Big Interview: Ruth Hilton, Trafalgar

Big Interview: Ruth Hilton, Trafalgar

Ruth Hilton, UK sales and business development director, talks to Juliet Dennis about what the company is doing to change agent perceptions and how it engages with the trade

Six months ago, Ruth Hilton joined specialist tour operator Trafalgar after a career spanning nearly 20 years in mainstream package and long-haul holidays.

After 13 years at Airtours and five years at Gold Medal, Hilton is relishing the challenge of working in the fast-growing escorted touring or ‘guided holidays’ sector.

In her new role as UK sales and business development director for Trafalgar and sister operator Costsaver, both part of The Travel Corporation, she is adamant the sector “has legs to grow”.

She says: “People have asked me why I moved. The answer is that there’s a lot of potential for it to grow; it feels like cruise did six or seven years ago.”

On joining the company, one of Hilton’s first moves was to boost the field sales team by appointing a sales manager for the north of England. The new role is reaping results by helping the operator gain sales in areas of the country in which it was less well represented.

Changing perceptions

But the bigger challenge for Hilton is a sector-wide one. “There is still the perception of old people travelling on a bus,” she says. “The biggest challenge for the whole sector is how we raise its profile. Agents know it’s a coach tour but they don’t know the finer details, so it’s how we get that across.”

Hilton is keen for agents to emphasise the experiences rather than homing in on the method of travel. The ‘added benefits’ offered on trips include homestays with locals – some with celebrity connections – and opportunities to dine in the Vatican in Rome.

“It’s not just about the transportation; it’s the experiences on the trips. That’s what we are trying to get across to the trade,” Hilton adds.

Agent tools

Hilton has revealed plans to get 100 agents on fam trips in the next 12 months. Alongside this, the website has been revamped and an online training academy relaunched.

This month, agents received a suite of marketing collateral to help them sell the brands better, including point-of-sale information to use on social media and in shops, and overbranded marketing materials.

Hilton says: “We are giving agents the tools to do the job. It’s engaging them because they don’t sell this type of holiday every day.”

At Trafalgar, more than 85% of bookings come from the trade.

“Our whole focus is on working more closely with trade partners and making sure we are targeting the right customers. We want to support agents who have the opportunity to drive this market,” says Hilton.

“We are already seeing the ship turn. Sales for peaks are now up year on year, but it’s not a quick turnaround. Some agents are a bit apprehensive about what guided holidays are – we want to give them knowledge to grow their market.”

Guided holidays

One change the company made was to use the term guided holidays instead of escorted touring. This is in line with how they are described in the company’s biggest source markets, the US and Australia.

In both these markets, Trafalgar already enjoys a younger customer base than the company’s average UK clients, who are in their 50s.

“Trafalgar is a household name in the US and Australia,” says Hilton. “They are mature markets and their demographic of customer is younger. Obviously my job is to turn around the UK so it becomes a bigger part of the organisation.”

Ten seconds with Ruth Hilton

1. What destinations are on your wish-list?
South America, Maldives and South Africa.

2. How do you like to spend your spare time?
Quad biking with the kids and enjoying time with my friends.

3. What was the last book you read?
Me Before You.

4. What’s your favourite film?

5. Who inspires you?
Richard Branson and my parents.

6. What song would you sing for karaoke?
I can’t sing, but I always have a go at American Pie.

7. What’s your favourite tipple?
A nice glass of Sauvignon


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