Gallery: Barrhead Travel Business Partner Conference

Agency holds event at the Trump Turnberry hotel for the second year running. Ben Ireland reports from Ayrshire

Barrhead Travel has revealed a team of agents will work exclusively on social media, giving holiday advice and making bookings.

Eight staff will start in January and more could follow if bookings through channels such as Facebook and Twitter continue to grow.

Barrhead will recruit trained travel agents, but specifically those with a good understanding of social media, either professionally or in a personal capacity.

“We recruited a specialist team to help with our social media presence and it’s worked really well so far,” said chief executive Sharon Munro. “So we’ve decided to take that one step further and have a separate sales team from January who will be purely dealing with customers’ enquiries and requests.

“Social media is a big channel and we are at the stage where we needed to set up a division for it.

“It’s a very different way of communicating with people. We want to give the customer the choice to talk to us in whichever channel works for them.”

Barrhead’s bookings for 2018 are already up 23% and bookings for winter 2018-19 are up more than 20%. “Next year is looking very positive,” Munro said at the business partner conference.

The figures, which include its homeworking network and managed service branches, come in a year that saw Barrhead Travel open its second shop in England, in Leicester, and announced plans to open its first in Northern Ireland.

Munro also revealed a new online client portal that customers can access to view their quote or booking and add personal details at any time rather than calling or visiting a branch.

New payment methods have also been introduced, such as finance and direct debit options to help customers spread payments.

Brilliant Travel growth spurs brand refresh and new logo

Brilliant Travel, the division that oversees Barrhead’s managed service branches and homeworkers, has undergone a brand refresh after attracting a host of new members.

There are expected to be 42 managed service travel partners (MSTPs), independent agencies affiliated to Barrhead Travel, by the end of the year. That includes seven that have signed this year and six more expected to ink deals by Christmas. There were 29 last year.

Linda Pyle, Barrhead’s managed service travel partner and homeworking director, said: “Being affiliated to Barrhead gives agents brand identity as well as access to Barrhead’s commercial terms, net rates for airlines, cruise lines and hotels as well as technology.” There is also a closed Facebook group for Brilliant agents to share ideas.

Pyle said: “We have traded 
under the strength of the Barrhead name but Brilliant has grown so much in the last year that we’ve decided to give it more prominence [in a brand refresh, which includes a new logo].”
Denise Simpson, co-owner of Xpert Travel, in Barnsley, said: “Joining Brilliant [last December] has allowed us to be proper travel agents again, rather than just booking agents.”

Brilliant stores include two-branch Cumbria Travel, Travelcare World in Lancashire and Go Travel To in the Isle of Wight, helping Barrhead gain insight into markets outside its Scottish heartland.

Brilliant Travel’s homeworking division has also grown, with 10 members joining in the last year. There are currently 23 Brilliant Travel specialists, and Pyle said four more are expected to agree deals by the end of the year.

Homeworkers and MSTPs are supported by Pyle’s five-strong business development team. They can access Barrhead systems and rates, and the team helps them find local networking events. “I believe our homeworker’s package is the best in the business,” Pyle said.

Suppliers praise Barrhead for boost to Scottish sales

Suppliers say Barrhead Travel’s recent success has helped them prosper in the Scottish market.

Norwegian Cruise Line, Emirates and Thomas Cook – headline sponsors of the business partner conference – all said links with the agency had boosted sales.

Barrhead charters flights to serve NCL departures from Venice and Barcelona.

Nick Wilkinson, NCL’s vice-president and UK managing director, said this was a “prime example” of how the agency helped boost the line’s Scottish sales. “Barrhead Travel is the driving force for us in Scotland,” he added.

Emirates’ Denise Holmes, district sales manager for Scotland and the northeast of England, said Barrhead had helped the airline consistently fill a twice-daily Glasgow-Dubai flight, which began in April 2004. “Barrhead is huge for our Glasgow sales,” she said.

Since Barrhead opened in Newcastle in 2016, Holmes said sales on Emirates’ daily Newcastle-Dubai service had been boosted.

Thomas Cook trade partnerships manager Katrina Latimer said “key regional players are important”. She cited a joint campaign that saw a Thomas Cook TV ad followed by a referral to book with Barrhead Travel last year.

Agency continues expansion with luxury division

Barrhead Travel has launched a luxury division to target high-net-worth individuals.

Nine members of staff will work on the team, which will focus on luxury holidays, and introduced in the same year that Barrhead launched an events department.

The agency has struck partnerships with companies such as jewellers, Michelin-starred restaurants and car firms such as Bentley and Aston Martin, which will have a presence at Barrhead events.

“There’s a lot of high-net-worth individuals across the country,” said chairman Bill Munro. “More people are spending. They would rather enjoy life with their grandchildren, so there are a lot of three-generation holidays in the luxury sector.”

Charities benefit from £90k in last year

Barrhead Travel has raised more than £90,000 for various charities over the past year.

Money has been sent to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow, Rotary clubs, and overseas to help poor children abroad go to school.

It has been raised through raffles and auctions and by staff who have taken it upon themselves to raise money. Managing director Jacqueline Dobson ran the London Marathon in April and raised £5,000 for Cancer Research.

Chairman Bill Munro said: “Business is not all about making money. We are in business for different reasons as well – for charitable causes and looking after our staff.”

Munro invites staff to brew up ideas

Barrhead Travel agents are being asked to shape the future of the agency by sitting down for cups of tea with senior management.

Chief executive Sharon Munro’s monthly Brew with the Boss scheme is intended to formalise feedback from frontline staff about how the business can improve.

It began in September and Munro said some of the agents’ ideas will be introduced in the coming months.

She said: “It gives us more of a chance to speak to the people at the coalface and make sure the decisions we are taking are the right ones. Our staff are fantastic at coming up with innovations.”

Gallery: Barrhead Travel Business Partner Conference

Barrhead to open six more shops in England in 2018