GSA: The Year That The World - And Travel - Stood Still
Which makes it even more astonishing that it was also the year that a small travel specialist took a leap into the abyss and - in true entrepreneurial spirit - not only built its wings on the way down, but soared upward and onward. According to Kfm 94.5 and 947, this is the travel company on everyone’s passports at the moment, taking clients #DirectToParadise...
This is Priority Escapes.
Brainchild of travel prodigy and now industry disturber, Francois Swart, Priority Escapes went from a total of two employees in November to hosting a team of over thirty specialists in its new offices opposite Design Quarter in Fourways, Johannesburg. In a time where people are treading water, Priority Escapes is selling out charters and giving clients the luxury experience of a lifetime, but what gave Swart the confidence to take the leap?
“I know travel,” he says simply, “and I knew that as soon as borders opened, people all over Southern Africa would be looking for the break that they needed. The challenge was to make this simple and sexy, luxurious but affordable, and suddenly (of course) much safer than before.”
Which - through longtime industry connections, an ambitious refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer, and insights into a spectacular destination - led to Swart’s pioneering of the direct-route to the world’s leading travel destination, the Maldives.
Historically the Maldives were accessible only via Dubai, whereas now it is reached in just over eight hours; basically, fall asleep in Joburg, wake up in island paradise. This has been a massive win for families, impatient travelers, and everyone looking to maximise the most of their holiday… so, basically everyone!
But anyone can have one good idea. The reality is that the success of Priority Escapes goes way beyond that. After sold out charters, expansion of routes, and now launching a new destination in time for December - all fiesta fun of Cancun, Mexico! - we ask Francois what the difference is in being a booming travel agency in a post-pandemic world.
First, relationships - a quick glance at their website or vibrant social media pages and you’ll see South African celebrities, snaps of clients finally getting the water villa honeymoon experience they have been waiting for, and families delighting in all the offers of Nature’s Playground. Many of these clients first engaged Francois years ago when he worked at one of the mainstream travel retailers, and have followed him as he has developed his own brand.
“Everyone knows that the cornerstone of good relationships is great communication!” Francois laughs, adding that this is why he has an in-house dedicated ‘amazing service’ manager, and weekly training for his staff, for everyone from the receptionist to expert product managers. “Every single point of contact for clients must be excellent, effective and efficient. I won’t wait for a cup of coffee - I can hardly expect my clients to wait on a request.”
This has led to return travelers and lifelong relationships. “The best way to make another customer is to give one customer the experience of a lifetime, and get them to tell five friends.”
Excellent relationships extend to resorts and hotel partners. “It’s a two-way street,” Swart emphasises, “where we both want one another to do the best. I personally visit the resorts we sell to ensure quality and cultivate connections because an excellent vacation means a repeat client for both of us. It also makes it easy to pick up the phone to organise something special, like when Jason Goliath was on honeymoon and needed to impress his new wife Sian. I could contact partners at Dhigali and they made them feel really special, but it’s something we offer all clientele.”
Secondly, a holistic experience. “I believe that the client’s experience of Priority Escapes starts the second they click on an advert, or drive past a billboard, or pick up the phone, which is why I am so passionate about clear and thorough branding and training throughout the chain, not to mention why I created our own in-house travel software - Runway - to finesse quoting and customer care for not only our operation, but for other agencies who use it.”
From their distinct black and gold branding, activity across media platforms, presence at airport check-ins, and personalised communication with clients through their Priority Gold Travel Club, Francois ensures that Priority Escapes goes top of mind for discerning travellers wanting to escape direct to paradise.
Finally, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is simply ‘extra’.
“If this last year has taught us nothing, it is two things: one, that we need to prioritise experiences with loved ones. And two, the way to make that happen is by going above and beyond.” This includes arranging domestic travel for clients not based in Joburg, PCR tests at the resorts, and promoting exclusive all-inclusive deals to give visitors peace of mind with minimum stress and maximum delight on the ultimate bucket-list adventure.
It takes a lot to trail blaze in these times, but Priority Escapes has it all... and a visionary captain in the cockpit in MD Francois Swart. You can visit their website at www.priorityescapes.com