“Airlines have taken away staff concessions and many travel agency staff have never experienced Business Class (never mind First Class) or airport lounges, and salaries are not high, so these are making the travel industry unattractive as a career,” said Jim Vaughan, Managing Director, JustSplit.com, in an interview with Neil Steedman, ITTN’s News & Features Editor.
JustSplit.com, the 2015 ITTN Travel Agency of the Year winner in the Leinster Region, was started by Jim Vaughan in 2005 and now has five branches – in Rathfarnham, Kilnamanagh, Ballyfermot, Portlaoise and Limerick.
“After 17 years of management accounting in Ryan Hotels, and completing an MBA in Travel Management, I joined Abbey Travel as Managing Director in 1996, where I had nine years of the Celtic Tiger and rapid growth, including long-haul business. However, for a long time I had had the idea of owning my own business and I acquired Farnham Travel in Rathfarnham when Pat Larkin retired in 2005.
“I had seen the move away from traditional travel agencies and developed a newer, fresher branding concept using the JustSplit name and young, vibrant, energetic colours combined with online development. Previous customers came back in droves – and so I knew that we couldn’t get away from face-to-face client relationships!
“After the recession started, Executive Travel decided to close its leisure branch in Limerick so I acquired that and re-opened with the same team of staff. It was then that I introduced JustSplit’s ‘Your Local Travel Agent’ slogan, aiming to target the local and regional markets with regard to clients, but centralising for suppliers, etc.
“Similarly, Gold Travel in Ballyfermot became a JustSplit branch when Nick Durham wanted to retire, as did Kilnamanagh when Sunway decided to close its branches, and, two years ago, Airborne Travel in Portlaoise when Tony Fitzpatrick retired.
“We now have 17 staff between the five branches, we have tended to retain staff, and we believe in continuous training and development. Without our great staff we could not have got through the recession, the worst in my career, when customers were looking for the lowest cost on everything. We are only coming out of the recession, with a good year this year – and now we are hit with Brexit!
“I have been teaching in colleges and many students are motivated by a desire to travel, but airlines have taken away staff concessions, nowadays many travel agency staff have never experienced Business Class (never mind First Class) or airport lounges, and travel agency salaries are not high, so these are making the travel industry unattractive as a career.
“I was an ITAA Board member for several years and President through 2008 and 2009, before handing over to Pat Dawson in early 2010. During my term of office I tried to get the Regulations reformed, but didn’t achieve it – despite a major consultation process with travel agents and the industry, our proposals were rejected by the Commission and the Government. Airlines and bed banks are still not bonded and this is still a consideration for the Commission, particularly in light of recent events.
“Today’s clients want the whole package for the convenience, as they are inundated and overwhelmed by the range of options on the Internet. Conversely, technology has been a huge benefit to travel agents, giving them access to a much greater range of products to offer and package.
“The typical customer enquiry may start with price, but that’s not really what they want, it’s the best value. The worst, which thankfully rarely happens, is when a client insists on booking a product that we know for certain is wrong for them.
“About 80% of our customers are walk-in, and the majority are repeat clients, which emphasises the importance of having high-quality front-line staff, and there will always be a need for a locally based bricks&mortar service.
“Our slogan ‘Your Local Travel Agent’ works well for us. We tailor our POS and advertising to each local branch – and this year we have been using a 2015 ITTN Leinster Travel Agency of the Year Award Leinster Region logo prominently on all our promotional literature.”