Operators need to follow agents in extending the working day, says Miles Morgan managing director of Miles Morgan Travel

As travel agents we fight hard for business through service and price. So when we finally come to make the booking for our customer only to find the operator is closed, it’s frustrating.

This is magnified when it is a Saturday afternoon, the booking is worth £21,000 and resulted in the client saying they would “think about it” over the weekend. As I write this, four days later, they have still not booked.

Am I expecting too much from the operator to be available beyond 5pm? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people in our sales-based industry to be around at 5.15pm on a Saturday.

For me, being open for business at that time is and should be normal. Unfortunately, this incident is not a one-off. I was amazed over the Easter period at the opening hours, or lack of, from a number of our suppliers – some even closed on days that were not even a public holiday.

Meet customers’ needs

Don’t get me wrong, I am traditional and think Sunday trading has killed family life. Sadly, the clock is not going to wind back and we need to get on with it whether we like it or not.

Miles Morgan Travel is now open seven days a week until 10pm. Why? Because the customer expects us to be, whether that’s to make bookings, give advice or respond to emergency calls. Would I prefer not to do this? Of course. But in a highly competitive business it is about looking after customers more than ever before. So should we, as customers of our suppliers, not expect the same?

Evenings and Sundays have become regular working days and any supplier worth their salt should know this and be open for business. The huge increase in homeworking over the past 10 years has resulted in large numbers of agents beavering away in their lounge or spare bedroom most evenings.

Gain an edge

This may explain the ever-growing pleas on social media from agents asking if anyone from such and such an operator is around to confirm a booking or a price. These pleas generally get a reply from a lot of operators, but most seem to be keen individuals rather than the operator taking the lead. In 2018 I find this surprising. We are all looking for an edge or advantage over our competitors and here is an opportunity.

Technology has moved on so much that it means we don’t open all our shops until 10pm but route calls to someone working that night at home, so I don’t understand why suppliers can’t take the same approach.

I am sure a number will respond to this and say they are doing this already. If so, good on you. But maybe others who aren’t could review their out-of-hours policies and consider a more flexible approach that fits better with today’s travel agent.

So over to you, tour operators. You might not want to do it, but why not support this growing demand for bookings ‘out of hours’. For others, answering the phone in normal hours would also be a huge help.
I won’t name the operators involved, but you know who you are.