Escorted tours specialist Collette Worldwide has increased its UK marketing budget by 20%  for next year in an aggressive bid to increase agent sales during the economic downturn.

The privately owned US tour operator, which is debt free, hopes to significantly boost its market share in the UK and has upped its staffing levels and spend while others scale back as a recession looms.

It has just confirmed an increased marketing budget for 2009 to allow for more training, promotions and themed events for the trade after increasing its district sales managers from three to five this summer. It is also offering agents an extra 2% commission for all bookings departing in January, between February 1-14 and in August 2009, as well as in January and February 2010.

General manager Peter Traynor said: “I have heard rumours of cutting sales staff and budgets so we think it is an opportunity to gain market share. We want agents to know we want to work with them. We are not paring back; we expect to have doubled our [UK] business in three years.”

The operator, which specialises in tours for the over 50s, has traditionally sold a high number of group tour bookings through agents. It is now courting more traditional individual bookings. It has just launched smaller exploration escorted tours worldwide for 16-24 passengers and other new tours in California, Costa Rica, New England and the Colorado Rockies.

The operator already has commercial terms with the major consortia although it does not currently work with the multiples. Traynor said the operator intended to be far more proactive in working with agents in 2009. “We are looking at all ways to work with the trade and increasing our support,” he added.

The company will finish 2008 up a couple of percentage points in sales and revenues on last year, added Traynor.