Teletext Holidays' decision to work with only one package supplier is a blow, but we'll show what we're made of, says Qwerty Travel's managing director Matt Somers
It was the September 5 this year, the last day of the school holidays and perhaps the hottest day of the year. I pulled in to Mudeford for a day of fishing, swimming, eating and drinking with my family.
No sooner had I threaded a lugworm on to a hook, I received a text from my sales director saying that Teletext was asking all suppliers to re-tender for the opportunity to display product on their website for the coming year.
My initial thought was that failure to win this tender could be catastrophic for our business - despite trying to avoid having all our eggs in one basket we had allowed ourselves to get into a position where this one media accounted for more than half of our business. Losing the contract would leave us in a very precarious position.
My immediate thought was of how I might tell half the staff that they were no longer required and the rest that they would need to take a significant cut in salary. The priorities of the day had made an almighty swing from whether I might catch a sea bass to whether I would still have a business at Christmas.
I have made a very healthy living during the past two decades through Gemstone Travel and now Qwerty Travel, much of which can be attributed to the sales driven through Teletext. When Nishma Patel was at the helm, back in 1993/1994, we managed to develop a travel agency model which grew at an unprecedented rate alongside the analogue platform.
After selling Gemstone Travel to Lastminute.com in 2004 I set up Qwerty Travel, and last year our turnover was more than £23 million with a net profit of just under £1 million.
We are an online travel agent but the term online is somewhat misleading. Of course, all agencies in our industry have an online presence but to the best of my knowledge very few have a positive ROI on real, automated, live online sales. Most make a large proportion of their bookings over the phone - Travel Republic definitely being one of the exceptions.
So we, like many others, rely on a number of channels to deliver enquiries; Teletext for me has always been the best for providing volume. We have an excellent sales team who work on the basis of creating a rapport with their client and selling travel arrangements that are right for them and within their budget.
So in light of Teletext’s decision to effectively become an online travel agent, where does this leave our sector and my company? Perhaps history gives us a clue? What happened to the flight-only agents of the 1990s - most of which were completely reliant on Teletext? Manchester Flights, Sunshare Vacations, Chadwell Travel, and Gemstone Travel: they were acquired, reinvented themselves or fell by the wayside. The sector dissolved and was replaced by a new breed of online travel agents.
A similar fate met the Greek operators Kosmar, Golden Sun, Libra, Rendezvous, Argo. I'm aware that successful businesses need to be one step ahead and the travel industry certainly moves at a fast pace. I disagree with many of the negative comments I've seen in relation to this announcement; indeed I have nobody to blame other than myself for allowing Qwerty to be so reliant on one medium.
The shape of our sector is changing rapidly and there will be winners and losers. Travel Republic, On The Beach, Broadway and now Truly (Media Travel) have set out their stall.
Some companies such as Direct Line and Flight Line Essex, both very well-run businesses in my opinion, have recently decided to walk away with a positive balance sheet - something many in our sector cannot boast!
On the one hand I could call it a day and walk away with a healthy balance sheet plus business assets, but I can't help thinking that would be defeatist and disloyal to those that have helped build the business to where it is today.
I was in China when the news broke on Friday. The first text I received was from my top sales person, it read: "Don’t worry mate, in the face of adversity we show what we are made of.”
We will use all our energy and enthusiasm to reinvent and refocus the business. The positive culture we’ve built and the strength and depth of talent of those that work for Qwerty Travel are what will get us through. And if after all our best efforts we still don’t succeed, then those sea-bass better watch out.
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