If Only is due to roll-out a new in-house booking system which will allow its team to quote, fulfil and process bookings for travel agents more quickly.
The Travelink system will go live in Q1 after a six-figure investment by the luxury trade-only tour operator’s owners Portman Travel Group.
It follows feedback from the trade, and If Only says it will speed up call handling times and streamline transactions.
The operator will also be launching a bookable website for agents in Q4 this year.
The self-serve website is designed to allow quicker turnaround on quotes and bookings for ‘fly and flop’ beach holidays which need little input from the Glasgow-based reservations team, which will be freed-up to focus on If Only’s more complex beach trips and tailor-made escapes.
The website builds on the introduction of e-quotes towards the end of 2020, and agents can still call if they prefer.
General manager Gordon McCreadie said: “There’s a huge amount of pressure on all travel brands at present to adapt and react to current circumstances in order to survive. If this year has taught us anything, it’s the important of building strong, mutual relationships with our travel agent partners, and listening to their needs and requirements from an operator.
“At If Only, the agent is always number one, and a survey exercise earlier this year highlighted that one key gap in our offering was a bookable website. Agents are looking for greater flexibility especially the ability to make bookings outside of traditional core opening hours. This correlated with a sway in demand towards digital marketing materials which we had observed over the last twelve months, and the success of our e-quotes system, introduced last year.
“It seemed like the right time to really invest in technology, and I’m delighted to say that come the end of next year, we will give our agent partners greater choice with the new bookable website in place where agents can access and secure beach holidays for their customers with ease or call a member of our team to make their bookings. Naturally, our reservations specialists will still be on hand to also help out with more complex itineraries, cruise, or larger group bookings, but this will be an incredible tool for agents who know exactly what they’re looking for and want to secure bookings at the touch of a button. It’s really reassuring at a time like this to have the backing of a stable and supportive owner, and I’m confident that investment in these new technologies, amongst other things, will really help take If only to new heights.”
A restructure in the reservations department includes will see the creation of two teams, dedicated to beach and tailor-made travel rather than being split by destination.
Sales and operations director David Irving said: “This year has dealt everyone their fair share of challenges and really prompted us to consider what’s important. Certain destinations are still inaccessible safely to the UK market. Some destinations, like Australia and New Zealand, potentially won’t open their borders to UK tourists until Q4 next year, if not 2022, and even destinations like Asia are only very slowly reviewing travel corridors.
“On the flipside, places like the Maldives, Dubai and the Caribbean, with established travel corridors, are seeing a spike in pent-up demand.
He said enquiries over the last three weeks of 2020 were up 360% with a “large portion” for these destinations.
Irving added: “As a result, it didn’t make sense for the prolonged welfare of the business to have certain teams with very limited enquiries for twelve months, whilst others struggled to handle the volume of quotes.”
Irving said customers buying habits have changed with requests for bookings and quotes on Sundays or late in evenings increasing in recent months.
“I want to reassure agents that the level of service and knowledge they expect from If Only won’t waver in any way,” he said. “Ultimately, we have aimed to enhance all the aspects which agents love most about our brand – our knowledge and expertise – whilst evolving to ensure we are best placed to help them secure those all-important bookings and revenue, whilst we build the new normal together.
“The world we live in has caused demand to change, and we as a business have to do the same to survive, however we are 100% committed to our agents and stay true to our trade ethos whilst maintaining the high standards we’re known for, so this should be seen as a positive change in the right direction for If Only.”
Agents who make If Only bookings this month will be automatically entered into a weekly prize draw to win wither a Home By Nico dining experience; a UK luxury getaway; an Apple Homepod Mini; or luxury cocktail kit.
Other ongoing incentives give agents the chance to win stays in Aruba, Mauritius and the Maldives.