THE look of the package holiday may be changing but the principle is the same, says Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel.

Holidaymakers are more discerning, they want to go further, and can, often for the same price as the tradition sunshine getaway to Spain.

She cites the peace of mind of financial protection should something go awry, convenience, the personal touch and professional pride to go the extra mile as key elements that continue to draw people to the agency.

This could be, for example, the Falkirk branch team helping dig a traveller out of a snow-bound driveway so they could make a flight, or rerouting a party of school children after a terror incident.

As the firm projects turnover for 2019 to be £330 million - up on last year’s £320m – it has also highlighted a stance on sustainable growth in the industry.

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Hotels are audited for sustainability and agents are trained to help direct holidaymakers on journeys that can mitigate issues of over-tourism, or guide people keen on a specific destination at a time it is less busy.

Ms Dobson said: “The package holiday is still very much at the forefront. It is more the destinations that are changing, the types of holidays.

“People are more adventurous now, they want different things and experiences and destinations.

“The world is much more accessible now. You can get to places a lot more easily.

“It is a lot more affordable as well. You can get further afield just as cheaply as going to Spain.”

She continued: “The perception of a package holiday also doesn’t have to be a traditional bucket and spade Spanish holiday, it can include adventure, a touring holiday, a rail holiday, a long haul holiday, and again in a package holiday we put together a lot of package holidays that include maybe a stay with a tour and possibly even a cruise as well so it is tailor-made for the customer but still classed as a package holiday.

“We’re a multichannel retailer, we have 76 high street stores throughout the UK, we have four call centres and we also have several websites so can access us anywhere really online or by phone or you can come into the store.

“Again that gives customers huge peace of mind that they can speak to somebody face to face or they can actually speak to somebody, because with a lot of online agents you can’t speak to anyone at all. We’re accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

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She said: “We have a crisis team in place and are quick to react to get customers re-booked.

“When there were bombings in Brussels we had a school group on the train going to the airport and we got a coach for the group to take them to Amsterdam to make sure they were ok and get them back to Ireland, where they were from.

“People were stuck out there for days upon days because the airport was closed.

“Because we were quick to react we managed to get them back that same day.

“In other instances we’ve had with the really bad weather last year we had people digging customers out of their drive so they could get to the airport. The local Falkirk branch went along and dug the drive to get them out.

“It is things like that personal one to one service that we offer our customers.”

She said: “Spain is still the number one destination for UK holidaymakers. But the likes of Mexico and other non-EU destinations like Dubai and the Far East and the USA have seen massive increases over the last five to 10 years.

“That is mainly due to the air uplift and more fuel-efficient aircraft making it possible to fly to those destinations.”

River boat and ocean cruises are also growth areas, she says.

“Cruising has grown over the last 10 years especially. We are one of the largest cruise retailers in the whole of the UK and work with all cruise suppliers and again river cruising has really taken off over the last three years.

“The river boats can get in the city centres, which is great, and people love that and stay overnight as well and they can get off the boat and experience the actual city. Whereas cruise ships might stay for the day and sail overnight river boats are the opposite.

“There is also a new river ship for under 30s, as well so it is getting quite trendy. Cruising is a great way to see the world. With our cruise division, we get them on ship visits and educationals so they experience the product and can recommend the right cruise for the right person.”

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She said: “On sustainability, we are giving staff training on how they can be more aware.

“That is a big subject just now for the travel industry.

“Venice is a prime example, with the cruise ships not allowed in the centre because of over-tourism, so I think you will see more of that moving forward, but we can just make sure we are doing our own bit as an industry for the planet.”

In January the firm notched up its best trading week in its history, while also signalling the company’s commitment to continue expanding its branch network south of the Border.

Ms Dobson was unveiled as president of Barrhead Travel at the turn of the year, and has hailed the benefits to the company by its acquisition by US-based Travel Leaders Group at the start of last year.

The move has meant investment and a boost to buying power, technology, and product range, with the company gaining access to a greater number of flights and the opportunity to offer a broader range of destinations like the US, the Far East and the Middle East.

There was a knotted handkerchief and fish supper flavour to the holiday abroad not too long ago. People packed their favourite home fayre to take to places famed for their cuisine, but not so much now.

“People want to experience the culture. Whereas before they would be looking for fish and chips now people want to go and actually experience the Spanish tapas or the Mexican food. Before, people used to take tea bags and baked beans or whatever on holiday with them but now they go to experience the local cuisine."

She continued: “We do a lot of multi-generational holidays, so the whole family is off on holiday.

“Touring holidays and rail holidays are also on the increase again. Touring holidays could be on a coach with a guide or it can be a private tour where it is just you and your family or you and your partner with a driver, or it can be you get a car and you get an itinerary and you follow that itinerary on your own, so it’s like a self-drive tour if you like.

“All types of touring holidays are really popular. Again, with rail, it used to be seen to be maybe the older generation a bit like cruise, it’s certainly not that way anymore.

“There’s a lot of younger folk now going across to Italy and Switzerland, or the US, because it is a great way to travel and you get to see all the sights from the train. We do a lot in Canada in the Rockies."

In July Ms Dobson was recognised with the Outstanding Contribution to the Industry Award at the prestigious Agent Achievement Awards in London.

The award is panel-selected by industry experts and recognises individuals who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to the travel and leisure sector within the UK.

Barrhead Travel also scooped the award for Best Large Agency in Scotland for the 19th year in a row at the Travel Weekly-hosted awards.

Ms Dobson, who rates South Africa as one of her all-time favourite destinations, added: “My son has just turned 17, but when we first started cruising he was 13 months. We cruise more or less every year. I think it is a great way to see the world, and my son has seen over 40 countries. It was a great education for him as well.”

Brexit, she says, hasn’t thrown too much shade on this summer so far.

“Over 50 million people in the UK take a trip to Europe every year and I don’t really seeing that slowing down."

She also said: "Generally, holidays are the last thing to go for people, and the weather has been terrible this summer.

“Where there’s been a decline is in the likes of mainland Spain, and you’ve seen an increase in the likes of Turkey, Bulgaria, some of the non-EU destinations, probably more from an exchange rate point of view. 

“But it’s business as usual for Barrhead. Europe is our number one destination and we can’t see that changing in the near future."


Q What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why? 

A South Africa has been my stand-out holiday as I went as part of a charity trip to support local schools and communities. It was an unforgettable experience. The USA is definitely another favourite as there is so much variety for both land and cruise holidays. 

Q When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

A I always dreamt of being an air hostess however I was too young to apply. Instead, I decided to work with my dad’s business, recycling plastic, polythene and glass.

Q What was your biggest break in business?
A Being named president earlier this year was an incredibly proud moment for me as I have worked my way up through the business. Aside from that, I was heavily involved in the initial chartering of our exclusive BA programme which operates from Glasgow and Edinburgh to the Med each summer. Being a part of bringing this to life – and especially bringing such an exciting product - was so exciting.

Q What was your worst moment in business?
A The Ash Cloud in 2010 – it was a really stressful time and affected so many customers. Luckily, we have such an amazing team at Barrhead Travel and so many of our colleagues pulled together and worked through the night to help our customers continue or reschedule travel plans. 

Q Who do you most admire and why?
A Jo Rzymowska, Managing Director of Celebrity Cruises. She is a really inspirational female leader – definitely a pioneer for senior female leadership and diversity within the travel industry. Jo has also been a incredible support over the years.

Q What book are you reading and what music are you listening to? What was the last film you saw?
A Book, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela. Film, Rocketman.