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A brighter future for travel, by co-founder Steve Witt

As we mark 2 years since travel was stopped, co-founder Steve Witt takes a look back at what it’s meant for our franchisees – and why they are looking forward to a brighter future.

Before we offered a franchise, you may not know that we were once travel consultants ourselves. 

We officially started our travel agency the day before 9/11.

All things considered, it was probably the worst possible day ever to start a travel business. Because, back then, within 1 day nobody wanted to fly anywhere.

Before 2020, it would have been easy to think we’d seen it all. 

But today, March 17th 2022, we celebrate a bittersweet anniversary. It’s 2 years ago – to the day – that the government advised against all non-essential travel, sending the industry into meltdown.

It’s been a massively tough 2 years for everybody in the industry, that’s for sure. 

Many talented people have been lost to other businesses and possibly won’t return. 

However, the travel industry is very resilient. As a nation, we love holidays and that will never change. 

Now, with all restrictions about to end, the evidence is clear to see; we’ve experienced record-breaking bookings as travel gets set for its biggest ever comeback. 

No-one knew what to expect at first

When I think back to March 2020, I remember heading into our head office, next to Bournemouth Airport. 

In the days after the announcement I saw aircraft, worth hundreds of millions of pounds, getting their wheels chocked and engines covered. No-one knew when they’d be able to fly again.

Grounded planes at the airport

As an industry, we immediately went from a 1% refund rate to 99% cancellations. 

Similar to the rest of the country, the existing travel industry infrastructure simply wasn’t set up to cope. Suppliers rapidly furloughed staff, websites went dark and customers were left confused and worried about their hard-earned holidays.

But as travel consultants and franchisors, we couldn’t simply give up. 

Our travel consultants had customers that needed advice, support and reassurance as well as help with moving bookings or getting refunds.

And they, too, needed to be looked after and guided through what would prove to be very tough times.

For all of us, it was like being a restaurant that had to remake every meal it had served for the past year, without any new customers coming in.

We had to survive in order to thrive 

As a franchisor, our job was to help our consultants get through those tough times so that they could stay in business – and benefit from a rebound we were confident would happen.

Over the past 2 years, we’ve put in place several initiatives to help them.

Financially, we were there to slow down the impact on their business.

  • Our corporate team voluntarily reduced their salaries.
  • The majority of our team kept working, on full pay, to help customers that needed to be able to get through to someone.
  • We set up funds to help our consultants and also made sure they didn’t have to immediately pay back commissions that no longer existed.
  • We absorbed refund costs / credit card fees and deferred all credit card fees for new bookings / rebookings.
  • We worked with other businesses to help win part-time contracts for over 200 of our travel consultants, in order to give them short-term income.

Emotionally, we offered support and guidance.

  • We began daily Facebook lives and interactive sessions so that no-one felt alone.
  • To help deal with the uncertainty and stress created by lockdowns and cancelled bookings, we brought in specialist life and mind/body coaches.
  • We created new training programmes with our inhouse team and suppliers to help educate and upskill our consultants and keep them focused on a positive future.

Operationally, we invested heavily to be ready for the rebound.  

  • We invested in new technology to help our travel consultants manage their bookings, cancellations & refunds better. This created a better customer experience, as existing industry systems simply couldn’t cope.
  • We recruited new team members into the business at a time when people were laying off staff.
  • We created our Key Trade Partner program, allowing us to support and promote travel suppliers as their staff returned from furlough.

Thankfully, our consultants were able to keep motivated, as seen by the comments in our private Facebook community.

Customers are grateful and loyal

During lockdowns, we found customers were grateful to their consultants for their personal touch; talking about potential holidays provided a ray of light and a focus for when the lockdown and travel restrictions would end.

From all those conversations, it was clear that this was nothing like when we started the business in 2001. 

Then, people didn’t want to travel. Now, the majority of people can’t wait to get away and are feeling safe to do so.

In fact, people were making future bookings right through lockdown – all the way up to 2024.

And now all the short-term sales are also coming in.

  • Sales in February 2022 were 433% up on 2020 and 193% up on 2019 (pre-pandemic).
  • We’ve never had so many advance bookings – breaking records repeatedly in January and February this year.
  • Over 85% of bookings for 2022, because people want to travel as soon as they can.
  • People are spending more: The average booking value has increased by over £1000 a time.

The next 2 years are going to be massive 

That’s why we’re currently investing over £1 million into our franchise support team and technology.

We’ve seen our bookings surging since the first week of 2022. People have been looking to reconnect, explore new destinations or revisit reliable favourites.

They’re spending more too, as demand continues to soar now travel restrictions are eased.

The future is bright for travel consultants

Thanks to their hard work and commitment (married to our support), our consultants are looking at a brighter future. We believe they’ll be more than able to make up for revenue they’ve missed out on – as well as find brand new customers in their droves.

  • Google says that 80% of travel agents are hearing from travellers who’ve never used one before.
  • Flight Centre reports that 54% of people want to use agents again, instead of booking independently.
  • And ABTA highlights that 50% of families are more likely to book with a travel professional now than before the pandemic. 

With the announcement that all restrictions will end tomorrow (Friday 18th March), it’s like the elastic band that has been pulled back for two years has finally been released. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says:

“The UK is leading the world in removing all remaining COVID-19 travel restrictions, and today’s announcement is a testament to the hard work everyone in this country has put in place to roll out the vaccine and protect each other.

I said we wouldn’t keep travel measures in place for any longer than necessary, which we’re delivering on today – providing more welcome news and greater freedom for travellers ahead of the Easter holidays.

I look forward to continuing to work with the travel sector and partners around the world to keep international travel moving.”

The government also say that new restrictions will be a last resort:

“In future, the government’s default approach will be to use the least stringent measures, if appropriate, to minimise the impact on travel as far as possible… and the contingency measures will only be implemented in extreme circumstances.”

We’ll be here to support you in your new business too

If you join our franchise, it means you’ll have a partner who’s there in good times and bad. And now the good times are really on the horizon.

In the past 2 years, over 245 new franchisees have joined us, because they knew the bounce back was going to be huge. And they’re already being proven right.

In fact, many new franchisees have decided to upgrade their packages from Lite to Elite this year as restrictions eased. This gives them lucrative benefits, like 75% max commission share, plus extra training, mentorship, and marketing resources. 

Kathryn Gardner is one of them. She’s been hugely successful and has decided to invest back into her business, which she runs part-time alongside a career in education.

She tells us why she joined and what it’s been like:

“I didn’t have to leave my job. I didn’t have to invest huge sums of money at a time that could be considered risky.

From the minute you sign up, to the minute you start your training, you have a whole SWAT team of people around you who are going to guide you through the process.

That’s absolutely invaluable.”

So how are we celebrating this bittersweet anniversary? 

While we’ll take a moment to rejoice that restrictions have been removed, the reality is we’ll simply be working harder than ever. We need to ensure that we build on the momentum we’ve established in the last two years.

We’ve all proven our resilience through the darkest of times. 

Now let’s celebrate and work towards a brighter future together.

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