Eighty years after Premier Travel arrived in Cambridge as a coach company, the agency is still at the heart of the historic city. Benjamin Coren visited.
As an iconic cathedral city, Cambridge has a busy town centre with high footfall. The only problem for a travel agency is that much of that is made up of incoming tourists.
So the team at Premier Travel, which has had a presence in Cambridge for 80 years, rely on their customer service to keep clients coming back time and again.
That level of service is evidenced no more obviously than at the back of the shop where the team proudly displays a number of awards the branch has received for outstanding customer service from the Cambridge Business Improvement District.
“The shop windows play an important part in a location with high footfall”, said branch manager Amanda Aldridge, who joined Premier 27 years ago at a different location in Cambridge. She returned to the 21-shop East Anglia miniple’s Cambridge branch, which has been in its current location for six years, after a spell at its shop in nearby Ely.
Independence wins customers
The freedom, as an independent agency and Worldchoice member of The Travel Network Group, to offer customers “that extra personal service” is what Aldridge puts her, and her team’s, loyalty down to.
“You feel part of that family,” she said. “More than half the staff have been with the company for 10 years or more. We are very well looked after, it’s not like in a big company where you don’t ever see upper management and you aren’t made to feel special.”
There is a mutual loyalty from many repeat customers, according to Aldridge, who said that is driven by virtue of the agency being independent and able to choose which suppliers they work with – Premier Holidays, the tour operator owned by the same parent company, is used but there is no pressure to choose it ahead of others.
“Because we are family-run we have the freedom to work with a wide range of operators,” she said. “Providing the organisations we work with are Abta bonded, we will book with them.”
Getting the right holiday for the customer is paramount, so Premier has a feature on its system that tells agents where everyone in the company has been – so they can contact them for their expertise of destinations. This year, Croatia, southern Italy, Majorca, South Africa and Florida are popular destinations.
The personal touch is also important. “We will do as much as we can for our customers,” Aldridge said. “Including getting customers’ boarding passes, and checking them in to flights. We take the pressure off them.”
Staff are encouraged to progress within Premier. Aldridge recently attended a leadership course, which she said “hugely helped me in managing the office” and has recently taken advantage of The Travel Network Group’s customer service workshops.
Drumming up new business
They also work hard to attract new business. One way is making the most of opportunities with customers coming in to use the bureau de change, managed by senior consultant Tracey Thornton – as well as taking to social media and forming commercial partnerships.
“We do competitions on Facebook and a lot of work within the local community,” said Aldridge. “We have a supporter’s partnership scheme with Cambridge United Football Club. We sponsor the hospitality suite and we hold monthly competitions so the winner can watch a game and go into the suite.
“We have also been up to meet the players and they do come in and talk to us, and we have even done bookings for [some of] them.”
The agency regularly participates in the annual Macmillan coffee mornings to raise funds for the Arthur Rank Hospice Charity, and sponsors an archway on the 5K Huntingdon Bubble Rush course, where participants run through bubbles to raise money for Children’s hospices in East Anglia.
The team also hosts client evenings, usually with a partner operator, but sometimes alongside a local business, to drum up custom.
Good teamwork and customer service at the branch, which has three full-time and four part-time staff, helps it keep its customers coming back. Maybe the tourists will start booking there next…
Ben’s Day at Premier Travel
Cambridge has a busy town centre and, although the bulk of the footfall is made up of tourists, the shop is buzzing with customers coming in to finalise their upcoming trips, make enquiries and make use of the in-branch bureau de change.
I was warmly welcomed by Amanda and her team. The bright, modern and tidy store was comfortable and there were smiles all around.
Two brochure walls flank the entrance with long haul and cruise on one side and short breaks, UK and Europe on the other, showing the breadth of product available.
The window displays show all the top offers to passers-by. The offer of the day comes through every morning from in-house operator Premier Holidays, but the branch is true to its independence by showcasing other operators too.
At the back of the shop is another brochure area and an area staff personal targets, with a wall of awards for the month’s top seller. The celebration of the agents’ achievements nicely sums up the branch’s friendly atmosphere.
Up close and personal
I love Saint Lucia, it’s so beautiful, the hotels are lovely and there is so much to see and do.
If I weren’t a travel agent…
I’d be a teacher. I’d applied to Lincoln University to do teacher training, but I deferred and came to Premier.
Florida. A week with a small group.
How long have you worked for Premier?
Five years. I previously worked at Going Places and was a Travel Counsellor.
If I weren’t a travel agent…
I always fancied being a florist!
A lady who had never flown longhaul.She went to Canada for three weeks on her dream trip.
How long have you been here?
I’ve spent 30 years working for Premier Travel.
If I weren’t a travel agent…
I would still do something customer-facing.
An Australia fam. We did hot-air ballooning, white water rafting and diving.