Online long-haul specialist travel agent Holidaysplease has a record 100 homeworkers and head office staff in place this January as trading tracks 40% ahead of last year.
Charles Duncombe, director of the Birmingham-based retailer, put the year-on-year spike down to a focus on starting the turn-of-year sales push early in December.
In previous years Duncombe said Holidaysplease has had to turn off its marketing because it has generated more leads than it can cope with.
“January starts in December and does not end in January,”
However, a ramping up of staff – 65 of its 100 sales consultants are experienced homeworkers – and being prepared to hit the ground running in January has paid off.
“For us the message this year has been January starts in December and does not end in January,” Duncombe said.
“We looked to try to see if there’s a pattern to the upturn but it’s across the board. Being long-haul we’re not really subject to the pressures on short-haul with Turkey and east versus western Med.
“It just feels like there was a lot of upheaval and uncertainty last year like Brexit and Trump and there’s a lot of pent-up demand.
“People are thinking ‘sod it, Brexit is here, we’re not going to wait for the currency to recover’. There’s so much doom and gloom, New Year was a fresh start and people want something to look forward to.”
Holidaysplease is still actively marketing across all channels and Duncombe said treating December as the start of the peak meant its agents did not enter 2017 with a standing start.
“We said start contacting your customers and start getting inquiries in before Christmas, at least get some work in progress.
“Historically we have found sales in the first week of January are not particularly strong because people are just starting to get inquiries in.”
Repeat business is significant for Holidaysplease and it has built up a database of 5,000 past customers in its rewards programme.
Duncombe said he believes anecdotal evidence that holidaymakers are fed up with doing all the work themselves online is a genuine trend the firm is benefitting from.
“It used to be quite exciting going on a travel website and looking at lots of lovely pictures, but it can get quite boring very quickly and people’s time is getting increasingly valuable,” he said.
“It’s a competitive environment out there. Gone are the days people worked nine to five.
“They are on their phone at the weekends and in the evenings and haven’t got the time to spend hours looking at 20 different websites trying to find the perfect thing when there’s so much choice.
“A quick five minute phone call can save them hours of research. However, I do not think we can rest on our laurels and rely on the old-school ways of doing things.”
Holidaysplease has been working on improving the online experience, developing more intuitive holiday finder search functionality and plans to add a lot more detailed hotel information.
“We have done some research into what people are actually searching for. Sometimes it can be the most obscure piece of information, but it’s what then need to know,” Duncombe said.
‘Holidaymakers are fed up with doing all the work themselves online’
“We will increase the amount of information we have on hotels, but the key thing is not to clutter the site up.”
It is expected greater amounts of information will increase dwell times and session length, factors the Google algorithm is increasingly favouring over links and keywords.
Holidaysplease has started offering online bookability having built its own dynamic packaging booking engine with product supplied by aggregators JTA and Gold Medal.
Duncombe said this will allow it handle the volume of inquiries it isn’t able to scale up quickly enough to deal with and customers can weigh up the advantages against an operator package.
However, selling person to person will remain the core of a business which Duncombe says trades on trust and customer service.
“In Trustpilot we are number two out of 500 UK travel companies and number one out of 150 travel agents with an average score of 9.9 out of 10 for 1,600 reviews,” he said.
“We sell nice luxury holidays, our customers are going to go away and have a nice time, so I think we can punch above our weight.”