Flight Centre has revealed plans to launch a bookable website for the first time in the UK and invest in cloud technology as the group seeks to become a billion‑pound business by 2014.
UK managing director Chris Galanty, who marks 15 years wth the company this month, said Flight Centre would ensure the new site has a “different twist” to avoid commoditising its service.
“We don’t want to offer another commoditised online transaction service that you can already get from hundreds of travel companies out there. They try to differentiate themselves, but I can’t tell the difference. There is a strong possibility we will offer online in the next 12 months but we’ll do it with a different twist.”
The company said it was likely the site would link online transactions to consultants, either through live chat, prompts to encourage the client to pick up the phone, or for staff to contact clients once a booking is complete.
“We want to make sure every customer has a consultant involved in their transaction unless they specifically decide not to,” said Galanty.
“Online is a commoditised game. Every innovation is copied almost immediately.
“Our people make us special. It’s the people and the product that make the difference.”
Flight Centre is also introducing the latest cloud-based technology across the group in the next few months to improve the distribution of calls and emails, which are routed across its shops and offices.
“The cloud technology means we can distribute our calls in a very sophisticated way based on expertise, geography or time of day. It enables us to have a much better customer experience because the customer gets the right consultant.”
Galanty insisted Flight Centre UK Group had had a “good recession” and said he expected it to turn over £750 million this year across its 10 brands in the UK. About 40% of that business comes from business travel, under the brands FCm Travel Solutions and Corporate Traveller.
“We have had our biggest year this year by a long way,” he added.
“We’ve had a very good recession. We’ve been very fortunate that our customer type and product type, from SME business through to long-haul tailor-made holidays, has weathered the recession very well.
“Since the recession hit in 2008 we have grown our business by 50%. We have a clear goal that by 2014 we’ll be a billion-pound company, and we’re well on track to do that.”
Despite its strong high street presence – it has 91 stores – Galanty does not consider Flight Centre a travel agency and insists its staff are not travel agents.
“It’s been many years now since we saw our shops as small little travel agencies; we abandoned that concept 10 years ago. We’ve turned them into multi‑brand locations where the right customer speaks to the right consultant, and I think that’s why it’s working. I don’t think we’ve followed the traditional high street agency model.”
For a company that’s so focused on expert service, it’s no surprise that a lot of time and energy goes into recruiting the right staff and keeping them. Flight Centre employs just one in 100 applicants for travel consultant roles and puts a lot of effort into staff retention. The fact that the business has been named in The Sunday Times’ best companies to work for list eight times suggests those efforts are paying off.