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New challenges for travel brokers

Features
14 February 2020

With sustainability being a hot topic, reinforced by Coldplay’s current stance on touring, specialist travel agents are having to adapt and seek out alternatives, while still providing all the usual needs of touring artistes; not to mention issues related to extreme weather, natural disasters and an inconvenient virus.  Claire Bicknell reports. 

With Massive Attack confirming they will complete their 2020 European tour dates by train and Coldplay looking at sustainable solutions before they go on tour again, environmentally-friendly touring is in sharp focus.

Add these considerations alongside unpredictable events such as extreme weather, natural disasters and terrorist acts, it’s a good job the music industry has some expert travel operators with a wealth of experience.

With over 30 years’ in the business, The Appointment Group (TAG) has offices in London, Manchester and Leeds, with five in the US and three in Asia Pacific.

Globally it provides expertise across five divisions including touring, film & media, corporate, events and private travel.

“TAG is a full service global travel management company, but aside from the usual service provisions we are able to provide full touring travel support on the road,” says Trevor Johnson, MD of TAG Touring and Film & Media UK.

“The experienced team works alongside tour managers, production managers and controllers to advance hotel stays, flight check-ins and provide a dedicated in-the-field travel service.

“It’s the overall experience that clients are looking for,” he says. “This means the combination of multiple elements such as trust, proactivity, attention to detail, reliability, speed of turn-around, strong communication and personality; when all brought together through one supplier, it gives the client the best possible experience on and off the road.”

TAG is also responding to clients’ sustainable travel needs.

“We offer clients bespoke analytical reporting options with regards to their carbon footprint and environmental impact, working with a specialised partner organisation,” adds Johnson. “In advance of a touring project, TAG is able to offer key advice and help facilitate solutions for sustainable touring travel and accommodation options.

“This is, of course, an artist-specific scenario in the current time, but we foresee the need for climate-responsible touring becoming hugely prominent in a short space of time.”

With the UK now having left the European Union, TAG is also poised to respond to any changes coming after the Brexit transition period, which ends on 31 December 2020.

“The long term implications of Britain’s exit remains to be seen, on a great number of issues and concerns,” says Johnson. “As with all travel agency businesses, we are monitoring the situation daily and we will react when there is more information available.”

When unforeseen events and challenges affect a tour, TAG reacts quickly with their 24/7 service.

“Everyone in the live touring sector will tell you how frequently changes happen, sometimes down to completely unavoidable incidents such as illness or accidents with the artiste, or problems caused by weather, industrial action, natural disasters, global health emergencies and so on,” says Johnson.

The company is continuing to develop its TAG GO software application, where clients have fingertip 24/7 access to their travel tour arrangements, assisting with the management of costs and budgets, passenger profiles, hotel rooming lists, itineraries, and more.

“Technological advances and innovations are becoming crucial in the future evolution of entertainment travel management,” states Johnson.

  

Budget backup

Founded by MD Sarah Currie in 1999, London-based Tour Travel is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year and has recently opened an office in Los Angeles.

Its clients include the Rolling Stones, Guns N’Roses and Mariah Carey.

“We are dedicated to providing our clients with everything they need whilst on tour,” says Currie. “Apart from the usual travel logistics of managing hotels and flights, we help manage the travel budget, and present suite options to the talent and management team, so they know the particular suite is suitable before they step foot in the door.

“We are able to put somebody out on the road to ensure that the tour all goes smoothly, manage the hotel rider and the rooming lists, as well as the day-to-day changes that invariably happen. Our supplier relationships are second to none and we’ve recently been asked by two well-known hotels to help design their top suites, as the hotels are very keen to win the touring business.”

The company is seeing an increase in clients looking at ways to cut down on their carbon footprint.

“Bands and crews are looking at a more sustainable way of travelling,” adds Currie. “Sometimes it just isn’t possible to get from A to B in the timescales involved, and two of the tours we are currently working on this year have both the band and the crew travelling together on the same charter plan.

“Whilst this isn’t necessarily eco-friendly, it does reduce the emissions of having to take two charter planes to venues that would otherwise be unreachable within the timescales involved.

Reacting quickly to change is all part of a day, and night’s, work for leading travel specialists.

