The Freedom Travel Group is confident of growing membership numbers by 10% this year following its confirmation as an Accredited Body.
The Co-operative Travel-owned group, part of the Thomas Cook group, recently became the fourth body to be approved, following Travel Counsellors, Global Travel Group and Hays Travel. Accredited Bodies are licensed to provide collective cover so agents don’t need their own Atol.
Alison Holmes, head of Freedom, said the group’s Atol protection was helping to attract new enquiries about joining from members of other consortia and individuals keen to set up their own travel businesses. The consortium currently has 150 members and this year marks its tenth anniversary, with around nine of its original agents still members.
“We are very confident [about membership levels] because we are experiencing an increase in enquiries from independent agents. One of the key benefits is our full Atol protection, so now that we have got accreditation we are really pleased.
“Our members can continue to use the group Atol and put packages together for clients. I think a lot of independent agents may not have had access to an Atol; this is one of the benefits of Freedom.”
She dismissed concerns about new rival start-ups, such as the consortium created by the Midcounties Co-op Travel. “We will lose some members because you always do,” she admitted, but added: “Every year over the last ten years we have increased our numbers but we always gain more than we lose. We grow every year so I am confident we will grow by another 10% by the end of the year.”
The majority of Freedom members put together their own packages for clients and this is set to increase following the group’s accreditation, according to Holmes. “We have seen an increase in members selling packages under Freedom's Atol already this year and I am sure that over the remainder of the year we will see a further increase,” she said.
However, she said members were unlikely to take up the Flight-Plus option because of the requirement that all costings need to be transparent and broken down for the customer.
Holmes said members of the group are also enjoying stronger commercial terms as a result of being part of the joint venture with Thomas Cook. She denied there was any pressure on agents to sell Thomas Cook products.
“There is no pressure on the Freedom members or any directional selling. They can choose who they wish to sell in terms of suppliers. There has been very little change for them [since the Thomas Cook joint venture],” she added. “Members are reporting increases in sales this year and we’ve seen some healthy growth.”
There is also expected to be a significant increase in the number of Freedom agents selling foreign currency as a result of the group’s Thomas Cook ownership. A handful already have foreign exchange bureaux, but around half the membership have retail shops without one. Sister organisation, The Co-operative Travel Personal Travel Advisors, are to sell foreign currency for the first time as a result of being part of the group.
As part of its anniversary celebrations, the group is planning two roadshows this year to showcase new products and existing services to members.
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