Harvey Lines

Harvey Lines

Travel Daily Middle East chats with the general manager of Travel Counsellors LLC

Travel Daily Middle East chats with the general manager of Travel Counsellors LLC

Harvey Lines, general manager, Travel Counsellors LLC
Harvey Lines, general manager, Travel Counsellors LLC

Could you give us an overview of the nature of business for Travel Counsellors?

As a company, we strive to get that emotional connect with customers. In our view, there is nothing more perishable than time, so our travel counsellors strive to get a holiday right. A travel counsellors’ customer become their trusted friends. The word ‘Trusted Friends’ came from our customers. With this focus, our travel counsellors look to create a dream holiday so that every holiday is a trip of a lifetime. Our business is all about people and it is our reputation that drives our business. We also operate in a relational space.

In 20 years of our business, we have a repeat business of almost 70% and the referral rate is between 25-50% depending on the country. This shows that our model is on the right track.

To further enhance our business, globally, we are doing Discovery Days, which are like Open Days. During the Discovery Days, anyone interested in joining us can get in touch to understand the nature of our business. The day is spread out starting with a panel discussion on our business, personal experiences of a travel counsellor and the opportunities it presents. The event also has some video conference sessions with our global directors highlighting certain parts of our business. We have conducted a few of the Discovery Days in the UK, Australia and Canada which have been very successful. Based on the feedback from these events, we have started these events in Dubai once every month. The next event is scheduled for 2 October 2013 and will go on until March 2014.

What has been the growth achieved since inception?

We have witnessed growth almost every month except in July and August due to the Ramadan months. However, up until then, we were more or less doubling our sales every month. We have had our 1000th customer within just 10 months. With these positive directions, we look forward to building our business on relationships. We started with four travel counsellors, which have now grown to 20 travel counsellors. Our team consists of people in the likes of Frederic Bardin, senior representative ex-Emirates Holidays and many more who industry veteran sharing the brand value across the region.

Have you achieved your target for the first year of operations?

We will soon complete a year but we will be on target. However, we are not about numbers. We have a business plan in place. It starts with recruiting the right people on board as travel counsellors. Having achieved this, the bottomline will take care of itself. We will only be able to judge the true number of repeat visitors in our second year of operations in this region.

Film on recruitment
Film on recruitment

What are your plans for the next year?

Our focus has been the UAE which is our priority. We want to get to around 40-50 travel counsellors at the earliest without compromising on quality. This should be achieved by February 2014. The next year will just be about the UAE business. Our long-tem goal is to get around a 100 travel counsellors. We also have a plan wherein somewhere when the time is right, we will look elsewhere within the GCC. This could be either Saudi Arabia or Qatar but nothing has been decided yet. However right now it is the UAE. Most of our travel counsellors right now are from Dubai and Sharjah, so next year, Abu Dhabi will be on the cards. We will be a bit more aggressive in our recruitment drive within the Capital.

What sets a travel counsellor apart from a travel agent?

This is about the level of care and operating in a relational space. It is about creating that emotional bond with your customer. Our travel counsellors’ look at getting it right for the customer right from start until the trip ends. An example would be during the Ash Clouds issue in Europe, we had a travel counsellors client and family stuck in Southern Europe. Their kid had to get to school, so our travel counsellors’ husband drove down to Turin to pick the family so that the kid could go back to school. This is our level of commitment. Every person looking to join our business has to be that committed to their customer and that is what sets them apart.

Would Travel Counsellors look at new markets?

We have always looked at new markets as part of our business strategy. However at the moment our focus is the UAE. India would be under discussion at some point in the future but this is maybe three to five years away.

The new consumer website in Dubai
The new consumer website in Dubai

What challenges do you see in this region?

From a customer’s point of view there are no challenges. From my point of view, if you are in the travel business, this is the right place. People here do travel a lot; there is a lot of disposable income despite the credit crunch and recessions. People have the money to spend on travel. Our uniqueness is that no one here in the UAE offers a concierge style travel service, cause their model does not allow it. In addition, working from home enables our travel counsellors to completely fit around the customer. You cannot do that when you are working fixed hours. From a travel counsellors’ point of view, the only issue maybe the transient nature of the business. In some cases, people could move around or a family situation could change. However, with technology you can take your business to different parts of the world.

What is percentage of Arab travellers in your customer base?

Our customer bases are primarily 90% non-Arabs. The reason being, we currently have 14 different nationalities of travel counsellors and just two Arab travel counsellors. In order to tap into this segment, we have plans to recruit Emirati travel counsellors next year. This will change our customer base bringing in more Arab nationals gradually when we recruit Emirati nationals. In our view, our customer base reflects the market place of the UAE. Our profile of customers is cosmopolitan.

 

Gary Marshall
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Gary Marshall
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