Interview: Ian Goodenough, Director, The Destination Lounge

The high street travel agency is back and for no other reason than the fact that people want richer holiday experiences which often require multiple bookings across multiple countries/locations. While booking engines provide excellent choice for a simple trip, the online search can become a time-consuming and frustrating exercise for more complex, tailored itineraries.

In this interview Ian Goodenough, Director of The Destination Lounge – a high street agency based in Devon – talks to us about changing travel preferences and why the local travel shop is again becoming a popular choice for travellers.

The Jet: The Destination Lounge has grown from a bedroom business in 2006 to running a few highly successful branches in Devon. What is it that draws people into your shops?
Ian Goodenough: Our shops are located in Ilfracombe, South Molton and Barnstaple – each catering for a very different customer. In Ilfracombe we serve a local, older customer in shop. They are typically retirees, for whom cruises are particularly appealing and a growth area. Packages are self-contained, although we’re starting to notice an interest in destinations that are further afield such as experiencing the ice flows in the Arctic. South Molton draws mainly national and international business which we tend to handle via telephone and email communications. Barnstaple, our most recent addition, is doing extremely well despite very strong competition, and here we are noticing interest from a younger audience looking for bachelor/hen party destinations. We automatically assumed that they’d go straight online because there is more choice but are finding that they’re getting entangled in the choices available on booking engines.
The Jet: How has the travel needs changed for your customers?

In the beginning of our operations people wanted simple, straightforward packages but this has changed as today’s traveller is looking for something that is tailored for them, including unique and different experiences. We are increasingly noticing that the Internet is not the service they want for a holiday which they are likely to spend thousands of pounds on. People value a personal relationship and want to work with someone they can trust – this is the strength of the high street travel agency, which is built on relationships and personal recommendations.
Listening in on conversations with our agents, we are finding that the second question asked of them on the phone tends to be, “What is out there for us to do?” These days it’s rare for people only to ask for a hotel, and this need often extends into a conversation in-branch where people want a good experience with our team. It is part of the excitement and build-up to their holiday.
The Jet: How do you use technology, and how do you choose appropriate tech for your business?

The Destination Lounge is part of the Advantage Group. We made the move last year from a previous provider whose back-office systems dated to the 1990s and were clunky and very difficult to change. We looked at demos of back office systems and chose the CRM system that is built around the customer, giving us a clear view of customers’ preferences, booking and quote histories so that we can properly tailor the client experience for them. Researching different destinations and experiences with us is an important part of the journey for our customers and rich data makes this possible.
The Jet: How do you as a small travel agency handle payments?

Because we’re part of consortium, Advantage takes care of this for us. Payments are ring-fenced and they are well set up to handle a complex function that would be uneconomical and resource heavy for us.
The Jet: What about marketing?

The high street resurgence is taking on a different form and for this reason we are finding it necessary to diversify our marketing, also online. We are primarily using Facebook, but we are also building a fully bookable website that is launching later this year. Currently our website is mainly information based.
We realise that in order to survive and future-proof the business, we need to diversify our offerings and also cater for self-helpers. While we still have brochures all over the walls for our older customers, I believe the high street travel agency will, in time, move towards a more immersive experience by using things like virtual reality headsets – sharing with people what it will actually be like in a given location. Interactive i-pads and video are other potential ways in which branches can enhance the experience for the branch visitor.
The Jet: How do GDPR and other regulatory pressures affect you?

GDPR has been a challenge given the enormous amount of data we keep. Being part of a consortium provides us with peace of mind as Advantage handles the majority of the marketing for us and takes care of compliance. It is however hugely important for us to do this right and we can only offer a better service by ticking all the boxes.

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