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BBT July/August 2018
July/August 2018
For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Interview: Simone Buckley, Fello

Simone Buckley (second right) at the launch of Fello as the 2018 Business Travel Show

Fello may be a new name for the business travel industry, but its history goes back decades. The TMC was formed in October 2017 following the merger of Sandy Row Travel and World Club Travel. It officially launched at this year’s Business Travel Show.

The name created lots of interest, according to its chief executive Simone Buckley. “Buyers were telling us they needed something new,” she explains, and the name Fello apparently came about after conversations showed how the reservations agents were regarded as “fellow travellers” by their clients.

“If someone calls [about a destination], we’ve been there, we know which visa is needed. Our staff have often been business travellers themselves.” As one of the company’s taglines states: “There’s always a way”. Buckley says this is a reflection that “people call us when they can’t get what they want elsewhere”.

At a launch event at the Corinthia Hotel in London in March for 120 former customers of Sandy Row and World Club, “we heard lots of stories about what we mean to our clients. It really put the ‘traveller first’ story into context,” Buckley says.

What makes it “traveller first” – and how can Fello offer “something new” exactly?  Travel buyers will be reassured to hear that Fello’s novelty is something they actually value – a better, more personal service. Buckley bemoans how “personalisation” has become a technology buzzword in the industry – yet instead it should be about the actual service agents provide.

Few would disagree with this, but the challenge is delivering it, of course, and recruiting the next generation of consultants who can continue to do so. It is here that Fello has something of an advantage for a new company: the history and experience of its agents, most of whom come from Sandy Row and World Club, and some of whom have more than 25 years’ experience.

Nevertheless, a recruitment drive is now in place. “I’m working out how to bring in new consultants,” she says. “They’ve got to have that service ethos, but also that technical ability. We’re not an order-taking service. [and] we’re not a call centre.”  

The accidental CEO
This mix of new approach with experience also applies to Buckley herself. Her own appointment was largely unintentional.

“After Capita, I’d wanted to take a step back, and take it easy, and then later I joined the ITM. I hadn’t planned on leaving [but] Fello was looking for a chief executive, and that, by chance, became me. I’d recommended a few people to them before.”

When eventually approached by Fello she decided to take the role, and over six months ensured a smooth handover to Scott Davies who took the reins at the ITM. 

Buckley’s inquisitive side may also have played a part in her landing the role, as she recalls an appraisal early on in her career with David Radcliffe, her former boss at HRG. “I remember saying to David that I’d always wanted to be a managing director, because I wanted to know if I can.”

As well as building up the team, technology and content are priorites at Fello, to help  “get the right strategy”, and she swiftly ensured that Fello joined the GTMC after her arrival. “I was keen to join quickly, especially with the work it does around air fares and NDC. It works with industry at the right level,” she says.

With the two brands now under the same roof, Fello is eyeing bigger clients. It also has a presence in Singapore, Australia and the US, but in the latter Buckley wants to forge a new partnership with another TMC: “It’s an important strategic decision for us to make, but is it acquisition or ownership on the horizon?”

Embedded into Fello’s logo comes the advice: “Warning: Happy business travellers found here”. It’s a proud boast, and one Buckley is determined Fello will live up to.  Perhaps this is peronalisation 2.0 – when the TMC is happy to pick up the phone to the travel manager rather than rely on an app.

fello.co.uk

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