High street and online agents expressed their surprise and delight after being honoured at last night's Agent Achievement Awards, held at the Lancaster London hotel.
The event, which was acquired by Travel Weekly last year, was hosted by Travel Weekly editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley and Travel 2 managing director Andy Freeth. The entertainment came courtesy of X-Factor finalist Rylan Clark, who was sponsored by One Stop Touring Shop.
The outstanding contribution award went to three well-known industry figures: Chris Pattison, managing director of Dawson and Sanderson; Ron Marks, managing director at Baldwins Travel and Steve Clark, co-founder of the Travel Trust Assocation.
Pattison said: "I'm pleasantly amazed and surprised. I think our longevity is the key: in an industry which has grown amazingly over the last 50 years, we have the continuity that has meant our business has continued to grow. The advent of no-frills airlines has been the biggest challenge, but we have got to deal with what gets thrown at us in this industry, and we're very fortunate to be selling something that everyone wants."
Ron Marks, managing director of Baldwins Travel, said: "It was a surprise, but I'm very pleased to receive the award. We have played to our strengths in terms of offering a high level of personal and knowledgeable service from our staff.
"We have a lot of expertise from people who have travelled throughout the world. It's the people who work on the frontline who make all the difference to the business both in terms of our retail operations and our strength in business travel and foreign exchange. I think that has made us the success we are today."
The Tipto Independent Agency of the Year Award went to Travel Stop, which has two branches in Claydon and Elmswell, Suffolk.
Cheryl Locke, HR manager, who collected the award, said: "Service is very much our priority, and we pride ourselves on that, so to be recognised and have the support of Tipto is wonderful. We go the extra mile and make sure the 'i's are dotted and the 't's are crossed to enhance the entire customer experience. It's all about giving the customer an overall good experience."
Bridget Keevil, proprietor, added: "We are always proactive and the staff that we have got over the two shops are among the best in the country. They are so enthusiastic and they take every challenge head-on. It's not just one person, it's the whole team: everybody has their strengths and it all gels together to make our shops a phenomenal success."
The Best of the Best Award, presented by escorted touring organisation Best, went to Aspen Travel.
Midcouties Co-operative scooped the 'I did something different' award, sponsored by Dosomethingdifferent.com, after raising more than £20,000 for Reuben's Retreat through various fundraising activities.
Julie Gibson, head of commercial, said: "Reuben's Retreat is really close to everybody's hearts because of Nicola and Mike (parents of toddler Reuben Graham, who died last year). Everyone in the industry knows them, and all we can do is raise money for Reuben's Retreat. It does make a difference when you know the people and I'm so glad we did it; people always raise more for charity when it means something to them."
Agency innovation of the year went to Thomas Cook for its new concept store in the Leeds White Rose shopping centre.
Lucy Green, head of retail for large stores, said: "We're just so thrilled that our customers are enjoying it. It's a credit to the head office team and the Leeds White Rose team for making it a success. I think it ensures our future and it shows our customers are moving on, so we need to reflect that."
Claire Body of Independent Travel Experts, who won homeworker of the year, said: "I have only been a homeworker for 18 months but I have had amazing support from Amanda Taylor and Paula Turner – they have been absolutely inspirational. I went from a standing start, without anyone on the books, so I have really had to go out there [to win clients]. I have done lots of events and been on the radio, getting completely out of my comfort zone."
Winner of call centre manager of the year Joanne Down, of Affinion International Travel, said: "This was a total surprise. I think it's down to our investment in our people and really engaging with our staff to make sure they are happy where they work. We have a lot of initiatives that we're rolling out from the UK to Europe, so we definitely want to be winning this again next year."
Leisure high street manager of the year Dwayne McFarlane of Thomson said: "This is absolutely unbelievable – I'm over the moon. We've put so much effort into our customer service, and managing individuals to make sure we get the whole team engaged. It's a huge store and everyone works really hard."
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