Jennifer Morris heads to Glen Travel in Blantyre, Scotland – an agency with a tour operator. She chats to retail manager Michele Lister and director Alan Glen, who is also Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association president.

The term keeping it in the family takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Glen Travel. Founded in 1973 by David Glen Senior, the agency and operator now runs under the directorship of his three children, David, Alan and Douglas. The brothers continue to hold key roles in the fully independent travel business, which is one of Scotland’s longest established and continues to thrive.

The business is split into a retail premises downstairs, with four members of staff, and a further 10 looking after the flight consolidator and operator upstairs, although the teams will help each other out and share ideas. The business also has seven homeworkers and two franchises – Eden Escapes in Cupar, Fife, and Allan Water Travel in Bridge of Allan, Stirling.

Customer base:
Retail manager Michele Lister explains that while she does get walk-ins and the agency is the only one in Blantyre, most of the firm’s enquiries come over the phone and online. “I find the offers and promote them,” says Michele, who is a fan of using Facebook as a marketing tool. “The demographics are really mixed – we get young executives from down south as well as a lot of empty-nesters with a bit more money. We’ve had bookings from as far as New Zealand.

Selling patterns:
Touring and cruising have been taking off for Glen Travel, which specialises in tailor-made trips.

“Last year it was all about America, which we are known for, along with the Far East, Australia and cruising,” says Michele. “Cruise is doing amazingly well – there are just so many ships being built, but the demand is there.

“Touring is another one. People are asking for Vietnam and are interested in multi-centres to get two or three holidays out of one. It seems the younger customers are expanding their horizons – it’s not all about Ibiza anymore.

“On the whole people are wanting more value for their money.”

Like many others, Glen Travel has also seen the effect of terrorism on its customers’ booking patterns, with Turkey and Egypt having taken a noticeable hit.

Out in the community:
Michele and the team try and get out and about as much as possible. “Cathryn and I went to one of the local primary schools and did a whole school assembly,” she says. “We gave a presentation about the different kind of holidays and they absolutely loved it.

“We bounce ideas off each other and go out and about as much as possible. We go to a lot of supplier events and have a really good relationship with many – we’re well covered.”

Glen Travel works particularly closely with operators such as Jet2holidays, Azure Collection, Prestige Holidays and Classic Collection Holidays.

Family feel:
Michele says there is a family-feel to Glen Travel which “makes a huge difference”.

“I like that we are independent too as I can give clients a variety of choice,” says Michele.

“People love the fact that three brothers run the business too.” Michele says it is the team’s customer service and the breadth of experience and specialist knowledge that set Glen Travel apart. Senior travel consultant Tom Blair has worked in the industry for 49 years.

Bright future:
Director Alan Glen said: “We are a growing business and if it keeps going the way it is we will hire more staff. We would also look at more franchises and homeworkers. The outlook is positive and in terms of flights from Scotland, figures from Glasgow and Edinburgh are very encouraging with a host of new routes and the airports reporting record-breaking numbers every month. In some ways, becoming SPAA president has helped to raise Glen Travel’s profile, and we won the SPAA’s Best Small Leisure Agency award last year.”

Up close and personal: Cathryn Brannan, senior travel consultant

I’ve worked at Glen Travel for…
Two years. Before that I was at Trailfinders. I started out issuing airline tickets there before moving into sales.

The strangest enquiry I’ve had was…
When we advertised a coach trip in the window to see an Elvis tribute act in Liverpool. A man came in and asked if it was the real Elvis. He was very disappointed when we said we couldn’t bring him back from the dead and decided he wouldn’t book because it wasn’t the real thing. It’s always amusing when clients have names like Iona Lorry. There was also a couple called Mrs Rice and Mr Curry, which cracked me up.

I love booking…
Asia, especially Thailand. I just love everything about it – the culture, the people, the value. I also love America.

Tom Blair, senior travel consultant

I’ve worked at Glen Travel for…
38 years. I have been in travel for almost 50.

The strangest enquiry I’ve had was…
Someone who wanted to pre-organise a tour on the Cunard ship, which I thought was interesting.

I love booking…
Mauritius – I’ve been there three times.

Jennifer’s day

I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the staff at Glen Travel. They took the time to explain how various processes worked and made me the best cup of coffee I had in Scotland!

It is clear that both the agency side of the business and the tour operator staff have technology front of mind and are really effective at making the most of tools such as Facebook to raise awareness of the brand, posting offers that have been thoroughly researched. The Facebook posts get lots of views and shares. The business has recently relaunched its cruise website – and the has been updated.

Having two sections in the business is unusual in Scotland and it’s clear the two sides work in harmony and complement each other. I had a great day and look forward to seeing the team again soon.