The boss of Advantage Travel Partnership sees further growth opportunities for the consortium as it recovers from the pandemic in 2021.

Julia Lo Bue-Said has celebrated 25 years with the agency group, helping it expand from about 200 members to more than 700 in the leisure and business sectors. Before Covid-19 struck, its annual turnover was about £4.5 billion.

About 10 members went by the wayside in the Covid-19 chaos of 2020, with some going into administration and others shutting up shop.

Speaking to Travel Weekly, Lo Bue-Said said: “I certainly see Advantage continuing to grow. We’ve already grown the organisation to make sure that we can represent travel agents in every different model.

“I want Advantage to be the only game in town, so that any agent in any community is able to join the organisation.”

She forecast that the Advantage brand will become more widely recognised and it will help agents show consumers how members stand for “independence, value, expertise and choice”.

Lo Bue-Said appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning (January 6) to highlight the “absolute turmoil” faced by the travel industry over the past 10 months.

She also said the industry has had no detail from the government yet about Covid-19 testing for international travel.

“From an industry perspective, we have been calling on the government since March to introduce testing because we feel it will actually enable people to travel confidently, safely, in the knowledge that testing is required,” she told business reporter Nina Warhurst.

“It’s frustrating that, 10 months later, we had a very vague comment from the PM when he was asked a question about testing.

“We still have no detail. It is really important they talk to us and liaise with us so we can help customers.”

Warhurst said the UK travel and tourism industry was worth £200 billion a year – about 9% of the whole economy.

About four million are employed in the sector but 39,000 jobs have been lost during the pandemic.

With pandemic and post-Brexit travel arrangements being so complex, Lo Bue-Said told Travel Weekly that leisure and business travel agents have a “huge role” to play in educating travellers.

The consortium will continue to lobby politicians with its PR and public affairs activity but she admitted the industry must reassess its dealings with those in power when the Covid-19 crisis subsidises.

“I still feel really angry. I feel so left out, I could bash my head against the wall,” she said.
“The industry has been let down hugely. I don’t think we’ve been listened to.”

Lo Bue-Said admitted the coronavirus crisis has been “hugely emotional” but is determined the consortium remains focused on its core activities of helping members to survive and generate revenue.

Looking back at her 25 years with Advantage, she recalled how she began as a commercial director, and, over the past 10 years, helped develop the corporate travel arm to become the UK’s largest consortium of independent business travel management companies.

Stepping up to head the consortium was a steep learning curve, she said, but she paid tribute to the support from her team and family.