“I’ve been Incredibly Proud” Advantage Travel Partnership’s Kelly Cooke Praises the Travel Trade

NI Travel News' Sarah Pickering caught up with Advantage Travel Partnership's Leisure Director, Kelly Cooke, to find out what post covid looks like for Advantage and what the future holds

NI Travel News’ Sarah Pickering caught up with Advantage Travel Partnership’s Leisure Director, Kelly Cooke, to find out what post covid looks like for Advantage and what the future holds.

What does Post-Covid  recovery look like for Advantage Travel Partnership?

“For the members, it’s been building back up again which has meant not only from a trading point of view, most members are now trading at between 85% and 110% of 2019. There is highs and lows in that, of course, but that’s kind of ballpark but reselling people, rehiring staff and getting their businesses back in to a place where they can service new enquires, and then also all of the changes that are coming through. From an advantage perspective, similarly it meant us looking at our team internally, and making sure we have got the right people in the right places, but we have also just launched a new three year strategy looking at how we support the members, and the business, and the wider industry.
A lot of the lobbying work and the PR work we’ve been doing over the past two years will continue.”

What can the trade in Northern Ireland expect to see form Advantage this year?

“I think a big piece of the activity that we are doing around the government engagement is about making sure that all of the devolved nations are also captured and not only have a voice, but have a voice that is relevant to their local area. We can’t just see {The Government} talking about the UK, that doesn’t work; It’s a different market over here and a different consumer and operator environment. So hopefully what we will be doing is working closely with ANITA, supporting where they need support to make sure that we are, when we are talking to government, that what we are doing is representing and including the NI trade properly.”

How do you think the travel trade has dealt with the covid pandemic?

“It’s tricky isn’t it because every different component has dealt with it differently. I think from a travel trade and travel agent perspective, and we obviously look after both leisure and business, I’ve been incredibly proud I think of how resilient we are. When we went into this we did some projections on how many members we may have coming out of it and actually we have only seen a handful go; Each of those is devastating to see them go but it shows the sheer resilience that more have managed to hang on to their businesses and have actually recruited more throughout as well. So I think from a travel agent point of view, what we have done really well is look after our customers but also tell new customers why they should book with a travel agent. Other parts of the industry are letting us down now and I think there is no escaping that; Customer confidence is delicate and we are seeing parts of that supply chain fall over which is really frustrating when we are working hard to look after customers. But, again, it just goes back to, at least if you’ve booked with an agent, that person is there if things do go wrong, which they do, you’ve got someone there as support to help you.”

Why do you attend the big Travel Trade Event?

“I think it is great to come and touch base with, not only our members over here, but also the Northern Irish suppliers that are representing the trade. Like I said it’s quite a different operating environment so I think it’s really important that, as Advantage, we have visibility over here and we come and spend time in the local area and we talk to people about what new products are coming out that we could potentially contact members, what other support and services could we give to our members and you can only really do that by being on the ground here”

What are you most excited about for the future?

“I think, definitely the opportunity that the travel agent has coming out of this and the increased profile. It’s great to be back doing events and things like this event, one of my favourite- I love coming over and hearing and seeing all of the agents over here, so being able to have those face to face conversations again and see people start to get that passion back because its been tough the last two years. So it’s been nice to see people start to blossom when they hear about new products and hear about new initiatives again.”