Outstanding achievement winners Steve Byrne, Jackie Steadman and Alistair Rowland
Three leading travel agency bosses were honoured with the Outstanding Contribution to the Industry Award at the Travel Weekly Agent Achievement Awards on Tuesday.
Steve Byrne, chief executive of Travel Counsellors; Alistair Rowland, Midcounties group general manager for specialist retail; and Jackie Steadman, director of TravelTime World, were presented with their awards at London’s Park Plaza Westminster hotel.
The AAAs are the biggest celebration of the travel trade in the UK, with 850 people attending this year’s ceremony.
Steadman set up her travel agency in Berkhamsted 23 years ago, where she is director and shareholder. She has also served as a regional council member on the Abta board and as an Advantage Travel Partnership board member. She also has homeworkers and set up a coach travel business Athena Holidays for the mature market.
She said: “I am totally overwhelmed to win this and I am really proud to be part of this industry. When I came into this industry it was all ‘bricks and clicks’ and everyone talked about the demise of the travel agent. I always thought we would survive; agents just have to keep reinventing themselves. We are very resilient.”
Rowland said the award was “completely unexpected”.
“I’m delighted, not just for me but for the team who have worked so hard to keep the Co-op brand strong over the last five and a half years,” he said.
“I’m proud to be part of one of the biggest agent groups and growing. Midcounties has grown from a business that turns over £70 million to £400 million in five years.
“It’s an odd thing if you don’t work for it [a co-operative business] – it’s more than a job.
“To be able to be a strong and profitable business in the UK at Midcounties and to be recognised is the highlight of my career.”
Byrne said: “I’m surprised and proud, and pleased for the company because it’s recognition for all of us at Travel Counsellors. It’s shows how good the business is and the model. It was ahead of its time when it was created over 20 years ago.
“We have such great people and as long as we keep on recruiting the best people everything else is pretty easy because it’s all about having the best travel counsellors and the best people supporting them and keeping them focused on doing the right thing by our customers.”
Travel Counsellors also scooped the Homeworking Agency of the Year award, while Midcounties picked up Central England – Large Agency of the Year and Leisure Agent of the Year for Joanne Saunders.
Other big winners on the night included Thomas Cook, Oasis Travel, Hays Travel, Premier Travel and Designer Travel which picked up two awards each.
Hays Travel and Oasis Travel won the national large and small high street agency categories respectively.
Managing director of Hays Travel John Hays said: “We have won regional awards before but never the national. Just to be nominated along big names like Cook and Thomson is a thrill.
“We’ve been growing quite rapidly over the last few years opening new shops and through acquisitions. We’re trading very well – we wouldn’t be opening new stores if we weren’t. We have 150 shops and plans for more.
“The award is proof that if you have the right staff and the right product then it can work. The key is staff. They are everything and I’m especially proud of them.”
Cruise 118 won the award for national large cruise agency. Managing director James Cole said: “It is fantastic news to have won and totally unexpected.
“I am so proud of what we have achieved and this award is for all the staff who work for Cruise 118, I am speechless.”
Miles Morgan Travel picked up the award for South West England and South Wales – Large Agency.
Owner Miles Morgan said: “This award will not make any difference to our performance but it is a great signal to the staff. We have fantastic staff that do a great job looking after our customers and because of that we do a lot of bookings and have a great relationship with suppliers. I’m delighted to win this.”
The AAAs also recognise business excellence in the fields of marketing, social media and websites.
Website of the Year – Small Agency went to Disney specialist Magic Breaks by World Travellers. Director Adam Swift said: “We’ve improved the site significantly in the last 12 to 18 months and have doubled our conversion rate and growth. But it’s more than just having a great website, you have to have the customer service and the availability to your customers as well.”
Magic Breaks employs homeworkers based all over the world in a ‘virtual call centre’. Swift, who departed the stage with the speed his name would suggest, added: “Winning this award is great for all the team who work so hard. They can see how well they’ve done, whether they’re based in Cheshire or Vancouver Island.”
Young leisure agent of the year went to Beth Collins of Premier Travel who, at 20, said she couldn’t wait for a full career in the travel industry.
Beth said: “I just can’t believe I was chosen. I won the apprentice of the year award for my region and Premier Travel were then so supportive of me going for this award.
“After winning this I feel like I could do anything in this industry, I am still so young so plan to do a lot in travel.
“I love working on social media and expanding that as well as just selling holidays, I enjoy every second of my job.”
Leisure Manager of the Year went to Kim Kent, of Spear Travels, who has run the Wolverhampton shop since 2009 and its purchase of Roy Cox Travel.
She said: “Spear Travel took a chance on me when travel was going through a tough time and since then we’ve bought a shop on the high street and brought it back to the 21st century.
“It’s just amazing to win the award, overwhelming. But it’s not about me, it’s about our whole team. We are five ladies who know what we are talking about, offer great customer service and go the extra mile for our customers. The award is for all of us.”
The 2017 awards were hosted by Stephen Mulhern alongside Lucy Huxley and Travel Weekly Group managing director Stuart Parish, with entertainment and prize giveaways taking place throughout the evening.
Midcounties Co-operative Personal Travel Adviser Joanne Saunders, who won leisure agent of the year rushed out immediately to telephone her mum to tell her about her achievement.
She said: “That was the most exciting thing in my life. I feel like I have reached the pinnacle. When I told my mum she started crying.”
Saunders, who was a high street agent for 20 years, before becoming a homeworker five years ago said she was cruising along in her career when she had an epiphany while on a trip to the US and decided to go out and promote herself.
“I was just mooching along and I felt I could really up my game and really promote my business instead of waiting for things to come to me.”
Northern Ireland – Small Agency
Northern Ireland – Large Agency
Large Agency Thomas Cook
Scotland – Small Agency
Scotland – Large Agency
North West England and North Wales – Small Agency
North West England and North Wales – Large Agency
Yorkshire, North Midlands and North East England – Small Agency
Andrew Earle’s Holidays
Yorkshire, North Midlands and North East England – Large Agency
Central England – Small Agency
Central England – Large Agency
Midcounties Co-operative Travel
South West England and South Wales – Small Agency
South West England and South Wales – Large Agency
Miles Morgan Travel
London and South East England – Small Agency
London and South East England – Large Agency
Call Centre Agency
High Street Small Agency
High Street Large Agency
Cruise Agency – Small Agency
The Cruise Village
Cruise Agency – Large Agency
Leisure Agent of the Year
Joanne Saunders, Midcounties Co-operative Travel PTA
Young Leisure Agent of the Year
Beth Collins, Premier Travel
Leisure Manager of the Year
Kim Kent, Spear Travels
Promotion of the Year – Small Agency
Promotion of the Year – Large Agency
Large Agency Premier Travel
Website of the Year – Small Agency
Magic Breaks by World Travellers
Website of the Year – Large Agency
CLIA Cruise Master Award
Joanne Marsh, ROL Cruise
Best Use of Social Media Award
TIPTO Independent Agency of the Year Award
The Travel House
Extra Mile Award
Kay Frankland, Designer Travel
Independent Agency of the Year
Homeworker of the Year
Angela Mayall, Designer Travel
Agent of the Year
Tricia Conroy Smith, Off Broadway Travel