Canadian Affair’s Chris Hedley on why a multi-channel sales approach is key

Twenty five years ago, I was based in a portacabin at the end of a car park on the outskirts of Bolton working on a top secret project for my then employer, Flying Colours.

In the weeks that followed, they became one of the first travel companies to launch sales direct to consumers. It was a revolutionary move and one which prompted much debate, and controversy, in the industry.

Looking back, it’s clear that what we were seeing were the first steps towards multi-channel distribution in the travel industry.

But multi-channel means just that, and the heady excitement of developing a new distribution channel direct to consumers saw many industry players turn their backs on the travel trade in the years that followed. That was a mistake.

‘Agents add value’

Many firms saw agent commission as an onerous cost and one that could be avoided by using telephone and then online channels that enabled travel companies to engage directly with consumers.

But this approach failed to acknowledge the value that agents add through their own established customer networks, and their investment in up-to-date knowledge of destinations and travel products.

For years, there seemed to be a one-way direction of channel alignment towards a direct-to-consumer approach, and continual questioning of the value that working with the trade offers.

Spreading risk and avoiding over-reliance on a single source of revenue is prudent, and so a truly multi-channel approach to sales and distribution is a logical one for any business – whether it’s in travel or any other sector.

New potential

When I became managing director of Canadian Affair in late 2017, one of my first actions was to conduct a review of our sales and distribution strategy. We had sold directly to consumers for many years, focusing on a single channel, and therefore not realising the potential of working with the travel trade.

In early 2018, we concluded that a multi-channel sales and distribution strategy was one with great potential for Canadian Affair. Hence we launched sales to the travel trade last autumn.

As we approach the end of our first year of trade sales, it’s clear that the results have exceeded our expectations. Our travel trade team, led by Lee Rogers and Jane Fraser, has developed relationships with hundreds of agents across the UK, and our sales have performed strongly.

Furthermore, our agent partners are advocates for our brand, and vital ambassadors in the consumer travel marketplace. Their high service levels and proven expertise is in essence an extension of our offering.

Our new approach has reinforced my view that working with the travel trade should be an integral part of any travel company’s sales and distribution strategy. It makes good business sense. It’s also very rewarding to build relationships with a wider community of like-minded travel professionals, and one that still has an enormous amount of value to offer.