The new boss of the domestic holidays specialist says the operator is 'only scraping the surface' in terms of its business with the trade. Juliet Dennis reports
Simon Altham may not be a name familiar to many in the trade. So it is hardly surprising one of the first questions the new managing director of Hoseasons faced after taking the role in March was how committed he was to travel agents. The answer will be welcome news.
“I am not someone people in the trade know, so inevitably questions were asked,” he said.
“But we are more committed to the trade than we have ever been because we recognise the power of distribution.”
Having been with Hoseasons for eight years as director of lodges and parks, Altham took the top job after former managing director Pali Badwal moved within parent company Wyndham Worldwide to become managing director of RCI India.
According to Altham, the operator is “only scraping the surface” in terms of its current trade business, with some “super stores” bringing in a significant level of overall sales.
“Our challenge is to replicate those super stores across the country,” said Altham. “Trade bookings are still over a third of bookings but, certainly at one point, agents accounted for over half Hoseasons’ business.”
Are agent sales likely to top 50% of Hoseasons’ sales again? Altham cannot say for sure.
“I think it will depend on what happens on the high street. I can’t say there won’t be more shop closures – that’s subject to external factors. But we have noticed a lot of growth from homeworkers.
“We are a very trade-friendly brand and we support travel agents. There are a lot of operators pulling away from the trade – that’s not our strategy at all.”
To improve links with agents, the operator has just launched a Facebook page and is revamping its website to make it more agent‑friendly, with forums, videos and Twitter feeds, for example.
“We are looking at new ways to reach agents,” said Altham.
“I see the virtual world as a way of getting people to understand our product in a more direct way. Our biggest challenge is to get agents to understand what we offer.”
Altham said he wanted all agents to think of the brand when selling a holiday park, cottage or boating trip, adding: “I also want agents to remember we’re not just selling summer holidays to families. We’re seeing a lot of growth this year in off-peak breaks.”
Altham is convinced there remains potential for substantial growth because of a lack of awareness among agents and consumers of the company’s product range.
“There is still a huge amount of opportunity out there,” he said. “Lots of people do not know about our entire portfolio.”
Current growth is coming from the luxury end of the market, according to Altham, with the company’s luxury lodges with hot tubs its biggest seller through the trade.
“We have over 1,000 of these but we are still short in terms of meeting demand,” he added.
“Someone booking a week in the Canaries is a prime target for a luxury lodge in the Yorkshire Dales.”
Part of this growth in sales of luxury lodges is the result of an increasingly younger customer base.
Altham said: “We have diversified our product range to reach out to younger couples without children. We see this as a big market and they have more disposal income.”
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