Riviera Travel chief executive Phil Hullah says the operator’s forward bookings for 2022 are “roughly 50% ahead of where they would normally be” as he tipped agents to play an even greater role in the future.
Hullah said the operator would be operating its full programme by April next year and added: “If anything, our challenge is going to be lack of space on some of our more popular holidays.”
Hullah took the helm of Riviera Travel in March 2020, just as the pandemic took hold and the UK was sent into lockdown. He said: “They say timing is everything and it’s been a nightmare; really tough. But looking forward now to 2022, clearly some uncertainty remains, but I am really positive.”
Referring to the easing of restrictions including day-two testing requirements, he said: “Rules are relaxing all the time. Every one really helps. We measure the sentiment amongst our guests all the time and they are really keen to get back out there and catch back up.
“We will have our Christmas programme and then by April, we will be back to where we want to be. We think it’s going to swing back very swiftly.”
Hullah said he had already started marketing and said “our travel agent partners are going to play an even more important role for us going forward”.
He said the company had recently recruited two more trade sales people, taking the total to six who were back on the road training.
Hullah added: “We’re very grateful for agents’ support and we see the trade as a really important part of our business.”
Hullah said looking after customers had become Riviera’s “absolute obsession” during the pandemic, adding that it had expanded its customer contact centre by 50% by moving staff from other departments or through new hires.
“It was really hard work but we think it really paid off because the vast majority of guests really appreciated it and stuck with us,” he said.
Riviera restarted some land tours to Italy last September and October which he said had been good for staff morale, but admitted the number of guests carried had been only “in the hundreds”.
But he said between its reconfigured UK tours and some in Europe this summer, it had now taken “thousands” of guests away and they had been a resounding success.
“I am really pleased and proud of my team,” said Hullah. “We had all the new health and safety protocols in place and they went well, but the most important thing, for our non-UK tours, has been the pre-holiday support.
“Where there’s been testing, we’ve paid the cost of that, but we’re also helped and supported guests through the whole process. We’re spoken to 100% of travelling guests six or seven days before they travelled to make sure they had done everything required. It’s been very hands on. And then we had more people on every tour, supporting each holiday, while the guests were out there.”
Hullah said he had found that “the fear [of travelling] was much worse than the reality and also quickly forgotten”.