The trade-only company has an impressive product portfolio, but, as Sam Ballard learns, it’s the people who really make the business
When it comes to breadth and depth of offering, few companies can compete with Gold Medal and Travel 2. The companies, which are part of the Emirates-based dnata Group, have access to a product portfolio that is so vast it could make your head spin: more than 300,000 hotels, 130 scheduled airlines, 88 touring companies and 46 cruise lines. That means there are virtually unlimited opportunities when it comes to dynamically packaging. The company, which is trade only, has built its business on the weight of that product mix. However, that’s not to say that it’s the company’s biggest asset, at least according to the woman leading the firm.
“Everything we do is about people,” explains Lisa McAuley, managing director, dnata Travel B2B Europe. “The breadth of the product definitely helps, but first and foremost it’s the personal relationships that our individual reservation agents have with the trade.”
Indeed, what is striking about both Gold Medal and Travel 2 are those long-standing relationships that travel agents have with one brand – often exclusively. Put another way: often agents use either Gold Medal or they use Travel 2, but rarely will they use both.
That dynamic comes from the individual company histories. Travel 2 was bought from Stella Travel, while Gold Medal was acquired from Thomas Cook. Both came under the dnata umbrella about five years ago but have been building customer bases for far longer. According to McAuley and Nick Hughes, the company’s sales director, there are agents who have been booking Travel 2 for almost 30 years. On the other side, the experience of the reservation agents is also staggering; in Hughes’s first 12 months with the company, two members of the reservations team earned their
30-year service awards.
Given that dnata has two trade-only companies – that combine shared resources (product, commercial and sales) as well as their own specialised teams (reservations and marketing) – the question of consolidation is an obvious one. However, it is immediately batted away.
“People often ask why we don’t merge and the answer is that, if we did, we would lose some agents,” McAuley says. “One and one would not make two. My fear would be that it would make one and a half.
“Research shows us that agents will make three calls to operators when pricing up a holiday. Given that we’ve got two of the leading suppliers we know that we’ve got two bites of the cherry. If we reduced it to one brand then we would open the door to another competitor coming in.”
With the prospect of Gold Medal and Travel 2 being reduced to one brand taken off the table, it makes the efforts of Hughes’s sales team even more impressive – not to mention the investment they put into cultivating bookings.
“We take agents on more fam trips than any other operator,” says Hughes. “We typically take about 350 agents on fams every year; in 2019 we did 380. More than ever.”
Those fam trips represent a huge investment on behalf of both brands. For ABTA’s Travel Convention in Japan that meant bringing groups out for both pre- and post-convention fam trips – part of an attempt to boost bookings to a region that is already seeing remarkable growth. The company’s Japan bookings are up 128 per cent on the last financial year.
“It’s all about supplying agents with the tools they need to make bookings,” Hughes adds. “With Japan what we’re doing is monitoring our return on investment – we’re getting sales figures as we’ve been feeding agents offers – then it’s giving them the tools they need to increase business.”
People often ask why we don’t merge and the answer is that, if we did, we would lose some agents
When it comes to investments in fam trips, little can compare to Gold Medal’s now legendary Mega Fam. The concept sees four separate fams of ten agents – which all meet up for a grand finale. This year’s Mega Fam saw agents visit Utah and California before heading to Las Vegas. While there, agents presented what they’d learnt during their trip. But, as destination immersion is key, in the evening they were hosted in Hakkasan nightclub in an area so exclusive that a bouncer had to escort them to their own private toilets.
The concept has proved so popular that Travel 2’s Cruise Plus brand introduced its own Mega Fam this year.
Do fam trips work? “One hundred per cent,” McAuley answers. “I absolutely endorse them. But there needs to be a balance of hotel visits and destination immersion. Take Japan as an example. It’s not a destination to fit in five hotel visits in one day – it’s all about experiencing the destination and experiencing the culture. However, with somewhere like Dubai, the property is a really important part of the destination so agents do want to see those hotels.
“We tailor each fam and scope what the destination has to offer and what the agent needs to know to sell the destination.”
When it comes to investment in its offering, however, fam trips are only the beginning. The company has invested money in new documents, which is a direct result of agent feedback. The roll-out of the new documents will be staggered to Gold Medal first and then Travel 2 and will “be smart and slick to match the service we give”, according to Hughes.
The technology is another area where the company is looking to make improvements. Both luxury brands will have their own websites where bookings can be made, while improvements will also be made to Gold Medal and Travel 2’s website. However, McAuley is quick to point out that she is not looking to change the overall channel mix – and the reservation agents will always be central to the company’s offering.
“We don’t transact a huge amount online – and I’m not looking for that – people buy people and our reservation agents will always be key to that,” she explains.
Another interesting development that fits with that ethos is the amount of business that the company is doing outside of normal office hours, a direct result of the rise of homeworkers.
“We’ve got an out-of-hours business from when our call centres close – from 7pm to 9am – and the amount of business we do in those hours is significant, driven by homeworkers.” Hughes says. “You can’t just work between nine and five now – those days are long gone.”
Facilitating that change has meant buying 21 laptops for the reservations team to take home so that they can be on call. Now, the company does most of its bookings between 8pm and 10pm.
“It’s when homeworkers have put the kids to bed and are fulfilling bookings,” says Hughes.
All of this fits in with the company’s ethos. Fundamentally, Travel 2 and Gold Medal are all about the service they can offer – and that means making life easier for their travel agent partners. It’s why they also have teams of people monitoring Facebook groups like Travel Gossip for both potential bookings and grumbles.
“The world is always on now,” McAuley says. “Whether you think that’s right or not doesn’t matter. As an operator you need to jump on those things because if you don’t they can grow legs.
“We are a people-orientated business, whether you work for us or are a partner. Technology supports the business, but we are a people business.”