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TTG news reporter Tom Parry teamed up with If Only’s head of sales Neil Sealy to venture south and meet the Home Counties’ top agencies



After a selfie session with If Only’s Neil Sealy to mark the start of our journey, we arrive at Preferred Travel to find a sleek, modern agency – touchscreen computers and video screens showcase destination offers and company branding. Not bad, managing director Paul Young tells us proudly, for a former ladies’ underwear shop renovated for just £1,500. By his and co-founder Sophie

Ballantyne’s own admission, Preferred punches above its weight in terms of the business generated by a small team with limited resources. Since opening in October 2014, the independent agency has honed in on its target family market with the use of Facebook, from which a large number of its enquiries and bookings are generated. Preferred’s strategy has been to “squeeze” its way into the town’s two largest Facebook groups: Fleet People and Fleet Parents. According to Sophie, agents regularly volunteer travel advice to group members to lend a hand and showcase the agency’s expertise. Other creative touches it offers include “Preferred Guide To…” destination packs and “Welcome Home” discount vouchers to tempt clients to book again.


Meon Valley’s winter wonderland of a shop window really catches our eye. The agency takes great care over displays, which are changed monthly

28 Tom Parry (second left) with the Preferred Travel team

and have in-store offers to reflect the theme. And it’s clear that the attention to detail evident outside the shop is more than matched on the inside as leisure director Karen Beagrie and leisure manager Nicki Lahiri give us the lowdown on recent developments for the south-east’s TTG Top Agency in 2016. One major innovation, the pair

explain, has been a new CRM system, Apollo, which has “taken personalisation to the next level”, allowing Meon Valley to track customer booking trends and cater to clients’ preferences in more detail.

Some more meticulous additions comprise new wireless headsets for staff to wear and training on handling clients with dementia. Meon’s staunch practices of always making returning phone calls to every client and personally handwriting hundreds of customer Christmas cards – about 700, Karen believes – are equally important and have helped to forge its impressive repeat business rate of 74%.

It’s not every day you sit in a room dreamt up by interior design royalty Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, but customers who choose Off Broadway Travel’s “Travel By Appointment” service can do just that. Over a slice of lemon drizzle cake, founders Tricia Conroy-Smith and Paul Rice explain how the cosy office offers a private space for the team to brainstorm travel plans with clients and has a “100% success rate” in capturing bookings, Tricia claims. It’s an example of Off Broadway’s knack of doing things their way. Another is

how the

business set up shop in Welwyn in

2008. After the lease on its north London premises

came to an end, Tricia, Paul and co- owner Natalie Bennett upped sticks and in doing so turned the agency from selling large numbers of short- haul beach destinations to luxury experiential getaways. The same can be said for their training, with Paul

The Meon Valley Travel, Petersfield team TOP 50 TRAVEL AGENCIES 2017 SHORTLIST




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