Caribbean resort operator’s UK managing director hails success of its new in-house tour operation. Lucy Huxley reports
Two months after the launch of Sandals’ own tour operation, UK managing director Karl Thompson says it is already exceeding expectations, with hundreds of agents registered and bookings being made.
The Caribbean resort specialist unveiled its in-house tour operation in April, taking bookings under its own Atol, with a licence to carry 18,194 passengers.
The move saw Sandals cut its 10-year commercial and marketing partnership with Funway Holidays, which was licensed to sell its holidays.
Thompson declined to give figures for Sandals’ tour operation. But he says: “We’re absolutely delighted with the uptake and support which our agency partners have shown, whether they be vertically integrated or independent.
“It’s been a very natural progression for many of them to book through us – many of them actually asked us to do this.”
A trade website will have a few functionalities added in June, including the ability to book multi- island holidays, plus a price and availability calendar which will give agents a month view by resort of prices and available flights.
“There is so much more business to be secured in the UK through agents; we are only scratching the surface. What we are not doing is driving anyone to our business at the expense of anybody else.”
Thompson says twin and multi-centre holidays are increasingly in demand, accounting for 5%-10% of all business, and are particularly popular with wedding and honeymoon customers.
“The whole family comes for the wedding on one island then, once married, the couple go off to a quieter island,” he says.
Thompson says the tour operation was set up to grow the overall business by taking more control.
“It gives us a greater understanding of what each agency needs from Sandals because we can instantly see who is doing what, which opens up opportunities,” he says. “If we discover an agent is a specialist in last-minute deals, or someone who only does weddings, then we can tailor the right activity to them.
“So our goal is not to substitute any of the existing business with sales via our own operation. That business through other operators [such as Kuoni and Hays & Jarvis] or direct-sell partners [such as Virgin Holidays, BA Holidays, Kenwood Travel] is massive.
“This is about growing the overall business. The more our travel agent partners understand our product and are able to communicate that on a timely basis to their customers, the more business there is to be had.
“There is so much more business to be secured in the UK through agents; we are only scratching the surface.
“What we are not doing is driving anyone to our business at the expense of anybody else.”
Thompson says the company has received bookings from agents Sandals had not come across before it launched the tour operation.
“We are not reliant now on anybody. We want to work with everybody, but we’re not at the behest of tour operators that might not have us at the top of their priority list,” he says.
Agents are offered “attractive commission rates and overrides” and “targeted marketing support”, such as a joint direct marketing piece with Hays Travel that was sent to 30,000 of its customers when the operation launched.
“We have already started ramping up our support for agents and want to go to market with even more material,” says Thompson.
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