A leading travel agent and the UK boss of cruise association Clia took home the top honours at this year’s Agent Achievement Awards.
Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson and Clia UK and Ireland director Andy Harmer both won the Outstanding Contribution to the Industry Award.
Dobson started her career on the shop floor, before rising through the ranks of the company which she now leads.
She joined Scotland’s leading travel brand as senior luxury sales consultant in 2000 and has worked in numerous roles in cruise, tour operating, marketing, and sales.
In January this year, following the buy-out of Barrhead by US firm Travel Leaders, she took over the reins from her long-standing friend and colleague Sharon Munro after she left the company.
Dobson played a crucial role in Barrhead’s early development taking control of the opening of its Glasgow superstore, which at 22,000 square feet is Europe’s largest.
In 2003, she went on to oversee the firm’s cruise and long-haul operations, developing relationship with suppliers that were pivotal in establishing the Barrhead brand in the Scottish market.
This period also saw her establish a successful tour operating division that saw Barrhead charter British Airways aircraft to take its customers to the Mediterranean.
After a management buyout in 2007, Dobson became managing director and through a series of acquisitions and store openings, the Barrhead brand expanded its reach in Scotland and the UK.
Today Barrhead is a £300 million business that operates 37 of its own stores and has plans to open 25 more over the next five years.
Dobson said: “I’m absolutely shocked. I can’t believe it. To be up there with a legend like Andy Harmer, I’m speechless.
“I started off with Barrhead when we had just 60 staff and now we have about 70 stores throughout the UK. This is the best best industry to be a part of and it has the best people in it, I just love it.”
Dobson said her former colleague, Sharon Munro, who she worked with for 18 years would be delighted with her accolade. She said under Travel Leaders, Barrhead has ambitious plans for the future because it can access investment while enjoying the continuity of a management team that has been there from the start.
“Travel Leaders brings investment, expertise and the resource we never had before, but what’s important is that we have continuity and retain our ethos and our culture and the connection with our customers.”
Harmer was recognised for his work with and commitment to travel agents.
During his time at Clia he has overseen huge growth at the cruise association, expanding membership and was credited with starting an award-winning programme of training and events.
Under his management, Clia UK & Ireland became the first organisation to be recognised for the high standard of its travel agent cruise training by the UK’s awards company in vocational education, City & Guilds, and the implementation of the travel agent programme within France, Spain and the Netherlands.
Harmer has worked in the travel industry for just over 20 years, starting out at a call-centre based travel agency and going on to work for cruise lines Crystal Cruises and Paul Gauguin Cruises and the Kenya Tourist Board.
In 2016, he was made Clia Europe vice president operations with responsibility for developing Clia Europe’s travel agent and event programme.
In 2017 he was promoted to senior vice president for membership.
Harmer said: “It is incredible to win this; I am speechless. It means a huge amount to me to win this award because it means that cruise has been accepted as a mainstream holiday choice.
“Clia is really important to me because I have worked here for so long. When I joined the Association of Cruise Experts (Ace) it had 500 agents in 2007; now Clia has 4,500 agents. I entered this job because I believe in the power of travel agents and that they can be ambassadors of the travel industry.”
He added: “Essentially what is great about the travel industry is how it changes and innovates and that has kept me engaged and interested. I hope that I have an understanding of what travel agents need.”
Hays Travel and Iglu were the big agency winners on the night, both taking home three awards each.
Hays won Large High Street Agency of the Year, Large London and South East England Agency, and Large Yorkshire, North Midlands and North East England categories.
Iglu won Digital Champions of the Year, Large Cruise Agency and Online Agency.
Meanwhile, Althams Travel and Baldwins Travel picked up two awards each.
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