The chief executive of easyJet holidays says he has been “blown away” by the amount of sales sold via travel agents since the operator opened its trade channel in August last year.

Garry Wilson said the brand was open to more ideas on how to work more closely with the trade and “help as much as we can” to drive sales.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, he said: “I’ve genuinely been blown away by third party agents.”

Wilson commended independent agents’ “sheer resilience” throughout the pandemic and how most have been able to “continue motoring on” despite shutting the doors of their shops amid multiple lockdowns.

He said their efforts “shows a real level of creativity” and “loyalty the customers show to their travel agent”. “It’s really reassured me that the decision to go along with travel agents was absolutely the right one,” Wilson said.

Asked why the trade channel had served easyJet holidays so well during the pandemic, he added: “What’s become clear [during the pandemic] is that having someone to trust, you can talk to and give guidance has been really valuable.”

He said an “open dialogue” was important to help easyJet holidays forge stronger trade relationships. “We don’t pretend to know all the answers,” he added. “We need to give them all they need in order to sell and I’m very open to that and happy to have that dialogue.”

Wilson urged agents to tell easyJet holidays about any destinations they’d like to see serviced from their local airports, or any hotels they’d like added to the operator’s portfolio and feedback on its range and pricing. He also plans to speak to big agencies and consortia over the coming weeks to help build on ties.

“[Agents] like the fact we’re trying to help as much as we can,” he said. “As long as we can afford it, we will continue having incentives and things that will drive sales because, frankly, it’s been a real powerhouse in terms of a channel for us.”

So far in 2021, easyJet holidays has offered discounts which can be used on bookings via a travel agent, 2% bonus commission for peaks, plus a weekly draw for a chance for agents to win £1,000 credit to spend on their own trip.

Wilson was however cautious about committing to expanding its “small trade team”, which the operator has, including a call centre in Sheffield. “With increased overheads comes increased prices and what we want to do is give the best prices for the trade to be able to sell and give them the most commission that we’re able to afford,” he explained. “If you continue to slice the cake, your ability to do that becomes more limited. Where there is activity that adds value then of course we’re going to consider that.”

He said Barrhead Travel agents had asked him about educationals on a pre-lockdown visit to one of the agency’s stores. “We’ve got many aircraft and many seats and relationships with hotels,” he said. “If that really is meaningful then of course we would consider that. But what I won’t do is stand up a big team and pay for a big overhead that’s then going to impact the ability to sell holidays at the price I want to sell them at.”

Noting that bookings through the trade were from “incremental customers, not customers choosing a new channel”, he added: “We have a very loyal easyJet customer who engages with us digitally on the website, and that customer, I don’t think, will change channel.

“What we’ve managed to do is create a channel for a customer base that maybe we didn’t have, that travel agents had the relationship with. And it was those travel agents that have introduced us to those customers. That’s what’s been really positive from our point of view.”

Pressed on if that meant easyJet holidays was taking customer from rival operators in the trade space, he said he hoped the pent-up demand caused by the pandemic meant “a huge amount of business will be available to all of us.”

Wilson said there was a “point for reflection” for the wider industry in terms of how the industry has “come together as a voice” over the course of the pandemic.

He suggested the package holidays sector had “less successful than the aviation sector” in terms of lobbying, noting how companies “like to throw punches at each other” in normal times but stressed “now is a time for us to really come together and stand united and call for the same thing” adding that “Abta has a big role to play in that”.

“It’s going to be really important we all speak with that single voice.”