Virgin Holidays is to take on 100 apprentices to work in its shop as it marks the opening of its 100th store next month when it’s second standalone high street premises opens in Maidenhead.
The move was announced by the long-haul specialist’s managing director Amanda Wills on stage at the Institute of Travel and Tourism conference in Barbados.
As part of an expansion of the group’s Branson Centre in the Caribbean Virgin also made a donation on behalf of every ITT delegate to fund a chef from the conference’s hotel, Hilton Resort, to attend university.
Wills told the conference that apprenticeship scheme was being run in conjunction with the City of London Corporation, with the successful candidates being paid to work in stores four days a week.
She said the first standalone store in High Street Kensington was already a success and was trading profitably six months after opening and its concessions in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores were a low-risk retailing model.
As a result of its store programme Virgin has employed 400 people in the last two years, Wills said and the expansion would continue with the operator expected to have 110 stores by the end of the year.
Wills said the concept underlined the firm’s commitment to innovation and supporting young people in the industry.
“We can’t think of a better way to celebrate the opening of our Maidenhead ‘holiday emporium’ next month than by giving a new opportunity to 100 young people at the start of their career.
“We’ve all read the shocking statistics of how hard it is for that age group to find work and receive training, and we see this as a very positive investment in the next generation of customer service champions.”
Asked about her philosophy for a successful travel retailer Wills said it was vital brands listen to what their customers want.
Dismissing the potential threat from a move into travel by the likes of Facebook or Google, she said Virgin was about delivering impeccable service, something “that does not happen if you buy from faceless unpackaged dot com”.
“I believe our industry is an industry of excuses. We have always got an excuse about something. The biggest challenge we have as business leaders is the changing customer behaviour. Ignore it at your peril.
“People are coming from a frame of mind that they want to talk to brands that they can trust but talk to them in a way that really is flexible.
“One in four people have taken some form of direct action in the past year or knows someone who has – that means people want to be heard and that’s how they want to deal with brands. They want to be listened to and want brands that they can trust.
Wills spoke about a new anachonomy in which people want to be heard and said firms that understand and react to this will be the ones that flourish in the future.
She used electronics giant Apple and sports clothing manufacturer Nike as examples of brands that do this well, doing things for customers that maybe would not have been done if it was down to pure economics.
“We are a profitable company. We are in long-haul, which is a difficult market to be in with the rising costs we are facing like fuel and APD, but we are profitable because our customers know us, love us and come back and we can make higher margins because we offer more.”
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