“Schedules can change and do change day by day, hour by hour sometimes, but we pride ourselves on having a great relationship with our clients and suppliers so that when major changes do happen, we’re able to jump on it quickly in a calm and organised manner,” says Currie.

“We were recently managing the travel logistics for a US band about to tour China which had to be cancelled and rescheduled to another country entirely due to the Wuhan coronavirus.”

Future plans include implementing an app this year for its clients to use which will cover all aspects of the travel logistics, documentation and budgets.

“There’s no longer the need for couriering boarding passes to the clients, printing off tour itineraries and schedules; our clients now have their documents on their phones, and we take full advantage of WhatsApp and FaceTime and other channels to communicate, as well as having our own bespoke portal to keep everything in one place,” explains Currie.

Bespoke service

Glasgow’s The Tour Company has worked with clients including Bob Dylan, Paolo Nutini, Paul Simon, Twenty One Pilots, The Beach Boys and Marilyn Manson. It’s also celebrating its 21st anniversary this year.

“Each of our clients has their own specifications and preferences when it comes to accommodation and travel,” says office manager Julie Brown. “We are very fortunate to have great relationships with suppliers and we will always do our best to get the best deals possible for our clients.

“We specialise in all aspects of travel offering and all key services including air travel, hotel accommodation, car hire, trains, meet and greets, chauffeur drive, and we cater to all budgets from low-cost to high-end.”

Brown states clients are looking for “good service and value for money”, with the company going the extra mile for when the unexpected does happen.

“There are numerous reasons travel schedules change. Airline strikes can cause problems, and we usually find a way around that. We have great staff and can react quickly to assist our clients if and when situations arise,” adds Brown.

York-based Travel4Tours was established in 2008 to provide travel management services for touring artistes including Pale Waves, 10cc, Tom Morello, Tesseract, Girl in Red and Tyler Childers.

“Primarily we book hotels and flights, but we also book trains, ferries and ground transport for our clients,” says owner Claire Robinson. “We assist on budgeting during pre-production and produce detailed itineraries which will be refined as needed until agreed with the client or as routing is finalised.

“To ensure everything runs smoothly at check-in, we deal with the online check-in, the pre-booking of baggage and advance all hotel stays with special requests as needed. We provide financial protection, 24-hour support and only use reputable suppliers as there’s too much at stake.”

When the unforeseen does happen, Travel4Tours is there to help.

“Issues are very rare as we put a lot of effort into advancing our clients’ travel and reconfirming everything, so we don’t get problems when they arrive at the airport or the hotel,” states Robinson. “When the tour is underway, issues we can deal with include last-minute rescheduling, missed or cancelled flights and visas not arriving in time.

“For last-minute changes, we have a 24-hour emergency contact number which luckily doesn’t get used that often.”

The company hasn’t noticed any particular travel requests to date that are driven by sustainability and the need to reduce carbon footprint.

“Our clients still want the best value flights at the most convenient times, but we expect sustainable travel to become more of a consideration in the future as the impact the choice of transport has on climate change becomes more understood,” adds Robinson.

Staying alert

Eton-based Detonate Travel was founded in 1996 and has been trading for over 50 years by CEO Alison Rodgers. Its clients include artistes such as UB40, Pete Tong, Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), Kim Wilde and Meduza.

“We offer the full package in terms of travel,” says Rodgers. “When bands fly, they need to know they are all booked on the best possible route with all their specific requirements taken care of. This can involve all the excess baggage elements to taking account of instruments, through to dietary and seating preferences.

“We will also find the best hotels for them in the most convenient locations and organise ground transport where necessary. We can organise private jets when scheduled airlines aren’t offering suitable routes or times, and greeters at the airport to ensure the whole journey and experience goes as smoothly as possible.”

Many of its clients are also provided with reports on their carbon footprint, so it can be offsett. It also offers the DATA SENSE interactive online management system which enables clients to have 24/7 access to their real-time travel data.

“Organising travel can be very complex, so we take the headache away from management – there’s the comfort in knowing that in the event of problems or unforeseen circumstances, we are on hand 24 hours-a-day to fix it,” says Rodgers. “Recently there have been missed flights, and re-routing of flights due to coronavirus as well as airline strikes and natural disasters.

“We receive travel alerts so we are prepared to offer alternatives before travellers even realise there is a problem, and we have alternative solutions in place before all the flights sell-out.”

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