Suppliers with poor service remain ‘off radar’ says leading agent

Trade partners that supported each other during the pandemic and are offering the best service as the sector recovers are continuing to flourish, according to speakers on a Travel Weekly Future of Travel Forum webcast.

Designer Travel co-owner Amanda Matthews said suppliers which had “let the agency down, didn’t communicate properly and didn’t treat customers correctly” remained “off the agency’s radar”.

“It’s really basic and straightforward. We need people we trust, we need people we can get hold of quickly, and who are efficient,” she said.

“We need people who can offer a good value offering to our clients and, most of all, when things go wrong, we need to know we could speak to somebody and have a really open and honest dialogue with them to try and solve a mutual problem on behalf of our joint customers.”

She added: “Somebody could come up with an amazing price, but if things go wrong and it takes three weeks to do a name change, we're all so busy and we haven’t got those hours to waste on operators who don’t have a robust enough support system.”

Fred Olsen Travel retail director Paul Hardwick echoed Matthews’ claim that the pandemic had showcased the worth of quality travel professionals.

And he stressed the need for agents and operators alike to be fully resourced and trained, adding: “People have been going back into high street travel agents and ringing up travel agents, going back to those face-to-face relationships because they are crucial.

“I had 30% more staff in January this year than I had January last year and that comes with its own challenges because you've got to make sure that you bring them up to speed.

“We used operators to train the staff every day, whereas before the pandemic, we were doing training sessions every Tuesday morning, a little bit here and there.

“[This year] we were doing it every morning. Every operator that we work with, let's get them in or get them recorded [so agents] can watch it when they've got any free time.”

Ocean Holidays co-chief executive Harry Hastings said part of the reason for the operator’s strong growth in trade sales was agents’ ability to reach staff quickly.

The US specialist pledges to answer 95% of calls within 30 seconds and reply to emails within four hours.

Hastings said: “We come from a consumer background and we built a CRM all around how we can have better communication, so when we started selling through the trade it was very important that we were easy to get hold of and do business with.

“That very simple thing seems to be the most important element of what we're doing for all of our travel agents and homeworkers and that's generally the biggest bit of feedback we get.”

Also stressing the importance of staff expertise and exclusive product with guaranteed pricing, he said: “Those three things for us have been have been important. It sounds really simple, but just answering the phone and replying to an email is the most important thing you can do.

“If you can do that at all times and keep it up and be consistent, it goes a hell of a long way.”

Classic Collection Holidays chief executive Andy Freeth said the trade-only Classic Package Holidays brand was continuing to gain traction with agents due to a combination of product and service.

He said: “It's a straightforward relationship, we need to be in the travel agents’ mind the moment a consumer walks in to ask for products we can offer.

“Our business is built on the travel agent, because if we're not thought of, we've got no chance. It’s about continuing to do that and doing it well.”

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