Barrhead Travel to open 25 branches

Barrhead Travel is to open 25 branches over the next five years, in a move creating more than 200 jobs.

Barrhead Travel president Sharon Munro (left) and managing director Jacqueline Dobson. Picture: Malcolm Cochrane

The Renfrewshire-based firm unveiled plans to launch up to 25 additional sites in “high-footfall locations” in England and Northern Ireland, which would take the travel agency’s total footprint to 98 stores. It marks a show of confidence counter to struggles experienced by many high-street businesses.

The firm also announced that it will invest in technology and expand its online sales consultant team.

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Barrhead president Sharon Munro said her team’s personalised service “cannot be replicated by some computer algorithm”.

Munro said: “We all love a challenge at Barrhead Travel and that’s why we have set ourselves a goal of opening up to 25 new stores over the next five years in high-footfall locations in England and Northern Ireland.

“Bricks and mortar are still the forefront of our growth strategy. We recognise that retail has been hard this year and some big high street names have closed down.

“However, the demand for personalised service in our industry remains strong, and we will continue to invest in our stores and also what we believe to be our best assets – our people.”

Munro added that the company will invest in technology to complement, rather than be a substitute for, customer service. She said: “That level of personalisation, alongside our staff’s passion for making travel dreams come true, cannot be replicated by some computer algorithm. Any new stores will reflect our commitment to that customer experience, complete with experiential travel visuals and VR [virtual reality] headsets.

“We are expanding our social media team, too, adding online sales consultants who can respond to customer enquiries instantly and take holiday bookings at any time of the day. Our social media team has already tripled since last year.”

The company has recently rolled out new payment methods, including a direct debit offering, allowing balances to be paid three weeks before travel.

Barrhead, which was taken over in February by US-based giant Travel Leaders Group for an undisclosed sum, opened four new outlets in 2018 and carried out expansions at sites in Livingston and Glasgow Fort.

It appears to have bucked the recent downward trend in the industry, which has seen Brexit uncertainty, a weaker pound and unfavourable weather conditions disrupt travel plans this year.

In September, the firm unveiled record revenues for 2017, with sales exceeding £300 million for the first time. This represented a 7.4 per cent rise from 2016, with a surge in river cruise sales and the number of customers visiting new stores in England and Northern Ireland.

The results also revealed an 8 per cent year-on-year jump in bookings for 2018.

Barrhead said it remained positive about 2018 “despite the challenges of extreme weather and the World Cup”, and said forward bookings for 2019 are “strong”. The company employs some 1,000 staff across its stores in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.