Travel agent Richard Dobinson has set up a website that aims to connect other agents with holidaymakers, providing them with sales enquiries plus verified customer reviews.
Richard, Director at Southend-based Arrive Relax Travel, said it was his abuse by online trolls that had partially driven him to launch the paid membership site, mylocaltravelshop.com.
Richard, along with fellow agent Jacqui Bowring, told this week how they were targeted by an antivaxxer who left a stream of viscous posts on their company Facebook pages, destroying their ratings.
He told Travel Gossip he wanted to build a technology platform that not only matches holidaymakers with local agents but also one that enables reviews to be scrutinised before they are published.
“Every single review will be vetted before it hits, so any profanities will not be published,” he said. “Facebook are not helping the travel trade by allowing these vile messages to impact review ratings. In fact they are crucifying us. We lost so much because they were not willing to stand up for us.
“Reviews are very important. It all starts with reviews and one of the reasons I wanted to build mylocaltravelshop is to ensure only real reviews are published.”
Agents pay a monthly fee to be included on mylocaltravelshop.com, which will match them with holidaymakers who enter their travel preferences.
A Get Matched option goes one step further, with agents automatically sent details of a consumer enquiry if it matches their specialist product areas.
“Consumers fill out the Get Matched form and suitable agents are sent the lead,” Richard said. “It all happens automatically.”
Links to all airlines and a ‘cruise personaliser’ are also featured, along with travel health and information on financial protection.
“I have been in this industry for 35 years and there is nothing out there that is actually helping agents like this, and we need all the help we can get,” Richard said.
Basic annual membership for homeworkers is £55, or £10 per month, while for bricks and mortar it’s £12.50 per month or £75 per year.
The annual cost for tour operators is £99 or £15 per month.
Richard said members can list themselves in 20 categories. Sales leads generated from the Get Matched service will cost £2.50 for homeworkers and £3.50 for in-store agents per lead.
Premium membership, which offers inclusion in 50 categories, sales leads and advertising space on the website, costs £180.
As an introductory offer, Richard said agents using the code TGossip25 before the end of August will receive a 25% lifetime discount, while the first 25 to join will be automatically upgraded to premium membership.
The website will be promoted on social media and via radio ads, said Richard, following a soft launch in September.