Independent travel agency ItsSo Travel’s new branch opened in a Cambridge shopping centre by TV “homestyle consultant” Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.
The agency, which is a member of the Global Travel Group, won a year’s free shop lease in the Grow at The Grafton competition run by the Grafton shopping centre in a Dragon’s Den-style contest.
They won a shop lease in the centre with rent, rates and services free for 12 months.
Paul Welling who set up the agency four years ago with his wife Claire said: “We had to pitch for the space and out of the 76 applicants we were one of the two winners. They were impressed with our pitch for our plans for the next generation of high street travel agents.
“Since we set up our other store in St Ives we have had this vision that we wanted to change how people book their holidays and we wanted to create the journey of booking a holiday and we looked at how people would book at home.
“A travel store should be exciting, interactive and immersive. The booking process is always part of the holiday and it should be as exciting as the first day of the holiday and they have to get excited about it.
Welling said as customers come in they pass 65-inch interactive touch screens with brochures loaded on, destination videos and special offers. He added: “We have virtual reality headsets so people can experience destinations and see products and then we have a lounge area with sofas and armchairs where we go through the consultation stages with customers and they can have a drink. Then they go to one of our booking pods which are like first class aircraft seating.”
“We have had the shop bespoke designed. We wanted to get away from the traditional row of tables and chairs when you walk in. We wanted the customer experience to be a journey.”
As part of the opening Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen cut the ribbon to open the shop and was be there from 12-2 to meet customers. Beachcomber tours also attended and sponsored the event.
Welling said: “It’s taken a few months to design and get to opening stage and The Grafton Centre is encouraging businesses back to the high street.
“We’ve done figures for the next two, three and four years and we are encouraged to stay. There’s no doubt that we will extend the lease. It’s a good location for us as there isn’t another travel shop in there.”
ItsSoTravel has employed four members of staff for the shop and is on the look out for one more.
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