Amie Keeley visits the Kuoni store in Manchester’s Trafford Centre, whose expert staff go that extra mile for their customers.

Shop manager Emma Rodgers has just arrived back from her lunchbreak with a toy racing car in hand.

She’s adding it to a gift box that she’s putting together for a client who’s celebrating their 40th birthday at Abu Dhabi’s Viceroy Hotel, which overlooks the Formula One race track.

For another couple, she organised a complimentary excursion to a vineyard in South Africa, where the clients’ favourite wine was made.

These are just a few examples of how the agents at Kuoni’s Manchester Trafford Centre store go that extra step for their customers.

“It’s all about the personal touches”, says Emma.

The vast majority of the store’s customers are honeymooners or those celebrating a special anniversary. They are looking for long‑haul and luxury.

“The Maldives is by far the most popular destination, followed by other Indian Ocean resorts and Dubai,” says Emma.

“But South America and Canada are on the rise, as well as places like Peru, and Brazil because of the Olympics.”

There has also been a “huge surge” in bookings for Japan, thanks to the store’s personal travel expert Richard Pearson, who has spent time in the Far East and can share in-depth, first-hand experience of the destination.

He recently completed a booking for which he made language cards for a vegetarian customer to use in restaurants – another one of those personal touches.

“Canada is also creeping in, for those who have done the Far East and are looking for somewhere new,” says Emma. “We get those who have retired, but also a lot of young professionals who want self-drive holidays.”

Added responsibilities

Earlier this year, Kuoni announced it was reducing the size of its trade sales call centre team. As a result, shop staff have had to start taking agent enquiries.

Emma says: “It’s working well for us because we’re building relationships with agents. They call because we are experts in certain destinations. We give them the same service that we give to customers who come through the door.”

The company also recently rolled out its LGBT Experts initiative, which has involved nine agents becoming specialists in selling holidays to gay-friendly destinations.

Richard was one of those who volunteered to undergo training in London, which centred on destination knowledge and maintaining customer service. Other Kuoni agents now call Richard for his advice on same-sex honeymoons. The destinations he recommends include Thailand, resorts in the Maldives, Indochina and the US.

Follow-up appointments

The agents will often arrange face-to-face appointments with customers who have submitted an enquiry online with an idea of what holiday they want.

Once they have agreed a destination and activities, the agents put together an entirely bespoke proposal.

Emma shows me the one she’s just finished for her customer’s 40th birthday trip entitled ‘The world’s fastest birthday on Yas Marina circuit’. As well as all the essential travel information, it includes everything from destination background to personal tips on what to do and see in Abu Dhabi.

“A lot of customers come back and show us their photos, which shows we’ve built a relationship with them, and they’re not just a number,” adds Emma. “We’ve definitely got customers for life – we know what they like and they know that everything will go to plan.

“Our customers are more like friends. We know about their pets and what they get up to at the weekend.”



Emma Rodgers, Manager

I’ve been in travel since . . .
I studied travel and tourism at college, before working at a travel agency in Leeds University. I then went to the US to work for an operator. I came back to the UK 16 years ago and worked for a business agent, before joining Kuoni in 2012.

My specialist destinations include . . .
Dubai, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

If I hadn’t become a travel agent . . .
I’d have been a vet.



Vicky Fielding, Personal Travel Expert

I’ve been in travel . . .
for 11 years. I started as an apprentice at Thomas Cook. I applied for this job because I wanted to go into luxury travel. I’d been to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Dubai, and wanted to share my experiences with customers.

My specialist destinations include . . .
the Indian Ocean and the Far East.

If I hadn’t become a travel agent . . .
I always wanted to work in travel!



Richard Pearson, Personal Travel Expert

I’ve been in travel . . .
for 18 months. I joined as a Christmas temp before becoming permanent. Before that, I was teaching English in Thailand and travelled around the Far East.

My specialist destinations include . . .
Thailand, Japan, Bali, Singapore, the Maldives and China.

If I hadn’t become a travel agent . . .
I would have continued teaching English overseas.



Amie’s day

The Kuoni brand has become synonymous with luxury and this image is reinforced when I arrive at the chic and minimalist shop.

Huge round lamp shades hang from the high ceiling, while a large mural-like photograph of somewhere exotic fills the back wall. Some traditional elements remain, including a neat brochure rack on one side.

On the day I visit, three of the seven shop staff (some are part-time) are on duty. They are relaxed and welcoming, and clearly know their destinations inside out.

I could tell they love what they do because they are selling dream holidays that they themselves have experienced and can share with their customers.

They are given the freedom to be creative with itineraries, and build complex trips with personal tips and recommendations.

Needless to say, if I were an agent, this is certainly a shop that I’d love to work in!