The chief executive of the two brands – now eight months into the role – tells Juliet Dennis about her achievements so far and plans for the guided holiday specialists
Q. What was your first task after you took the job?
A. When I started in May (2017) we were finalising product for this year. We were not doing the brands justice in our marketing. We needed to reposition them to be more modern and forward-thinking and move away from the regular stereotypes of coach touring, so we changed [our strapline] to “The Art of Travelling in Style” and stopped using the word coach tour because of negative connotations.
Q. What’s your overall aim?
A. I don’t want us to be the best-kept secret in the industry. We want to expand our ‘Insight Experiences’, the things you cannot find on your own; and the small but important details such as ‘dine at home’ experiences. It is these unique moments that blow people away.
Q. What are you doing to make Insight Vacations stand out?
A. When we looked at how to position Insight Vacations, we felt we had so many great stories. We didn’t need to hide behind ‘made up’ characters; we wanted authentic characters. We published a letter from customers in our brochure and asked repeat guests if we could feature them too. We already feature some people you meet on trips including our travel directors.
Q. What are your plans for Luxury Gold?
A. Luxury Gold has been around since 2012, so it’s a relatively new brand. There are other players in the luxury space so there is more work to be done to educate agents on what it stands for. We want to double its sales over the next two years across all markets, including the UK. We have responded to demand for new itineraries, such as in South Africa and Japan, and challenged ourselves to offer the best of the best. We have grown the portfolio significantly for 2019, but there is still room to grow.
Q. The brands became preferred suppliers for luxury consortium Virtuoso on January 1. How much of an achievement is this?
A. You have to be invited to apply and the process is detailed. This is a massive seal of approval for Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold. To put this into a global context, there are 6,000 luxury travel advisers globally [in Virtuoso]. It is a significant player in the global luxury market.
Q. Are there gaps in your UK agent distribution network?
A. There is a lot of potential up north. We have strengthened our team so we now have two sales managers in the north. More than 80% of our business comes from the trade and there is no intention to change that. We will continue to invest in the trade. We are also actively looking for a replacement for sales director Paul Melinis, creating a Luxury Gold e-learning module and want to get more agents on individual trips rather than group fams.
Q. Are brochures still a valuable sales tool?
A. They are incredibly important and here to stay in the foreseeable future.
Q. How’s 2018 looking?
A. Very positive. Our forward bookings are very strong. The feedback from the market has been outstanding.
Ten seconds with Hefel Böhler
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The fast pace and the fact that no two days are the same. And I love receiving guest feedback – there is nothing more rewarding than reading letters from happy guests telling you that they’ve had the most incredible travel experience and they can’t wait to travel with Insight Vacations or Luxury Gold again.
What is your favourite type of holiday?
I could never pick one – variety is the spice of life! I have so many great memories, including driving through the Kalahari Desert, diving the Great Barrier Reef, standing in the Sistine Chapel during a private visit and being on top of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka at sunset.
What do you do to relax?
Spending time with my husband and two sons. We love the outdoors and Switzerland has myriad options, from hitting the slopes in winter to swimming in the lakes in summer.
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