Trade-only operator USAirtours has launched a ‘Supporting Agents Supporting Us’ initiative to help agencies sell more long-haul holidays.
A new website features its expanded range of long-haul destinations, including North America, the Caribbean, Europe, Dubai, Indian Ocean and the Far East.
Consumers visiting the website are encouraged to complete an online form and the enquiry is passed to the nearest appointed travel agent.
Following a soft launch earlier this month, USAirtours has been passing an average of 35 sales leads a week to agents and it hopes to generate hundreds of leads every week.
The operator has also started working with several tourist boards and suppliers to “significantly increase” joint marketing activity to drive more sales to agents.
Next month, it will launch a digital marketing hub in which agents can access and personalise digital brochures, e-posters and content for their social media channels.
The operator said these initiatives are part of its “investment and commitment to help our agents not just recover but to benefit from consumer pent-up demand for holidays and the bookings rebound that will follow”.
Guy Novik, chief executive at USAirtours, admitted there had been some confusion among agents about cancellations during the early days of the pandemic in 2020.
Speaking at the Travel Weekly Future of Travel Spring Forum, he said USAirtours was one of the first tour operators to launch a flexible booking policy because of uncertainty over travel.
“Some customers wanted to cancel rather than wait to see whether they would or wouldn’t go on holiday in that summer,” he said.
“Under our flexible booking policy, rather than lose their money, we let them roll it onto another booking on the understanding that the booking still wasn’t available for a refund.”
He said there was some “flak” but most travel agents did understand why the policy was introduced.
“I accept that during the first couple of months of the pandemic, travel agents and ourselves, were getting a blizzard of information coming at us from tour operators, airlines and hotels, so accept that there was a lot of conflicting information around, but we did put it on our website, we did put it in the emails, and we did put it on their Facebook posts, so we were as transparent as we could.”
He said the operator explained the policy to Abta and has not seen any issues arising from it.
“We rely entirely on support from the trade and everything we try and do in this awful situation is to trade in a way where we can keep going,” he said.
Commenting on the new website, he said: “We intend to work with tourist boards and suppliers to really drive consumers to that site so we can really push leads, because – at the end of the day – we need to support agents who are supporting us.”