‘This is going to be such a fantastic holiday, I’m so excited for you! I checked and the weather is looking great for you guys too, and there’s no planned closures on Route 1 either. Enjoy the Basketball!’
And so ended my final phonecall with Trailfinders before we went on holiday in February. The best Travel Agents in the world.
So what’s happened here? As an Apple addict in an increasingly digital world, driven by an explosion of choice, cheap online offers and review-based self-sufficiency, how have I ended up eulogising over a traditional travel agency (with real people and everything) that I hadn’t even heard of until 2009, long after I bought my first iPhone?
Well, it’s my Mum’s fault. You see, she brings me stuff when she comes to visit. Cuttings from local newspapers mentioning the relatives of people I went to school with twenty years ago; supplements of the UK’s Top 100 Universities, in case the place I studied at ten years ago features; and on this occasion in 2009, a promotional magazine which mentioned Cuba because, well, we’d just booked a trip to Cuba. As it turned out, this magazine had in it almost exactly the same trip as we had planned, but at a lower price and better flight dates, so purely for that reason we switched. However, I was so impressed by the service I received – and their perfect ‘omni-channel” approach – that I’ve never booked with anyone else since.
Another classic from the Clacton Gazette
Let me give you an example. As our descent (ascent?) into middle-age continues, we’ve been saving up for a new kitchen and getting genuinely excited about splashbacks, worktops, and accent tiles. Around September last year, we were getting ready to buy – and then an attractive, unintrusive Trailfinders magazine popped through our door. Unlike most junk mail, it always gets my attention, not because it’s tailored to me (it’s a generic magazine showcasing some trips to consider) but because it’s infrequent. From Trailfinders, I get two magazines a year, as opposed to the endless mail sent by TV companies, Banks, and British Gas. Not only that, but they never send me spam email either – my almost daily routine with BT of receiving, trying to unsubscribe, and then deleting guarantees that I’ll never read anything they send. Naturally, receiving this magazine immediately made me think whether we really did need a new Kitchen right now, or whether, actually, a big holiday might be a far more sensible use of our savings. After all, the Dishwasher wasn’t leaking that much…
And so another wonderful Trailfinders experience started. On a Sunday night, I thought I’d send a quick message through their website message system asking for some potential ideas for a trip in February. Just out of interest, of course. By 10am Monday, the branch in Oxford had called me to get a rough idea of the things we enjoy, the places we’d been, and potential budget. And by later that afternoon, the lady I spoke to had emailed me a link to the Trailfinders ‘ViewTrail’ system – on which was a full suggested itinerary for a trip to America, with price. The link from brochure to online itinerary, via a phone call and email, was seamless. But my favourite bit was that at the top of my itinerary was a photo of the lady I’d spoken to, with a name and direct phone number. A brilliant way of bringing the human element into the digital world.
Of course, the trip they proposed was superb. A casual glance at TripAdvisor showed the hotels they picked were not only highly rated but perfectly suited to our style of travel – lots of endless walking around city streets following extensively home-prepared walking routes that must not be deviated from to ensure we see absolutely everything… We exchanged a few messages through the week making slight tweaks to flight times and trip length, and every time the itinerary was updated online immediately – as was the cost. Every time we spoke, it was clear that our advisor was genuinely excited and enthusiastic about our trip. She was also knowledgeable and gave good, honest advice as well as admitting when she didn’t know something, rather than try to bluff her way through. We didn’t bother shopping around – I knew we’d have got a good price, that the things they’d suggested would be high quality, and that everything would run like clockwork. And it did.
Trailfinders have learnt to keep their people at the heart of their experience. The system they have – centred around the ‘ViewTrail’ portal – makes sure that both you and your advisor are continuously up to date and that any other member of staff can pick-up queries too. However, the real beauty is that it allows them and you to focus your conversations on what is important: what you enjoy, how much you have to spend, and expert advice. It allows the genuine excitement and enthusiasm to come through, without the worry of needing to endlessly write down itinerary and cost changes. It gets the boring stuff out of the way of what you really care about – the holiday.
Ultimately, they provide interesting content at a relevant time, make it easy for you to talk them in whichever way you want, offer honest expertise, keep you informed, deliver good quality at a good price, and are genuinely enthusiastic about what they do. This is what every company should be – and increasingly is – aiming for
Anyway, that’s enough from me. We’re a week away from paying the final instalment on a kitchen, and this has just dropped through the letterbox…
I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at johnjsills.com/subscribe to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.
John – this is great story, I would never have thought to try Trailfinders, I had (wrongly as it turns out) assumed they specialised in travel for backpackers and students !! Thanks for sharing this.