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Agent profile: Timeless Travel’s digital drive

September 25, 2011

(Published in TTG 04.08.2011)

Agent profile: Timeless Travel’s digital drive

Social networking and exciting new map software both feature in the online strategy of new agency Timeless Travel, writes Matthew Parsons

After 27 combined years at North America Highways, Emma Wilkinson and her now-business partner Darren Rodgers were ready to hit the high road by setting up their own retail agency – fuelled by a shared interest in social media and digital marketing.

They both quit the specialist operator in August last year, Wilkinson after five years and Rodgers after 22. Wilkinson also spent two years as a sales rep at Titan Hi-Tours, and 11 years at Going Places.

The pair launched Timeless Travel in Cannock, Staffordshire, in January, as a US and Canada specialist agent, though they have recently started selling Australia too.

Wilkinson says she enjoyed the digital element of her role at North America Highways, using social media to engage with the operator’s customers, but that she felt rather “stuck in a rut” after five years.

“I wanted to get more into the technology side of travel, but still offer good customer service, not just a call centre. I felt I could incorporate social media into that personal service,” she says.

“We recognised that you can talk to different customers in different ways with technology,” she adds.

Social media was to become a cornerstone of the new business, beginning with a focus on Facebook. One early experiment proved particularly successful, helped in part by American suppliers tending to be more proactive with social media than some in the UK – especially tourist boards and hotel chains.

“We ran a Facebook campaign with Oregon Tourism, where we placed an advert on its Facebook page. That led to 80 new fans for our Facebook page, several enquiries and a couple of sales,” she explains.

Facebook Ads, on the other hand, where you pay to have your company advertised on other people’s pages (where daily budgets start from £5 per day), has not proved worthwhile for Timeless. “We gained more followers, but there were no sales,” she admits.

Google AdWords is a “fantastic” service according to Wilkinson, and gives much better results than advertising in newspapers. Yet the agency is still using some more traditional marketing channels, including national publications like The Telegraph, with whom it hosts journalists on trips. As well as coverage in the paper, there’s an online benefit too: “It’s good for link-building and our SEO. We use The Telegraph as its website doesn’t require registration to view, and it is still free to access,” she explains.

Future plans

Timeless Travel’s online strategy enters its next phase in the coming weeks, with the launch of “iBrochures” – personalised maps with bookable hotels, restaurants and attractions, which are emailed to the client after an enquiry, and allow interaction with Google maps. Clicking on a destination brings up more information, such as video content, to help the client make their choices.

Timeless Travel then puts together the final itinerary and emails a finalised iBrochure back to the client.

An IT firm has been working on the innovative software for four years – and Wilkinson is understandably coy about revealing the name of the company.

South Africa packages will be the first to be promoted with the new iBrochure technology.

Also on the horizon are more campaigns with American tourist boards, including a joint effort with Deep South USA.

“Looking back to August 2010, friends and colleagues – and even ourselves – were thinking it was crazy to launch a new business amid all the public sector job cuts and economic turmoil,” Wilkinson says. “But following a fairly quiet start, June picked up and has been our best month to date, and already the bookings are coming in for the US in 2012.”

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