Independent agents were last week urged to take an innovative approach to selling holidays and to add value to customers by selling more add-ons.

TUI Travel UK managing director Dermot Blastland said some independent travel agents needed to change their business model to offer more value to customers by
selling services such as transfers, valet parking and currency exchange. 

TUI Travel UK managing director Dermot Blastland

His view was backed up by Attraction World’s sales and marketing director Tony Seaman this week, who said he was “disappointed with agents’ failure to sell add-ons such as attraction tickets”.

So are agents really making the most out of selling these additional products?

Travelbank Worldchoice owner Andrew Ogden believes so and thinks the industry is underestimating the value and importance of independent agents.

“The way I look at it is: the more I do for the customer, the less they are going to go and do on the Internet. I want to make my customers rely on me for these things such as getting to the airport and transfers in the destination.

“If they do one thing on the Internet, they may go and book that big trip on the Internet. Then I have lost them.”

Ogden said he has trained his staff to sell add-ons with every booking – from car hire through to insurance.

He said: “It makes sense – if someone has a problem when they are away then I will have their policy in front of me. I think we as agents need to think of these things before the customer does – if we have to think about it later, we have failed.”

Ogden also said that at his agency in Newton Abbot, Devon, staff have created a tick list for customers, to help them prepare for their trip.

Southwest-based agency Peter Goord Travel works with the big two, but proprietor Anthony Goord said it has to be a “two-way street” when it comes to working with operators.

He said: “The operators have to work with us – it needs to be a level playing field where by they supply us with the offers and deals and in turn we will support and sell them.

“Any independent agent worth their salt will sell additional services. All our staff know to do this”

“The likes of Thomson and First Choice are good brand names but they have to work with us as well.

“Operators need to give us confidence in longer deal agreements. We don’t want them to say ‘we don’t want to work with you’ six months down the line.”

“Our priority has always been to fulfil the client’s choice, so if they want to book [the multiples], we will do it. 

Goord added: “From an independent’s point of view, we try to move with the times, the same as everybody else. For example, we are looking at technology;  we know that we need to use a website, we need to have a call centre as footfall in the high street is slowing.

“Our biggest problem is local advertising isn’t working as well. We are now advertising on the back of buses and we are calling everyone on our database to get their e-mail addresses to send them offers.”

Greenstar Travel owner Martyn Fisher says his Advantage agency in Claygate, Surrey has been innovating for a long time. Last year the office underwent a £22,000 refit, cut down on brochures and launched a loyalty programme, the Elite Club.

Fisher argued that his agency doesn’t sell many of the multiples’ products, not because they do not receive a high commission rate, but
because the market just isn’t there in his area.

He said: “I have felt for quite a long time that this type of product has disappeared from our neck of the woods.

“That’s not to say that you won’t go down the high street in Kingston, for example, and Thomson and Going Places will be selling thousands of them.”

“As for additional services, any independent agent worth their salt will sell additional services. All our staff know to do this.

“We are trying to increase sales and we are running a business. We will work with tour operators that support us.”

However, Wroxham Travel assistant manager Suzie Nee said it can often be hard to persuade customers to book extras and add-ons at the time of booking.

“It does depend on what stage [a booking] is at – if they are a long way ahead then the customer is not interested in anything more than insurance at that time.

“If the booking is near the time of the holiday then you can get them a bit more interested, but they don’t tend to be interested in booking things like transfers and car hire.”

Nee said to combat this, her agency sends out reminders to customers to book add-ons, giving details and prices of the relevant extras.

“We haven’t lost any business, but it is changing – we used to get customers buying car hire alone, but that doesn’t really happen anymore.”

It seems that while the forward-thinking independent agents are already maximising their business and selling add-ons to clients, for some it could be an untapped market.