UK director reveals how agency overcame challenges to reach milestone
To say InteleTravel raised hackles in the British trade after the American firm launched in the UK five years ago would be an understatement.
Numerous rival agents slated its recruitment methods and enrolment of novices. Now, however, it is an established agency, with 15,300 homeworkers in the UK and 95 preferred suppliers.
“I did lose sleep thinking about how we could change perceptions and overcome this criticism,” admits UK managing director Tricia Handley-Hughes.
She started as a consultant after meeting James Ferrara, president and co-founder, becoming full-time as the business grew with US support.
The keys to credibility were gaining Abta membership in March 2019 and being granted an Atol licence in November 2021, thanks to work done by lawyer Joanna Kolatsis, director at Themis Advisory, and Chris Photi, head of travel and leisure at accountants White Hart Associates.
“Getting Abta membership and the Atol boosted our credibility and numbers went up,” Handley-Hughes recalls. “We overcame the negativity.
Now we’re bringing lots of revenue to the industry. Lots of our suppliers have become like ambassadors for us and helped change perceptions. We kept delivering for partners and revenues speak for themselves.”
Another key factor has been training. Handley-Hughes says: “One of our newest ambassadors [agent mentors] ran a shop for 10 years and told us he’s never had training and support like he’s had lately.
“Partners justify investing in training as they see a return.”
Furthermore, low fees were attractive to newcomers.
“People could see if they could run a travel business; if it did not work out, they didn’t lose a fortune,” she says.
Recruiting via a firm called PlanNet also raised eyebrows but Handley-Hughes says the two are separate: “PlanNet recruit for InteleTravel; we concentrate on the core business of running the agency.”
Just over a year into her role, the coronavirus pandemic emerged.
“This is where experience kicked in,” she recalls, having run her own UK destination management company called Pinpoint Britain.
“You could sense concern about travelling, so I contracted as much UK product as possible. Then it was a case of helping with changes, refunds and cancellations. Concentrating on UK products that early meant we were prepared.”
Supporting agents online with “gin o’clock” virtual gatherings, podcasts, newsletters and webinars helped keep homeworkers connected.
The annual conference went virtual during Covid, after the first was held in Glasgow in 2019, but then it headed to Valencia (2021) and Belfast (2022), with Malaga hosting in November.
Pictured: Inteletravel conference 2022
“Conferences have gone from functional to aspirational,” says Handley-Hughes.
Despite cost-of-living pressures, she sees no market softening and says August revenues were up by 53% year on year.
“It is about the development of agents,” she adds.
“They’ve found their feet and are comfortable with sales. Some do it as a secondary job or part-time but still have a good commitment.
“Our top agent still only sells to friends and family and has made sales of £1.2 million so far this year, thanks to long-haul high-value bookings. Other agents aren’t far behind.”
Homeworkers come from varied backgrounds, including nurses, teachers, lawyers, accountants and corporate roles. “Accountants and lawyers will be focused on time and productivity. If agents focus like accountants and lawyers, it’s a recipe for success,” she says.