Now is time for travel agents to shine, says dnata boss

The new boss of dnata in the UK and Europe says the complexity of travel offers opportunities for travel agents to shine and add value.

Speaking at Abta’s Travel Convention, Ailsa Pollard – chief executive for dnata Travel Group (UK & Europe) – said coming out of the pandemic can “bring its own pain” because call handling times have gone up by 20% because of complex Covid travel rules.

“Now is the time for travel agents to really shine, there’s a wealth of experience in the industry,” said Pollard, who takes up her new role from November 1.

She will assume responsibility for all of dnata Travel Group’s UK-based brands: Gold Medal, Travel Republic, Travelbag, Netflights and Sunmaster.

“Agents can step up…customers are willing to pay some of that higher margin,” she said, adding that the “wealth of knowledge” was a “prime opportunity” for agents amid complex travel restrictions for airlines, hotels and countries.

And she said dnata brands need to be “where the customer wants to be”, whether that’s with the Travelbag retail chain or online, via WhatsApp or other digital channels.

Pollard said B2B operator Gold Medal is working with agents to jointly help their customers “remove friction” in the holiday booking process.

When she takes on her new role next month, she will be meeting a lot of key partners to discuss ways they can help customers together.

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Since the announcement of a drastic cut in the UK government’s red list of countries two weeks ago, the long-haul destinations of Dubai and the Maldives have become “really dominant”, she told delegates at the event in London.

Previously departures had mostly been for 2022 but now customers were making late bookings for 2021 holidays.

Furthermore, she is seeing larger group sizes – with families travelling together – and longer durations, so the average booking value is increasing.

On the topic of leadership, Pollard said her management style is focused on removing friction and asking how she can help her teams to trade more easily.

“It’s about helping to reconnect your teams but not to get in the way,” she told moderator Chris Ship.

She added: “I want to recruit people who I would want to work for and people I can learn from.

“I only ever want people in my team I would want to work for if they got promoted above me.”

When asked about future acquisitions, she did not rule out buying more businesses.

“There are lots of frogs lining up to be kissed on the investment side,” she said.

“We’ll see which frogs want to be kissed, and then see which ones turn into princes.”

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