Barrhead Travel has joined The Travel Network Group, making it the consortium’s biggest retail member and second largest in terms of turnover.
The Scottish agency chain has not been a full member of a consortium for 18 months having left the Advantage Travel Partnership in 2013 to form joint venture buying group, Venture, with Midcounties Co-operative.
Barrhead had retained a tie-up with Advantage, of which it has been a member for over 15 years, to continue to use some of its services.
But confirming the move to the TTNG, Barrhead chairman Bill Munro (pictured) said: “Other consortia have served us well in the past but we have outgrown them.
“We have become so strong in our own right, that we don’t really need to be part of a group at all, but there are advantages to having strong partners and sharing best practices.
“And the way The Travel Network Group is configured, with its infrastructure and technology, really appeals. We see a huge amount of strength coming from working with like-minded people who have a commercial outlook on life and who are focused on profit not showmanship.”
Munro said the joint venture with Midcounties had worked for about a year but had been disbanded due to the businesses being too different.
“They are a co-operative and to some degree more interested in looking after employees than making money. We’re different animals. Our entire raison d’etres are different so the whole thing became a mess,” he said. [See clarification below]
Barrhead will be part of TTNG’s Worldchoice brand because of its significant retail network and membership of Abta. TTNG managing director Gary Lewis explained Barrhead could then choose benefits from across the consortium.
He said: “It doesn’t matter where a member sits – whether it’s Worldchoice or the TTA, it can just pick the solutions that work for it.”
He said Barrhead would be tapping into some of the TTNG’s commercial deals, its technical payment structure and forward-thinking management team. Barrhead will also supply differentiated product to the rest of the TTNG membership, in the way Cruise118 supplies exclusive DIY cruise holidays to the consortium.
Lewis said: “Barrhead is an incredibly entrepreneurial business and needed a partner that behaves in the same way.
“The old consortia model is about membership organisations that shout the loudest and but don’t necessarily have the flexibility to do the best for each different member.
“Be under no illusion, travel agents are massively challenged by the big guys and technology.
“But they ‘own’ their customers and there’s more reason than ever to be part of an organisation that will defend their position in the market.”
Munro said being part of the TTNG would help “protect its own future”.
“We have a different style of trading. We have become more of a tour operator and less of an agent and we are protecting ourselves against some of the bigger players, whether that’s Tui, Thomas Cook or Jet2holidays, who are doing as much as they can for their own bottom lines,” he said.
Munro added that the move to TTNG would also support its significant expansion plans.
“We’re moving into England in a big way with the first shop opening by Christmas. We’re the second largest cruise agent in the UK and we have our BA flight – a business that we’ll be expanding.
“We and the TTNG have similar goals. We both want to survive and grow.”
Barrhead Travel has asked Travel Weekly to clarify the meaning of a quote attributed to chairman Bill Munro relating to the differing structures and focuses of co-operative and private businesses, which has been interpreted by some parties as meaning that Barrhead lacked commitment to the welfare of employees.
Barrhead has asked Travel Weekly to emphasise the commitment of both the company and its executives to its employees, and has submitted the following statement:
“Barrhead Travel has over 850 happy staff and for four years running has been voted by our staff in the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work For List.
“We have also been commended by the Scottish Government Minister for Youth Employment for the number of MA’s that we employ annually all of whom we maintain and become full time members of staff and do not leave us.
“Recently we were voted Employer of the Year at the Scottish Business Awards and have also won Best Family Business in Scotland at the PWC Private Business Awards, UK National Champion at the European Business Awards, Retailer of the Year and Outstanding Performing Business at the East Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce Awards, Finalist in the Employer of The Year award at the National Business Awards amongst many others.”