Aito Agents should target “positive pioneers” – travellers who are determined to go on holiday as soon as possible when Covid restrictions are lifted.

That was the message from Kirker Holidays’ director Ted Wake during Kickstart – a virtual version of the domestic conference held each January by the agency arm of The Specialist Travel Association (Aito).

Moderating a panel of agents talking about 2021, he highlighted a Kirker customer, who had booked with an agent and was determined to go to Florence in July, even though she is 84.

“If she can travel, she bloody well will,” he told the virtual conference.

She enjoyed her holiday and got plenty of attention from young, uniformed Tuscan museum guards, she had told him.

“She also phoned all her friends to get them to go travelling,” said Wake.

“We need to identify these positive pioneers, as some people just want to go.”

He added: “You can’t be all things to all people; you can refocus on those clients that you can spend time on.

“Being selective means you can focus on the really important people.”

Martyn Fisher, managing director of Greenstar Travel in Claygate, Surrey, advised delegates to be more selective with the operators they use.

“We are still waiting for refunds from some tour operators – not Aito, but usually the big boys,” he said.

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Mark Pollard, director of Tony Sheldon Travel in Maidenhead, agreed, saying he was also having issues with big operators.

“We are a traditional travel agency working with friendly tour operators,” he said.

He also outlined how his hard work with repatriating stranded travellers in the early days of the pandemic had paid dividends.

One family wrote to the local paper to praise his efforts in getting two people home from Australia – while Australians stuck in Maidenhead managed to return home and said they will book with his agency again when they can come back to England.

Sandra Mutter, director of Andara Travel in Solihull, said: “Price will not be so much of an issue, service is more valuable.”

She thanked the Aito operators who had treated her agency and clients well during the pandemic, saying the suppliers’ efforts reflected well on Andara Travel.

Mutter also said her agency is no longer open all day and now sees clients on an appointment-only basis, which is a more productive way to use her time.

“We found [the business] was running us, we weren’t running it,” she said.

“We are now going back to basics, to add value to the customer.”