“Chameleonisation” is not a word you hear often. However, at Blue Cube Travel’s Kew Bridge offices, it’s a common phrase.
Blue Cube director Neil Fraser (pictured right claims to have invented the expression, and co-directors Mel Phaure (pictured centre) and Kenny Stirling (pictured left) are happy to let him take the credit – whether that’s out of admiration or embarrassment is unclear – for what turns out to be an apt description for the company’s staff training programme.
Blue Cube has a varied client base, operating in sectors from finance to fashion and football, and from oil and gas to architecture, but it also handles travel for a number of high net worth individuals (HNWIs).
“We have more than one audience, so we need to chameleonise ourselves,” says Fraser. Phaure translates. “We insist that incoming calls are answered within two rings – three at most – so our consultants need to be able to respond immediately, regardless of who the caller is.
“It could be a general enquiry from one of our retail sector clients, or one of our high-touch travellers who insists on seat 3A and a specific suite in a specific hotel in New York, for example. Our staff need to be able to respond accordingly.
“Of course we have an out-of-hours service but basically our phones are never switched off – value for money is important, but accessibility is key. Our biggest struggle is to find people who are willing to give that sort of commitment.”
They start from scratch, working with local schools in west London and Glasgow – Rangers supporter Kenny Stirling runs Blue Cube’s operation in his home city – to give students an insight into career opportunities in the travel management sector. Of the company’s 40-plus employees, five are apprentices.
“We treat them well,” says Phaure, “and we certainly don’t see them as cheap labour. They are our building blocks, the travel consultants of the future.”
Also as part of training, staff stay in a three-star hotel for a couple of nights, adds Phaure, “but then, when they’re coming to the end of their apprenticeship, we’ll take them to somewhere like the Four Seasons on Park Lane – they need to know what some of our clients are used to, and what they expect.”
Blue Cube’s staff, overall, looks young and Phaure notes: “We’re not getting any younger, but our clients are, and our team needs to reflect that.”
I ask if they think so-called millennials have a tendency to be over-reliant on technology?. “Technology is great,” says Fraser, “but it doesn’t always work – when it’s not telling us what we need to know, for whatever reason, we need to provide the back-up.”
Phaure, Stirling and Fraser themselves met while working at Travelforce which, shortly after the turn of the century, was taken over by Portman Travel. On a Christmas awayday to Paris, the trio decided to go it alone; Blue Cube was established – with just one client – in 2003.
Five years ago, Blue Cube didn’t feature in BBT’s list of the UK’s Leading 50 TMCs; this year, it shared 36th place, and joined World International Travel Network (WIN), Advantage and the GTMC. “We have grown organically,” Fraser says. “It has only been in the past two years we have employed a sales manager and got involved in marketing ourselves. We were of the opinion that we wanted to spend time with our clients rather than with our competitors.”
In the office I count ten as-yet-unfilled workstations, suggesting more new recruits are on the way. Candidates take note: sales and marketing skills will almost certainly be added to the apprenticeship scheme’s training programme.