Head of commercial sales and relations, Phil Gardner, sets out plans to strengthen its own brand hotels portfolio and drive growth with independent agents
Like everyone at Thomas Cook, my team – Commercial Sales & Relations – are working to support and help deliver the Group’s strategy for profitable growth.
This involves improving our offer to customers by strengthening our portfolio of own brand hotels such as Sunprime, SENTIDO and more recently, Casa Cook and investing to make sure they get consistently excellent service when they visit.
To ensure we maximise our investment, we believe the thousands of independent travel agents across the country will play an important role. This is a key area of focus for my team where engagement with the independent travel agent sector is led by Audrey Brooks-Wiggins, head of trade partnerships.
Our partnerships with other businesses collectively form the largest part of the Commercial Sales & Relations function (formerly Merchandising) which as well as Trade Partnerships, also covers Supplier Partnerships and Cruise Partnerships.
Throughout Thomas Cook, whether in store, online or in our call centres, we are helping customers better understand our products. We have a strong sales network but working closely with the independent sector means our footprint can be stronger still, as we look to grow sales.
What Thomas Cook shares with the independent travel industry is the understanding that customers value the expertise offered face-to-face by well trained, knowledgeable professionals.
So when I joined Thomas Cook just over a year ago one of my first tasks was to work closely with Audrey and the rest of the team to develop relationships with the independent travel agency sector. We believe there is a big opportunity to do more together to complement our own sales channels.
We have spent time speaking to independent agents to understand how they would like to work with us. One way was to build a longer term commitment. We quickly identified key agent partners and in some cases agreed new multi-year contracts.
Committing to a longer term contract means both Thomas Cook and the agent are focused on creating a loyal customer, not a quick sale, allowing us to see the benefit of our investment in customer service. We hope to secure more longer-term contracts moving forward.
We also aim to properly incentivise agents to sell Thomas Cook holidays to their customers. Our goal is to create holiday experiences that our own staff are proud to sell and recommend to their family and friends. We want independent agents to feel the same.
To enable this we have made changes to improve what we do for customers both in resort and out. This includes better quality tracking, embedding net promoter scores as a key metric, taking out poor performing hotels, more staff training, dedicated Quality Managers for the most important hotels and our 24 Hour Satisfaction Promise, which has proved a great success.
Independent agents can be assured that if they recommend an own brand Thomas Cook hotel, their valued clients will receive outstanding service. We want them to come back asking the agent for Thomas Cook again.
We plan to be in regular communication with independent agents, explaining our changing and improving product. Audrey and her team are travelling the country to better understand their needs. We believe in creating solutions which are fit for purpose rather than focusing on a one-size-fits-all policy.
These are exciting times. As we said in our recent pre-close trading update, sales to our own-brand hotels have continued to increase while customer satisfaction is significantly up across all our markets, especially in those hotels. We are looking forward to doing even better.
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