Comment: Don’t try to be a jack of all trades

Acknowledging you can’t be all things to all customers is a crucial business principle, says Kirker Holidays managing director Ted Wake

I’m not sure what sort of New Year resolutions you have opted for this year, but the personal ones are easy for me. I usually go for the same three: eat less food, drink less wine and exercise more. At least I am consistent, not only with the choice of the trio, but also with the number of days it takes to succumb to temptation: I normally manage a week.

‘Eating less’ is always trickier than you imagine, and it’s best not to discuss the ‘drinking less’ ambition: alcohol is my drug of choice, and helps to keep me sane (especially during a busy peak booking period) – and, besides, at least it is legal.

I am confident that ‘exercise more’ will be fulfilled. I plan to walk whenever feasible, and take public transport less often. Not only that, but I am aiming to run all the way from the Kirker office to Waterloo to catch a slightly earlier train home. I know it is only 600m but, if I really sprint, my heart rate rises significantly – and thinking of all those Christmas calories burnt certainly lifts the spirits.

But enough of my weaknesses! What about some useful 2024 resolutions for your business? We are all well and truly past the basic post-Covid survival strategies that were vital in 2022 and 2023, and should now be setting ourselves a stretch target or two.

However, we need to be a little cautious for two key reasons. First – and this is more relevant to those of us who aim to look after clients from older demographics – not everyone has yet fully regained their travel confidence. Aito stats suggest that 11% of consumers still need to be persuaded to travel abroad, and we look forward to persuading them all to book now to avoid disappointment. Second, the weaker economy and higher interest rates have made consumers a little less confident than we would, ideally, like.

Business resolutions

In spite of the challenges, there is no question that Kirker’s resolutions for 2024 are firmly focused on exceeding the company’s record turnover and profitability achieved in 2019 – advance bookings are already 24% up on last year and on track to exceed 2019 by nearly 10%. Furthermore, agent bookings have generated a disproportionate share of this growth and are already showing a very healthy 30% increase, whereas direct bookings are up by ‘only’ 18%. It is also very encouraging that we seem to be doing more business with a particular cohort of new independent agents. These are new businesses which have come into existence since 2022 and seem to be doing very well by offering their clients excellent personal service and the opportunity to book with a carefully selected portfolio of specialist tour operators.

Wise decisions

I’ve been curious about this unexpected phenomenon – new travel agent businesses setting up to offer consumers superb personal service – and the opportunity to book with a tour operator that they personally recommend. Isn’t that what the best, most successful travel agents set out to achieve 25 years ago? One agent (who asked not to be named) told me: “There is no point trying to be a jack of all trades.” The acknowledgement that you can’t be all things to all customers is a crucial business principle that is a vital part of any successful growth strategy for all ambitious SMEs.

So, while it is crucial to set an ambitious 2024 wish list of new practices and products, don’t forget that trying to be a jack of all trades may not have the desired effect. The best decision you might take, as we all embrace the 2024 peaks, could be to turn down the time-wasters who plan to use your expertise and then price‑match against the cheapest internet offer. Make a resolution to just say ‘no’. This will help to free up your time so that you can help when clients come back for advice about how best to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary in style. You can really help them to add value to those occasions.

On that note, I need to rush for the train – let’s hope I get back in time for a well-earned glass of wine. Good luck with your resolutions. And cheers!

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