Rebookings are great but now is the time to step out of your comfort zone and find new business, says Swords Travel co-director Mark Swords.

The last few months has certainly had its challenges, but top of the list has been the refund/rebook scenario. I’m sure we all get that sinking feeling when you’ve spent blood, sweat and tears in January confirming all those new bookings only for a client to then request a refund.

Quite rightly, everyone is entitled to a refund. But it does feel like an injustice to travel agents who’ve worked so hard to make all these bookings to then have to refund every penny and not get paid for their work. In the future, this will need to change. If bookings are cancelled like this again, the agent should retain a service charge.

“I’m sure we all get that sinking feeling when you’ve spent blood, sweat and tears in January confirming all those new bookings only for a client to then request a refund.”

Overall, we have been extremely lucky with our clients and currently have a rebook rate of 73%. This gives me an extreme sense of satisfaction that our clients have faith in us, understand our position, and want to rebook their future holidays.

Looking ahead

As we start to hear more positive news about ‘air bridges’ that could open up some destinations this summer, it’s now time to look at what the future holds. After speaking with fellow agents and operators over the past week, I think a big concern for most people is that clients who would have normally booked for this year are now looking to secure something for 2021 instead.

“We need to look at ways of bringing in new business or looking at current clients maybe taking a second or third holiday such as a UK getaway or a short break.”

That said, 73% of our clients probably won’t now be booking anything for 2021, so we need to look at ways of bringing in new business or looking at current clients maybe taking a second or third holiday such as a UK getaway or a short break.

Trying new things

I’m a huge fan of marketing and shouting about what you can offer as a business, and there are so many ways this can be done. Sometimes it involves travel agents stepping out of their comfort zones and trying new things. I have been a member of BNI, a business networking organisation, since I launched my business in 2016 and I’d highly recommend it to any fellow agents. I started off as that shy person in the room of 30 people, feeling nervous giving my 60-second spiel; this year, I took over the Wimbledon chapter as president.

Like anything, you have to put the work in to get the return. In the past year, £15K has come into my company from this one source of marketing that costs me £700 a year and two hours a week of my time – a no-brainer, in my opinion.

“We have cranked up our direct mailings, planned virtual Zoom events, sent press releases to local newspapers and put together a strong social media and digital marketing plan.”

Networking opens many new doors. You don’t know who you’re going to meet from one week to the next, and one of these people could be your next client. At present, even though we can’t network face-to-face, we’ve been doing our weekly BNI calls via Zoom at 7.30am which has really helped having that structure but also a support network of businesses around me.

In addition, we have cranked up our direct mailings, planned virtual Zoom events, sent press releases to local newspapers and put together a strong social media and digital marketing plan for the coming months.

Before we get back to the day‑to-day and life runs away with us, now is the perfect time to plan.


Mark-Swords

Keeping it luxury in ‘new normal’

As we got set to reopen our store this week, one thing I wanted to maintain was the the agency’s luxury look and feel for our clients. I’ve been approached about installing protective screens for the workplace, but that’s not for us. To maintain that relaxed, luxury feel, we decided we’ll allow only one client at a time in the store, by appointment service. I never want clients to come and see us and for the experience to feel clinical. Safety is key, of course, and we have all the relevant things in place – but we’re still looking and feeling normal.

issue18june