In her first interview since her appointment, Tui’s new retail director spoke to Rebekah Commane about her focus on a multi-channel offering and her aim to operate up to 100 holiday design stores
In her 24 years with Thomson and Tui, Jill Carter has garnered great insight into the travel trade – something she intends to tap into to drive the strategic direction of Tui’s retail division.
She started on the shop floor of a Thomson agency in Lancaster, working her way up to become regional sales manager and then, three years ago, head of sales. In January, Carter took on the role of director of retail, succeeding Kathryn Darbandi, who moved to a similar role at Thomas Cook.
“One of my main focuses is on the end-to-end customer journey, so thinking about delivering world-class service to our customers and building on the multi-channel approach,” said Carter.
One of her visions for the company has already come to fruition with Tui’s launch last week of Connect, a system that assists agents by identifying their clients’ booking history and providing information to enable them to suggest suitable holidays.
“Connect is an incredible functionality that enables our team to personalise offers for customers,” said Carter.
“The feedback I’ve had is quite staggering – it’s really assisting the team in getting to know customers.”
The technology was piloted in five stores in February and was rolled out to 1,500 retail staff in seven regions last week. All of Tui’s 4,500 agents will be live on the system from the first week in May.
Carter said Connect enabled staff to pass information on to other customer-facing teams.
“One of our agents had a customer who was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary and, through Connect, she was able to contact the airline team and the team at the resort and advise them,” she said.
“So the customer was greeted on the plane with someone saying happy 25th anniversary, and the same at the resort.
“That was special for me as I saw my vision coming to life. It’s my role to ensure that happens.”
Back to the future
Thomson is increasingly focusing on installing new technology in its retail outlets, both in its new‑generation holiday design stores and in its traditional stores.
“We are absolutely committed to the high street and we are always looking at our distribution mix,” said Carter.
“One of my plans is to continue with the rollout of the holiday design stores. We have 27 and I want to grow this – whether that is full stores with all the tech or more of a hybrid with some of the functionality, such as the interactive map and advice bar.”
Tui has this year opened two holiday design stores, in the Metrocentre in Gateshead and at Westfield Stratford City.
“I hope in the future to have up to 100 design stores,” said Carter.
Power to the people
Tui has 644 high street stores and Carter emphasised the importance of training programmes and staff educationals.
“Our people are our most important asset, so it’s about keeping them upskilled in our products,” she said.
“This year, we have short-haul, mid-haul and long-haul fam trips, including to Cuba and Goa. We are also running visits to our current cruise ship and planning trips to the new one, Thomson Discovery.”
Although Tui has no plans to open cruise-specific agencies, Carter said having all agents trained in cruise was a priority. Tui offers its own ‘Cruise Corner’ training, using Clia’s programmes.
Carter is passionate about sustainable tourism, having worked with a local community in Jamaica last year, on a trip with the Travel Foundation.
“We ask agents to research destinations before fam trips and we talk about sustainability and the Travelife Awards during them.
“It’s not just about the destination. We try to incorporate everything, and when they come back, we ask them to make a presentation to their team.”
Back to her roots
Carter is eager to retain a connection with the customer-facing staff’s issues and regularly returns to the shop floor.
“I’ve worked in a lot of regions so I know a lot of agents,” she said.
“I’m keen to allow our team to have a voice. They are on the journey with me, so I want them to be engaged, and to listen to their ideas so that they can help shape the future.
“I always go back to the floor, get the uniform on and get stuck in. We run this through all of our senior managers.”So does Carter regard Darbandi as a rival, now that she has joined Thomas Cook as retail director?
“Kathryn left a great legacy. She worked for the business for a long time and I wish her the best in her new role,” she said.
“But I wouldn’t call her a rival because there is a place for Thomas Cook and Thomson on the high street and as tour operators.
“We’ve both got clear visions of where we would like to take retail.”
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