Strawberry Holidays founder Kate Holroyd spoke to Harry Kemble about why her business will come out of the pandemic stronger than before
Q. What did you do before setting up Strawberry Holidays in 2016?
A. I started in travel at MyTravel’s Holiday House in November 2006. I worked in the digital team and my first task was to write descriptions of about 160 resorts. I was training to be a journalist before going into travel, and one of my tutors said private businesses did not know how much they would need people to write for the web.
MyTravel merged with Thomas Cook a few months after I started in February 2007. I went on to work for Thomas Cook in their website and e-commerce team, purely on content, until 2009. After a period outside travel I joined Cruise118 in 2013 for two years and then went into financial services. I soon realised I wanted to get back into travel and started applying for roles across the country. Global Travel Group could see I was applying for jobs on LinkedIn and approached me and asked if I’d thought about setting up my own business.
“I started in travel at MyTravel’s Holiday House in November 2006. I worked in the digital team and my first task was to write descriptions of about 160 resorts.”
Q. How have you managed during the pandemic?
A. Strawberry Holidays had its two best-ever sales months at the end of 2020. The demand is there, and I’m holding on. I’ve sold a lot of P&O Cruises for 2021‑22 – that programme coming on sale was huge! I’ve done a lot of Florida and Las Vegas. Cruise and US breaks are my specialisms. Developing [social media] content with a sales message has worked – it’s made me stand out. It shows that what I’m marketing, I’m selling, which means there’s no disconnect.
I’m in a very different situation from other agencies because my cost base is so low. I took a bounce-back loan and I’m in negative commission with Global [now part of The Travel Network Group] from refunded bookings. To get me on to a better financial footing, I’m starting a full-time temporary role with [electrical retailer] AO.com from home until April – but I’m not putting Strawberry Holidays on hold. I also took on a waitressing job, but have been furloughed, and have applied for cleaning roles at the hospital. You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do.
“Developing [social media] content with a sales message has worked – it’s made me stand out. It shows that what I’m marketing, I’m selling, which means there’s no disconnect.”
Q. What have you done to strengthen the agency over the past year?
A. I launched straight into content – I went back to my roots really. In December, when the vaccine announcement came through, it was that content which made me stand out and brought me back to the forefront of people’s minds. Another thing I’ve done over the last couple of years is going on BBC Radio Lancashire. The station rings me when they need a travel comment. I’ve had a long relationship with them, and it has been particularly helpful during the pandemic.
I’ve also invested in a chatbot on Facebook, and I have a business coach, which has been worth every penny. I’ve also partnered with an influencer known as Cruise Mummy (real name Jenni Fielding). She is having conversations with people who are trying to figure out which cruise to book and she sends them on to me.
“Another thing I’ve done over the last couple of years is going on BBC Radio Lancashire. The station rings me when they need a travel comment.”
Q. What are you trying to do more of going into this year?
A. It is absolutely right to look outside your industry [for referrals]. The next thing I’m going to do is go back to Instagram influencers in entertainment, wine, art and food. They will travel and they will have followers who travel, and it won’t be saturated with requests from travel [companies]. Working with more influencers on referrals will be my next step.
Q. How do you think your business will come out of the pandemic?
A. I truly believe it will come out of this stronger. 2020 showed me I have a level of resilience I didn’t know I had. I’ve had to come up with new ways of doing things and make sure every enquiry has been followed through. I’ve developed a level of business acumen I didn’t have before. With the pent-up demand out there, and showing you’re passionate, business will come.
“2020 showed me I have a level of resilience I didn’t know I had. I’ve had to come up with new ways of doing things and make sure every enquiry has been followed through.”
Tell us about the referral arrangement you have with blogger ‘Cruise Mummy’
I’ve known Jenni Fielding for a while now because we’ve got mutual friends. When she moved into blogging full-time last summer, she said she was looking for a travel agent partner because she got a lot of enquiries.
“I’ve got a 75% conversion rate on all referrals from Jenni. It has built my confidence to go out and look for other referrers.”
She is like a content creator and does blogging for other businesses. She asked if I would be interested in a referral arrangement – and I bit her hand off. I give her a couple of per cent kickback and she tells me if someone she’s speaking to wants to book. It’s gift-wrapped. We started in October. I’ve got a 75% conversion rate on all referrals from Jenni. It has built my confidence to go out and look for other referrers.
I’ve got a chap who is a financial advisor handling high-net-worth individuals in my local business networking group. Around 25% of my business comes out of that group.