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How Icelolly.com is reaching out to agents

October 5, 2013

(Published in TTG 20.03.13)

Dave Clayton, the new chief executive at Icelolly.com, tells Matthew Parsons how switching to a digital landscape was a logical step after 12 years at the Global Travel Group, and how agents can capitalise on Icelolly’s success

Louis Spence and Stacey Solomon may seem uneasy bedfellows with such serious subjects as open-source technology and big data – but it’s all in day’s work for Dave Clayton. Having joined from the Global Travel Group in December 2012, where he spent 12 years (the latter four as managing director), Clayton now finds himself sitting on the other side of the fence as chief executive of Icelolly.com – a price comparison site and deals publisher that claims to feature 20 million holidays.
Despite being founded in 2005 (as Icelolly Marketing Group), Clayton admits there are brand awareness challenges – cue “expensive” tie-ups with TV shows such as Deal or No Deal, and Family Fortunes, plus tie-ups with celebrities including Louis Spence and Stacey Solomon. But for Clayton, technology is the key to bringing new customers to travel agents, and Icelollywas a logical step following his “amicable” departure from Global.

Dave Clayton, Icelolly.com

Dave Clayton, Icelolly.com

“At Global we offered the tools and relationships. Now Icelolly is bringing customers,” he says. “We all work on the web, we all appreciate the future of where it’s going.” With the announcement of 195 Thomas Cook store closures, he may have a point, and says he would be interested in taking on any affected staff. “We’ll take on any experienced agents in the Bradford area. We’re always looking for experienced staff, who know how to talk to people.” Icelolly is also taking on the staff that deal with group bookings from Cook-owned Flexibletrips, for its ClubHen.com and ClubStag.com subsidiaries.

The company claims it receives four million visits to its website a month, with 400,000 searches per day. Its weekly deals newsletter on Tuesdays goes to 1.1 million subscribers. “We haven’t bought any databases, and 10,000 people are subscribing a week,” Clayton says. Meanwhile, it is making inroads with social media, with its Facebook site boasting 85,000 fans. “There’s no cheap tricks; they genuinely like the website, and 20% of them interact with us,” Clayton says.

A recent viral video (“Don’t let the holiday sharks get you”) attracted 6.5 million YouTube views. Icelolly operates a similar model to Teletext, promoting phone numbers for consumers to call. “That’s where the market is. Customers are more receptive to calls,” Clayton says.

However, unlike Teletext, which he claims is “diminishing” as it is “associated with analogue and Ceefax”, Icelolly’s fares on its price comparison website do not display “extras” such as transfers or baggage. I point out the online criticism, but Clayton is defensive over the tactics, citing the no-frills airlines’ approach to publishing fares. Yet perhaps as a response to this criticism – or even Teletext’s recent “Consumer Champion Barry” campaign – Icelolly now includes transfers and baggage costs in its newsletter offers.

“We try and make it really clear. We are also starting to check the deals, to make sure they are competitive, and mystery shop them every day.” Clayton adds that confusion also arises from some customers not grasping the fact Icelolly is not an agent, merely a deals publisher. “People think we’re a travel agency – we need to bring in a brand expert,” he admits. Expansion plans So far, so good, and Clayton says he is happy with the growth; yet future-proofing technology and building the brand are key for the future.

Currently, advertisers pay a relatively low rate of £400 to feature on the newsletter (see box). As a result, demand is high, and Clayton says most “slots” are already sold for this year, urging agents to plan now for the year 2014. It works with around 50 travel companies, but is looking at open source technology to build databasesto be able to add more clients and store more offers. “When big data kicks in, why would you work with just 50 people?” Clayton asks.

“Google phoned me the other day to tell us that we’d beaten their best [mobile] forecasts,” Clayton says, adding that organic SEO is another piece of the puzzle. The company is currently recruiting for a “Deals editor” for its newsletter, who will be tasked with blogging, and becoming a destination expert to offer comments for the media. “That’s SEO, that’s the way Google is moving,” Clayton believes. Traditional TV tie-ups, on the other hand, do generate large spikes in website visitors after the TV show (about 9,000 people coming to the site, mostly from mobile devices), but offer zero return on investment.

Radio campaigns are also being considered, while an iPhone app is to be released in April – giving it a chance to add local deals such as restaurants, and engage more with its users. Clayton has clearly developed a taste for the online world – and his suck it and see approach to technology and brand building might just pay off for Icelolly.

 

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