The trade-only operator is looking forward to its first peaks season after its merger with sister brand Travel 2. Ben Ireland spoke to sales director Nick Hughes
Gold Medal is to treat this January as a “normal peaks” and is ready to react to whatever changes to travel restrictions are implemented, says sales director Nick Hughes.
He stressed the importance of focussing on social media marketing assets to help agents throughout peaks, noting the importance of reacting promptly to changes and being quick to market.
“Everything we’re doing is going to be social media friendly,” he said. “We’ll get offers to agents as quickly as possible so we are first to market.”
Being nimble is important, Hughes said, but he maintained: “We are treating this January like a normal peaks. We are prepared for whatever happens and if there is a substantial upturn we are ready to make the most of the opportunity. We have great offers and exclusives to maximise our competitive advantage.”
Mini-brochures, selling guides and window posters are being made available, said Hughes.
“We will be ready for January and are confident,” he added. “The market might be smaller, but we are well-placed to increase our share.”
Gold Medal will be pushing its Incredible Journeys touring brand throughout peaks, Hughes said.
The touring sub-brand had been under the Travel 2 banner but was retained in the merger of the dnata-owned brands’ this year.
Hughes explained that Incredible Journeys had been teaming up with escorted tour operator partners and packaging trips with hotel stays either side of their tours.
“These are the types of trips people aspire to,” he said. “You can’t get these products online, so it gives agents a real differential.”
Hughes stressed that all nine account managers had been retained in the merger with sister operator Travel 2, so that agents had as much support as ever.
Mark Henderson has been promoted to head of product (west) from his role as senior product and commercial manager at Travel 2.
As well as Incredible Journeys, Travel 2 sub-brand Cruise Plus has been retained, along with “most of the sales team”. Travel 2’s Simply Luxury has been merged with Gold Medal’s Pure Luxury.
“Some agents might be calling a new phone number but we believe it will be a smooth transition,” said Hughes. “For many it will be calling one number rather than two.”
He added: “Depth of product is one of our key strengths. We are market leaders in a number of destinations.”
Campaigns to some of those “bread and butter” destinations are planned for January, as are tactical offers. These include Florida, Las Vegas and UAE destinations such as Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah.
Speaking before the introduction of tier 4 restrictions in parts of the UK, Hughes said Florida and the Maldives had been the most popular destinations for summer 2021 bookings thus far.
He said Dubai phone enquiries jumped 130% after the introduction of a travel corridor between the UK and the United Arab Emirates last month, which Hughes said has since “translated into bookings”.
In the first week of December, 16% of bookings were for December departures, which Hughes put down to the “increased confidence” as a result of news of effective vaccines as well as the Dubai travel corridor.
But he added: “We are seeing more advance bookings, going into 2022.”
Explaining that the proportion of bookings made for 2022 this year was higher than the proportion of 2021 bookings being made this time last year, he added: “More consumers are looking further forward. A lot of that comes down to consumer belief that the vaccine will be widely administered by 2022. Therefore, they are confident bookings won’t have to be amended. We’ve had some people who have been amended three or four times [since March].”
He said late bookings in December had been “great” for travel agents as it gave them immediate cashflow, noting that the trade doesn’t receive payment for 2022 bookings until the time of travel. However, he said: “Agents are looking for more 2022 offers, so we’ve been working on providing those.”
Hughes also said there were more bookings for 2021 this December than there had been for 2020 in December 2019. “A lot have been rebooks, but new bookings are out-weighing the rebookings,” he confirmed. In the first week of December, 81% of bookings were for 2021 and 3% for 2022.
Hughes said Florida and the UAE sales had been “strong” for 2021, but that the luxury market “has been performing superbly-well” with a mix of last-minute bookings and those far in the future. Two agents had bagged six-figure bookings in recent weeks, he added.
Though Gold Medal is known as a long-haul specialist, Hughes noted that European luxury “has been as much as 15% of our business” in recent months. “We have had to be flexible and agile,” he said. “We’ve had to ask ourselves what agents can sell and how we can complement that. We have had to focus on what we can sell.”