The choice for agents has become a hot potato, says If Only sales and marketing director Gordon McCreadie

There’s no denying that we’re up against it at the moment. In the past year, we’ve battled with Brexit uncertainty, said goodbye to some of the most iconic names in the trade and dealt with the challenges brought by political unrest.I’ve got to take my hat off to agents, who not only have to reassure their customers, but also have the pressure of choosing the right operator to trust, a decision that’s become something of a hot potato.The question is, in a world where agents are bombarded with sexy incentives, endless giveaways and enough branded stationery to rival Paperchase, how do operators stand out?

Operators that care

Once upon a time, larger operators ruled the roost. But whether that’s still the case is up for debate. With purse strings tightening and the mantra of ‘experiences over things’ on the rise, consumers aren’t looking just for a good price but good value. Abta’s 2019 Travel Trends Report said 60% of respondents cited value for money as a top priority when booking a holiday, with a focus on tailor‑made trips and attention to detail.

In turn, agents are moving from ‘one size fits all’ operators to those that take care of the finer details. And with so many operators opening stores and online booking portals, there’s no guarantee agents won’t lose out to preferential direct rates. So is there still value in booking with the big players?

As a purely B2B company focused on luxury, we’re all about servicing the needs of our agents with bespoke touches. Nowadays, there’s no such thing as ‘standard’ – whether an agent is looking for an eco-friendly property in the Maldives, or an all‑inclusive family resort in Asia, operators need the answers. Bigger doesn’t always mean better.

Fam trip imperatives

They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to the much sought-after fam trip. These bucket-list trips are one of the best things about our  industry, and a top way of engaging with agents.

If you get it right, it can lead to a long-term relationship. Not so much if you get it wrong. Agents don’t just want to be impressed – they want to be blown away. Endless site inspections, shared accommodation and economy flights aren’t going to cut it. The full luxury experience needs to be on offer – suite upgrades, amazing excursions and business‑class flights.

Quality gift ideas

The strangest gift I’ve received during my time in travel was a branded parking ticket. It was useless, but after the initial panic, when I realised I didn’t owe anyone £500, it placed the brand at the front of my mind. With peaks approaching, we’re all trying to come up with the most creative campaigns and the snazziest collateral – but what do agents actually want?

There are only so many desk calendars and window posters a store can take. According to our BDMs, who have been asking that question, the answer is simple: quality over quantity, and something practical. So, next time we visit or see you at an event, tell us what you want more of in 2020.