Voice of Luxury: Elegant Resorts' Lisa Fitzell

Q. How are both businesses performing?

A. Elegant Resorts is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year and is in brilliant shape. We’re tracking up on 2022, which was one of our best years ever, so we’re really pleased. We’re still seeing quite a sporadic booking pattern, with bookings within three months of travel or outside of nine months, so things are still quite late. It’s a very interesting year, with different peaks and lows from month to month. Europe remains our largest destination and makes up 50% of our business at Elegant Resorts, followed by the Caribbean, Middle East and Indian Ocean. Europe is going from strength to strength, with Italy, Greece and Spain the most popular destinations, and we’ve invested in product development here. We’re seeing growth in our tailor-made and touring product for Africa, Asia and Australasia – these are 300%-400% up but they should be by nature because some of these have only recently opened up. If Only is also trading well and is 40% up versus 2022 and we’re seeing tailor-made and cruise performing exceptionally well.

Q. What’s the trade strategy for this year?

A. We’re investing more in the trade than ever before – that’s an investment in our people, fams and events, and in ensuring all areas of our business are supporting the trade. We’ve got an expanded trade team of six, which is really having an incredible impact. We’ve been working very hard across both businesses to drive new business from agents who haven’t worked with us before and also re‑engaging with agents who haven’t booked with us for some time. As a result, we have 20 new agents working with Elegant Resorts this year and we’ve seen a 15% uplift in trade subscribers for our social media and e-marketing. For If Only, this focus on new business has resulted in more than £1 million in sales in the first quarter of the year from agents who hadn’t sold If Only before, plus we achieved a further £917,000 in sales from retailers that hadn’t sold If Only in the past five years by actively engaging with them through the expanded team. We’ve also seen sales numbers grow thanks to If Only’s Facebook and WhatsApp groups. We have more than 1,000 active agents on these and we post daily offers which agents can post on their own platforms. Sales through the agents in these groups are up 28% on 2019.

Q. Beyond the extended sales team and social media groups, what tools are you offering to support the trade?

A. We’ve been taking our destination specialists out on the road. We have an absolutely incredible amount of knowledge in the team and we’re ensuring those people are on hand to help agents make bookings. We’ve been hosting lots of networking events. For Elegant Resorts, we’ve already hosted 12 coffee mornings for homeworkers and have eight more planned and we’ve held seven supplier lunches and dinners, with 13 more planned. We have also increased our fam trip numbers and we’ll do five this year for Elegant, whereas pre-pandemic we’d do two or three. For If Only, we have our top agent and homeworkers VIP clubs where they get extra benefits, and we’re also introducing our If Only By Appointment videoconferencing service this month to support agents to get high-value bookings confirmed with the help of our specialists. We’re also increasing fam trips from five or six a year to eight.

Q. What’s new for Elegant’s product offering this year?

A. We’ve got a new wellness brochure which we’ve worked hard to curate. It features 32 specialised wellness properties including Chenot Palace, Lefay, Chiva Som and Sha Wellness. This will be bookable by the trade, and they can use the skills of four of our team members who have spent six months training on this product to become our wellness specialists. We expanded our product offering in 2021 and we are now seeing more being added into the portfolio than ever before. We’ve added 40 hotels so far this year, and I expect we’ll reach 80 new hotels this year. We’ve also already added 20 new itineraries.

Q. And what’s new at If Only?
We’ve just launched our inaugural European beach programme, with 106 five-star hotels in the Mediterranean, and we’ve also expanded our luxury cruise collection to feature 22 lines, with European and river cruise itineraries featured for the first time. We also joined Clia to further support this. We are doing more in Africa; we introduced our first dedicated offering to South Africa and we’ll be doing more across the continent from October. We have increased our headcount by 30% and now have more staff than we did pre-pandemic. But we aren’t some big machine, and I love that there’s a family atmosphere to the brand.

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