Leeds Bradford airport’s (LBA) first trade engagement executive since the pandemic has visited 96 agencies in his first six months in the job as he bids to make the base Yorkshire’s favourite departure point.
Nathan Stephenson, who started his role in July, has estimated there are 254 agencies in his home county and he wants to visit all of them within a year.
“I’m keen to see the relationship with the trade grow and I’d like it to be mutual – there’s a mutual benefit,” he said.
Stephenson (pictured) joined LBA in 2014 and rose through the ranks to become airport duty manager, before applying for the position of travel trade and community engagement executive when it was reintroduced after the pandemic. The role, previously held by Tom Holdsworth, was paused in March 2020.
Stephenson is on the road four days a week, travelling up to 200 miles a day, in an effort to gather feedback from agents and pass it on to his colleagues in the aviation development team, who can use the information in their discussions with airlines.
During his visits, he typically asks about forward bookings, trends, customers’ views on LBA, as well as agents’ thoughts on potential new destinations.
“The travel trade is massive and plays a huge role in my job – it’s something I feel I can never know too much about,” Stephenson said.
A frequent request coming from agents is that LBA should add long-haul routes, but there is also an appetite for any gaps in the short-haul network to be filled.
“Agents always want more connections to anywhere in Europe because more connections always brings prices down,” said Stephenson, who added that Egypt also pops up in conversations about possible new destinations.
All of the information he receives from the trade is hugely valuable, Stephenson said, because agents have such a close bond with their customers.
“Customers trust travel agents. They’ve built that trust over many years,” Stephenson said.
Customers’ feedback about the airport often never reaches the airport itself, so the agency visits are crucial in finding out which aspects of LBA are proving challenging for travellers and which elements are successful.
Asked about the airport’s ultimate aim, Stephenson is clear. “We want to be the number one departure point for travellers in Yorkshire,” he said.
And Stephenson – a self-described “proud Yorkshireman” – is equally clear about his own target as he puts the key in the ignition every morning.
“I want to visit every single agency in Yorkshire by July and I’ve got a window sticker for every one,” he said.
Holdsworth, Stephenson’s predecessor, now works closely with Stephenson in the position of aviation development manager. The pair work alongside aviation director Nicola McMullen.