Scottish agent Barrhead Travel’s first supplier conference saw 120 suppliers and agents meet at the luxury five-star Trump Turnberry hotel in Ayrshire. Lee Hayhurst reports
Barrhead recruits to beef up its management team
Barrhead Travel is headhunting to strengthen its senior management team as part of a major recruitment drive.
The Scottish agency is also looking for product specialists to join its teams, and says it will continue to develop talent through its apprenticeship scheme.
Barrhead has set itself the target of one in five of its employees being apprentices within two to three years as it prioritises in-house staff development through its own training academy.
Chairman Bill Munro said apprentices are proving to be a huge success.
“We treat them properly and make it work very well,” he said. "Ninety-nine per cent will go on to get full-time jobs with us.
“Given the right mentoring and hand-holding, some go on to be absolute stars within two to three years. We feel it’s a way of putting something back into society.”
Munro added Barrhead needs to strengthen its senior team to support expansion plans.
“We’re not necessarily looking to recruit travel people but individuals from other service industries with relevant expertise for the sector,” he said.
The firm has introduced a dedicated talent acquisition team and among the recent new recruits is head of sales Jane Ann McIleroy, who joined from Debenhams.
Barrhead chief executive Sharon Munro said there had been times this year when customer enquiries had to be turned away because the company did not have enough staff to deal with them.
“Some stores are having to boost staff numbers due to demand,” she said. “We are also looking for people in specialist areas like marketing and web development as the business expands.”
As well as store staff, the travel agency has expanded its homeworker division with 15 new recruits having recently joined as salaried employees to support telesales and field web enquiries.
Barrhead employs 900 people.
Barrhead spends £2m on tech to 'fend off disruptors'
Barrhead Travel has invested over £2 million in its technology over the past 18 months as it looks to counter threats from disruptive online rivals.
A series of launches is planned for 2017 including an online portal through which agents and customers can manage bookings.
Barrhead’s Flights Direct website will relaunch in January, followed by its Cruise Direct and main Barrhead Travel websites.
Cruise Direct will offer full online bookability for operator packages and tailor-made cruises.
Barrhead chief executive Sharon Munro said: “A lot of what we have done is work to improve the customer journey.
“Although we do not see cruise bookings online being huge volumes, we are preparing ourselves for the future. People will become more confident booking certain products online.”
Barrhead has started to roll out new telephone technology to help it better track conversion rates, allowing calls to be routed to specialists and improve performance reporting.
“It will help us manage calls between call centres, branches and homeworkers much more effectively,” said Munro.
“In our advertising we have specific phone numbers so we can direct calls to specialists. It will also help us with our training as well.”
Munro said Barrhead was reliant on a mix of inhouse and third-party technology and was adapting off-the-shelf systems to suit its needs. The agency has renewed its GDS deal with Amadeus for a further three years.
Barrhead chairman Bill Munro said he was constantly keeping an eye on what the likes of Expedia and Google are doing.
“They are very good at telling you in advance what they are planning, so we can counter it. There are a lot of disruptions coming,” he said.
Virtual reality to be rolled out to stores
Virtual reality headsets will be introduced into Barrhead stores as one of several sales and marketing initiatives.
The firm has doubled the size of its in-house marketing team, bringing in specialists in areas like social media.
Chief executive Sharon Munro said some larger stores will create dedicated areas for customers to use the virtual reality technology, along with big-screen televisions.
Next year all stores will be given access to the technology, which will feature supplier content promoting product like safari holidays, cruises and business-class aircraft cabins.
“It’s all about the experience for the customer,” said Munro.
Barrhead says its marketing is becoming more personalised by gathering more data on customers and using analytics to boost the relevancy of offers.
The firm has just sealed a tie-up with Glasgow University to develop a new self-learning recommender system. This year Barrhead also launched a holiday finance scheme allowing spread payments.
Brilliant targets new members as profits grow 26%
Barrhead’s agency consortium and homeworking division Brilliant Travel is seeking new members to build on a 26% rise in profits for the year to date.
Members are being offered full access to Barrhead’s marketing suite of services including specialist social media training from next year.
The agency group also offers the services of a store design team for high street members and training, as well as Barrhead’s commercial terms.
Sharon Munro said: “Our Brilliant agents and home‑based agents are already first‑class travel agents so we focus on giving them the tools to, first and foremost, become business people.
“The high street is at the heart of communities and our Brilliant members have the ability to really engage on a local level. The British economy was built on small businesses and shops. Many high streets still have boutique-style shops and Barrhead can turn a franchise in to a boutique-store environment that customers love.”
Munro said 20% of the 31 Brilliant stores have opted to use the Barrhead name in their signage – a move, she said, that had resulted in some outlets increase their business by as much as four times.
Upmarket concierge service to be relaunched
Barrhead will relaunch its upmarket travel brand Travel Creator in 2017. The brand, which offers “bucket-list” product targeting cash‑rich customers, multigenerational groups and special anniversary holidays, was originally launched mid-2015.
A revamped website will offer more detailed information and drive customers to call a specialist agent to book.
Barrhead chairman Bill Munro said leads would be directed to staff who are comfortable dealing with clients looking to spend more on their holiday then the agent earns in a year. “This is for people who really want the best, they are not price-sensitive,” he said.
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