Luxury agency Club Voyages outlines quality ambitions

Club Voyages has aspirations to become “one of the most high-quality holiday companies in the UK”, according to its founder and managing director Sam Ballard.

The company, which launched last year as a cruise-focused online travel agent, recently underwent a brand refresh and repositioning to target the luxury tailor-made market and unveiled ambitious plans to double its portfolio of homeworking agents.

Former travel trade journalist Ballard said cruise would remain “a core part” of the brand’s proposition but said the company would also now sell short and long-haul destinations with a luxury focus.

“I want to be known as one of the most high-quality holiday companies in the UK,” he told Travel Weekly.

“I want to be synonymous with quality, both through the itineraries and the service that we offer. I don’t harbour any aspirations about being the biggest this or doing the most of that. It’s definitely quality over quantity and I just want every single holiday that we offer and all of the touch points that we provide to be back to the highest standard possible.”

Ballard admitted he made “so many mistakes” when he first launched Club Voyages, describing himself as a “moth to a flame” to recommendations he build a bookable website.

He said: “All of the enquiries I generated were price-led. We barely converted anything. We had people basically just shopping around and comparing quotes. And I just had this realisation that I really needed to course correct; I wanted to go back to the original vision of having something that was bespoke, tailored and more like the holidays that I enjoyed taking. That was the launchpad for the rebrand. I was going down the route of becoming a discounting OTA and that is not something I’ve got any interest in whatsoever.”

Through its membership of Hays Independence Group, Cruise Voyages now has access to an Atol and will offer bespoke itineraries as well as pre-planned group tours exclusively available to Club Voyages customers.

The first of its so-called Journeys by Club Voyages – an eight-day river cruise through France’s Rhone Valley for June 2024 – is already on sale, with other packages to the United States, India and Mexico being planned.

“That’s something we’re going to start rolling out more and more,” Ballard said.

“In the beginning they’re going to be one-off tours, so they might be around an event or time of year, and we’ll give clients amazing access to an experience in that destination.”

Club Voyages also intends to double its network of 12 self-employed homeworkers over the next year.

Ballard said the agency and operator offered a “generous” package, including no joining or monthly fees, 50% commission upfront on any confirmed booking, and access to “considerable” administrative support. Commission is split 60:40 in favour of the agent, rising to 70:30 “when an agreed sales target is broken”.

“It really is quite a unique offering – I’ve not seen anyone offer anything similar,” he said.

“But on the back of that we do want agents that are curious, love travel, are active and either have that existing bank of clients or, if they’re outside of the industry, [can] show that they have the capability to grow that.”

Reiterating that the company wasn’t “ruling out” those with little to no experience, he added: “Our top seller for the past year has come from outside the industry”.

As part of its repositioning, Club Voyages has rolled out several new initiatives, including a personalised gift box for bookings over a certain value featuring a bottle of wine and a book.

“I think travel has been commoditised to a huge degree where booking it can be a chore,” Ballard said.

“I don’t think someone should book a holiday for £20,000 and just get an email confirmation. To me, there’s a real gap there for agencies that want to be part of that journey. As soon as a client enters our world, we should start building the excitement of where they’re going. It shouldn’t be laborious.”

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