Covid pandemic ‘offered brilliant agents chance to prove worth’

The managing director of Designer Travel believes Covid was the “best thing that ever happened to brilliant travel agents”.

Speaking on a panel of agents at the Hays Independence Group conference, Amanda Matthews said: “We categorically could prove our worth. Brilliant travel agents have come out of Covid better than we went in.”

She told delegates how her luxury travel agency set out 10 reasons for consumers to book with them when it set up 15 years ago to help guide their strategy.

Now Designer Travel has a team of 110 homeworkers, plus a centre of excellence admin centre and a shop in Ramsbottom.

She told delegates how her agency offers a 24/7 service and adds human touch to stand out from the crowd.

Another panellist, Scott Murray, founder of Murray Travel, told the conference how he had rebranded his business after Covid and put customer service at the heart of the changes.

His agency began in a small office in Inverness but now has branches in Elgin and Forres, with a fourth shop opening in June.

“We have bespoke software so every customer gets same level of service,” he said.

“Software captures minute details so we can improve experiences.”

He said the shops are like airport lounges with a free bar and consultation pods rather than desks.

“We do not want the Little Britain ‘computer says no’ mindset,” he added.

Also on the panel was consumer behaviour expert Ken Hughes, who advised agents to appoint a “surprise and delight director” to focus on giving customers a personalised and memorable experience.

He talked about pop star Taylor Swift who has surprised fans on social media with gifts and encouraged collaboration on TikTok.

“Connection is all that matters,” he said.

“Put people first, not price, product or process. Make them feel special.”

Dame Irene Hays, chair of Hays Travel, told Travel Weekly: “One of the highlights of preparing for conference is to look at the successes of our members who have come to us with different models and different ideas and then for us to see how we can make them grow.

“They have innovation and entrepreneurial skills…all they need is a good idea and how they can make that work  and we do the wraparound.

“The entrepreneurial spirit is not dead in travel, there are masses of really clever, bright people.”

Pictured on the Hays IG panel, from left: Jo Rzymowska, Celebrity Cruises; Scott Murray, Murray Travel; Amanda Matthews, Designer Travel; Sam Ballard, Club Voyages; and keynote speaker Ken Hughes.

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