Chester-based travel firm ITC ranked among Britain's best places to work

PUBLISHED: 13:59 08 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:01 20 February 2013

Jennifer in ITC’s office in Chester

Jennifer in ITC’s office in Chester

A Chester-based travel firm has ranked among Britain's best places to work. ITC boss Jennifer Atkinson reveals why her team loves coming to work. WORDS BY MARTIN PILKINGTON PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAUL SWEENEY

Dragging yourself to work can be tough, but not it appears for employees of Chester-based luxury tour operator International Travel Connections, (ITC) recently rated one of the UKs 100 best places to work by The Sunday Times.

Jennifer Atkinson, the companys CEO, explains the process: You apply this was our first time and they send out anonymous questionnaires to your employees. It has 100 questions to determine overall staff happiness and engagement, things like I would leave tomorrow if I had another job to go to, or my skills are well utilised, or my work life balance is good. Thousands of organisations enter, but not many find out later as did ITC that 82 per cent of employees feel a buzz in the office, or 89 per cent think the operation is principled.

Just three years ago the company, founded as a specialist Caribbean operator in the Seventies by Drew Foster, experienced its toughest time when he died and the recession was at its scariest. We had our worst ever financial performance and had to make redundancies. When that happens clearly it has a massive impact on your team; for that team less than three years later to say they are so engaged and have such belief in the future of the business is remarkable, says Jennifer.

We have been enjoying significant growth in turnover and profit - this year our turnover will be about 40 million, up nearly 5 million year-on-year which comes through in the bottom line as well, she continues, firmly convinced the numbers follow the staff attitude: Our objective is to hit targets, but I dont believe you can do that unless you have a robust people-plan in place, so our number one objective is to make sure staff are happy, engaged and motivated.

The strategy includes the conventional route of staff training. Last year all 90 employees attended at least one of the custom courses run for the company by an external development coach. But thanks to the nature of its business staff development at ITC can be a bit more glamorous than flip-charts and study packs.

Last year we spent over 100,000 on sending our staff around the world. There is nothing we sell that we havent visited and got a personal relationship with. It can range from some of our team going to Barbados to stay at Sandy Lane - they were picked up in a Bentley and got the real experience; to our team being in Sri Lanka for the cricket. And weve got people going out this weekend to Cyprus to see some of our product there. Every month theres a trip going somewhere.

Such perks cant hurt morale, but the primary reason for the trips is product knowledge: Inevitably with our type of clients business owners, directors, celebrities in some cases there are often extras they want like spa treatments, rounds of golf, or even arranging something for a proposal or an engagement. Our concierge team caters for all of that.

As the trading figures show, the policy is paying off: As we are a service business our product is our people, so from a management perspective all of our efforts and energy are focussed on and through our people, says Jennifer:

When we are asked why were doing so well during the recession when many competitors are not, the only thing that differentiates us we sell the same products to the same customers is that we as a team work harder, fight harder.

The company headquarters is in Chester, obviously not a bad place to work; and the other UK office in equally upmarket Harrogate would not be a bad posting. Jennifer probably doesnt have to twist too many arms to fill places at their third location either: We also have an office in Barbados and Antigua, which is of course a horrible place to work, we struggle to get people out there! she jokes.

Battersea, where Jennifer and people from across the business went to receive their Sunday Times award, may not be as exotic as some of her other recent destinations like Buenos Aires and the Maldives, but she is obviously excited by what the London trip meant: There were hundreds if not thousands of businesses there. It was an amazing event, and it feels great to be part of something like that.

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