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Agent Diary: ‘Quality service rather than quantity of bookings really does go a long way’

I’m loving my new role and hope my product knowledge and focus on service will be a winning formula, says Carla Hutchings, Luxury Travel Associate at Swords Travel in Bournemouth.

I wish my customers were like me! By that I mean, in the current climate, I wish my customers were all booking holidays.

As a travel professional with 18 years’ experience, the pandemic hasn’t stopped me booking – regardless of the potential changes and the lack of government clarity about amber list destinations.

“While I appreciate some people may be a little concerned about booking for 2021, I keep reiterating to them that many operators have holidays on sale for 2022-23.”

I keep hearing the same words from my customers, family and friends: “I just need a holiday to look forward to.” My response is always the same: “Book one then!”

While I appreciate some people may be a little concerned about booking for 2021, I keep reiterating to them that many operators have holidays on sale for 2022-23. So there’s no reason not to have something to look forward to!

Reflection time

I joined Swords Travel as an associate in January after a period on furlough from my former role as business development manager at luxury operator If Only. Being on furlough made me stop, think and reflect on what I wanted to achieve in life, and I’m sure many others thought about this too.

Having spent 10 years working in field sales, travelling across the south of England, I’d visited so many lovely travel agencies – and had many cups of tea made for me – while of course promoting the companies I was working for. But when I stopped to think about it, I realised I needed to give the M25 a break and think about home life.

I kept myself very busy during furlough. I set up Carla’s Cakes, which certainly took off! I didn’t realise how in-demand I was going to be for takeaway afternoon teas.

“We were chatting on the phone and, after a few drinks and a cheeky suggestion that I join, the decision was made. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I’ve never felt happier.”

But deep down I knew travel was always going to be in my blood. I’d said for many years that I wanted to set up my own travel agency. So running my own cake business gave me the confidence to realise that, yes, I could do this.

I thought hard about which consortia I was going to join, and whether I was going to open a shop or join a homeworking organisation.

Mark [Swords Travel co-owner] and I had worked together at Travel 2 for three years and had often talked about setting up our own agencies. We were chatting on the phone and, after a few drinks and a cheeky suggestion that I join, the decision was made. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I’ve never felt happier.

Service focus

Given the current situation, I may not have made hundreds of bookings in the first few months I’ve been a travel agent, but I have focused on booking quality!

One of the first bookings I made was a £50,000 family holiday to Abu Dhabi this October. I really did feel I offered a bespoke and personal service to these customers and went above and beyond.

“I received an incredible service from my former employer at If Only, who went out of their way to sort a few special requests I had.”

They used to book with a local high street agency but had been recommended to me, and hopefully I now have a customer for life. I received an incredible service from my former employer at If Only, who went out of their way to sort a few special requests I had.

Of course, it helps having product knowledge, but the main thing is to offer quality service rather than go for quantity of bookings. It really does go a long way.

MoreFormer If Only BDM joins Swords Travel


Traffic lights

Get up to speed with the rules

For the past two weeks, my email inbox has been busy receiving all the updated tour operator booking polices for the traffic light system. I think we’d all agree that the sea of different policies is somewhat confusing, but it is great to have these policies to hand so that we can reassure customers their holiday bookings are protected.

Just don’t get caught out, as I nearly did last week, when booking a flight with easyJet, which offers more flexibility on its packages to amber list destinations. Amber guidelines can be misleading with some operators so, before you book, make sure you fully understand what the cancellation conditions are.

Get on top of that, and the PCR rules, and it’s another reason for customers to book with us.

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