Gold Medal has been independent from Thomas Cook for three months. Lee Hayhurst spoke to its management team of Steve Barrass and Robin Parry about the buyout by dnata and its plans for independent agents

Three months into its new life as an independent operator Gold Medal has its sights firmly set on becoming the partner of choice for independent agents.

Customer service is something the long‑haul specialist said it has been prioritising for some time, but now under the ownership of dnata it is set to invest more heavily in this area.

For the past year Gold Medal has opened its doors to external benchmarking by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS).

This provides a comparison of how Gold Medal is performing against other sectors and within travel, and gives an insight into where improvement is needed.

Gold Medal said it takes a brave company to expose itself to such external scrutiny but Robin Parry (pictured, left), marketing, product and commercial director, said it was paying dividends.

“We have always said that choice, availability and price are factors. If we negotiate harder we will pass that through to agents on most occasions.

“But the real differentiator for us is customer service. We really do believe this is the sustainable differentiator for us going forward.

“Independents tell us the reason they will go to one party over another is good service. We are investing and working hard at it.”

Access All Areas

Parry concedes that, in general, travel has some catching up to do in this area when benchmarked against other sectors, be they business‑to‑consumer or business‑to‑business.

But Gold Medal is determined to do just that and operates an Access All Areas initiative where agents and suppliers are invited to the head office in Preston to give face‑to‑face feedback.

The sale to dnata, the ground‑handling and travel services arm of Emirates Group, had already given Gold Medal further momentum with agents, Parry said.

He said many agents were reticent to do business with Cook, but since the buyout the firm had picked up 200 agent accounts.

Room for improvement

Gold Medal managing director Steve Barrass (pictured, right), who along with Parry worked on securing the dnata deal, said: “I could tell you all day long, with lots of key performance indicators and statistics, that we provide good service.

“But actually the true test is when it’s measured externally. In our sector in travel we rank really well and I’m pleased with that.

“But travel has got room for improvement and when you compare our service to other non‑travel organisations you can see we still have a long way to go.”

To achieve improvement Gold Medal has increased the headcount in some areas and automated other processes where appropriate.

It also has more people on the road, including a new Oceania specialist, and has invested heavily in training on both the sales and operational side.

Expert advice

For Gold Medal’s sales staff it’s all about gaining product knowledge, so when an agent gets in touch they can speak to a real expert.

“It’s hard for an agent to be an expert in maybe up to 40 destinations. What we say is come to us because we are. Some destinations we offer, agents may never have visited,” said Barrass.

In a world of almost limitless choice, Gold Medal sees itself embodying the traditional tour operator role, editing down the options and providing endorsement for everything it sells.

Barrass said the modern holidaymaker had become more demanding compared with 20 years ago.

Itineraries are more complex and agents increasingly have to differentiate themselves by selling the ‘what’ you do on holiday, rather than the ‘where’ and ‘how you get there’.

“What we do is add value to that flight and hotel by talking to the customer about when you get somewhere there is this whole range of experiences.”

The operator is still formulating plans, but agents are being promised a revitalised Gold Medal prepared to invest time and money in its valued partners.