The business, which is sponsoring the Real Business First Women Awards and Summit in 2016, was established 27 years ago after a niche was spotted in the market – namely providing for a luxury market. The initial offering involved top-end and luxury spots in the Caribbean, but has now been extended to include first class air travel, private jets, top accommodation, transfers and concierge services. Explaining more, Elegant Resorts MD Michelle Sephton said: “We’ve moved on to increase product selection as luxury has exploded around the world.” The business went through a transition in 2014 when Saudi Arabian travel group Al Tayyar acquired Elegant Resorts from Thomas Cook. Not only has this freed the company up to return to its preferred business model, but it’s also opened up a lucrative Arabic market. “We went from being part-owned by Thomas Cook, which wanted synergies, to a new owner which believes in the holistic part of the business,” Sephton explained. “That element is tailor made at our headquarters in Chester and is what gives us a unique feel. It’s like buying a Bentley, you need to know all the bits are hand made.” Since the acquisition, Sephton and her team have gone about looking to compete better in the market. A big investment has been made on the talent front, creating the kind of dynamic workforce that is required to cater for such an exacting clientele. “It has taken over a year to put a management team in place who can deliver on the future,” she explained. “Then it was about which markets we want to grow into.” Very quickly the Middle East was identified as a particular location of interest, with an office recently opened in Dubai. Looking at the two markets and different clients, Sephton explained it still comes down to the same demands. Where it differs is the buying pattern and selling techniques. “It is a slower burn to get clients through the door, and a lot is about networking. You have to put in lots of work up front [when it comes to the Middle East market] but when bookings and relationships come in they are larger and more valuable,” she went on to say. On the talent acquisition front, a concerted effort has been made to get more women into senior levels of management. Dialling into many of the themes covered as part of our First Women movement, Elegant Resorts is made up of 80 per cent women, but its board has only two female individuals. “We’re still faced with the challenge of finding talent and bringing it through. Our next level of management [below board level] is much more evenly spread. With lots of women there, we have got them coming through the ranks.” Sephton believes that, with childcare becoming more accessible, more and more women are returning to their careers. Elegant Resorts has a strong range of women in their 30s and 40s who really want to take the next big step to senior management and board level. “There is a desire to do the training and put in the hours. And for those that don’t have family, there is still that desire to progress.” Looking at the context of luxury travel against the backdrop of an improving global economy, Sephton said that the importance of holidays is still strong. Cross-generational travel is one the rise, with the extended family all going away together. “We are probably the only one in the sector which offers a loyalty scheme to the level we do for repeat clients,” she said. Running a kind of air miles-like system, it helps to secure the client base and secure repeat bookings. “Ours is a luxury product which we sell 100 per cent personally. In this day and age people want to interact with technology before they speak with someone. So it is about developing the brand through technology so the personal touch is there from the outset.” Talking of technology, Elegant Resorts was appointed as Virgin Galactic’s first UK-accredited “space agent”. After a number of the team were trained up as space cadets, it has since had a fairly good success rate at selling the space travel product – despite there being no launch date. “In the luxury sector we have to be the first to be seen to do something,” Sephton commented. On many fronts, it seems like Elegant Resorts is blazing a trail for others to follow. From creating bespoke luxury packages for exacting clients to assembling a diverse workforce, Sephton has the tools at here disposal to continue a uniquely hand-made approach. Concerned with issues surrounding gender diversity in business? Don’t miss the Real Business First Women programme: Drawing on years of the First Women movement and the phenomenal network of pioneering women the Awards has created, this programme features The First Women Awards and The First Women Summit – designed to educate, mentor and inspire women in all levels of business.
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