that what we do is just take orders and book things. In reality, agents are all about knowledge. And as well as offering excellent service, we also offer security and help to ensure our customers have got peace of mind around their travel plans.