Sm@rt Agent

Are you a retailer who’s making the most of technology? Has the internet opened up a new world of opportunity? If so, you could be in the running for a Travolution Sm@rt Agent award.

Every issue, we will focus on a business that’s transformed its fortunes by making the most of the burgeoning online market. It could be the web has brought in bookings from customers in far-flung places. Maybe you’ve got a better understanding of clients and their needs with smarter customer relationship management. Or perhaps you’ve even changed your whole business model to take advantage of 21st century buying habits.

How ever you are using technology, Travolution wants to hear from you.

In addition to picking up a great prize, each winner’s story will be the subject of an in-depth case study – inspiring other readers to learn from your success.

As an example, Travolution has picked two agents who’ve taken the plunge into the Internet and reaped the reward. Can you do better? E-mail and tell us why you should be our next Sm@rt Agent winner.

The Sm@rt Agent awards are sponsored by


Case Study 1:
Sunmaster Travel, Bradford, West Yorkshire

When Adrian Walton started Bradford-based Sunmaster Travel in 1993 he had two things – a fax machine and boundless enthusiasm.

Each night, he blitzed local businesses with low-price flight offers, then spent the day sitting by his phone waiting for the bookings to come in.

Soon, his operation was known as the best place to go for seat-only. Inevitably, clients began asking for packages too, prompting him to join the Global Travel Group.

The real change came in 1997 when Walton got talking to a neighbour in his office block – a computer journalist who mentioned getting his business on to a mysterious thing called ‘the Internet’. “We built a website, but to be honest I disregarded it because I didn’t think the Internet would take off,” he admitted.

A foray into paid search saw the site bring in an unexpectedly high level of airport car park bookings – many from outside the agency’s traditional
catchment area. This convinced Walton the web was something special. “We basically copied the layout of the Amazon website soon after,” said Walton. “We liked the way the page was split for menus, communication and special icons.

“We realised women make the majority of holiday decisions so made sure our site was easy to navigate, thinking many were coming to the Internet without any web experience. We tested it on a 10-year-old child to make sure it was as useable as possible.”

While many of Sunmaster’s bookings are still made by telephone, the company is increasingly driving sales online. Work is underway to incorporate dynamic packaging technology into the site, and Walton has already developed a WAP offering for mobile phone users. “We’ve made a transition from retail shop to call centres to the web in 12 years,” he said.

Case Study 2:
Norad Travel, Midsomer Norton, Somerset

While the US terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 brought gloom to much of the industry, the events proved a turning point in the fortunes of Norad Travel.

After 20 years as a traditional high-street agency, the general downturn in sales could have been a disaster. Instead, newly installed director Mick Gibbs – an IT consultant by trade – took the radical step of re-engineering the business to appeal to the growing band of cost-obsessed corporates.

His close working relationship with Sabre saw Norad integrate its existing web technology with the GDS’s GetThere product and go out in search of companies needing help to control their travel spend.

Today, annual turnover stands at £9 million – with around 28% of that business conducted completely online. Meanwhile, Norad Travel is growing at an astonishing 30% a year. “I was doing a lot of consulting for Sabre, so knew the products well. We got our whole web offering developed by its professionals, which made sense because their budget is way beyond our wildest dreams.”

Subsequently, Norad has marketed itself as a business travel agent to SMEs who probably had a travel management company before the 2001 attacks.

“Many businesses thought they could save money by doing their travel arrangements themselves, believing everything was cheaper on the Internet. They’re switching back to us now — who wants their staff wasting time looking at 20 travel websites to find the best flight price?”

Customers simply search for travel through Norad’s website, which is linked seamlessly to Sabre content, then book online. Meanwhile, Norad’s staff  numbers are kept to a minimum because much of the fulfilment is done



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