150 jobs at risk as Awaze streamlines brand operations

UK: Vacation rental and holiday resorts company, Awaze, has announced it is planning to relocate its UK headquarters to Manchester, with the move putting an estimated 150 jobs at risk across its Hoseasons and Cottages.com brands.

The company, which also owns brands such as Landal GreenParks, James Villa Holidays and Novasol, plans to close its current Earby base in Lancashire, and is in consultations with its 300-strong team there about transferring some jobs to home working roles. New positions will however be created at Awaze’s Lowestoft office in Suffolk, which is set to become a contact centre for customers and homeowner operations.

Awaze is also expecting to close smaller regional offices in Exeter, Dartmouth, Grassington and Leyburn, although a number of staff will reportedly be retained. Its bases in Arran, Alnwick, Whitby, Keswick, Windermere and Salcombe will remain open, in addition to the Lowestoft office.

The group’s new ‘centre of excellence’ in Manchester is scheduled to open by the start of October, and is set to serve as a commercial, technology and marketing services hub, where it aims to employ 100 new and existing employees within a year of opening.

Awaze CEO Henrik Kjellberg told Travel Weekly that the relocation of the headquarters of its Hoseasons and Cottages.com brands was not a decision to purely cut costs.

He said: “What Covid gave us was an opportunity to reflect on how we were structured, and we wanted to simplify the business in terms of our geographical footprint. We realised we had an opportunity to consolidate and have a more productive way of working, including optimising homeworking.

“We needed to make an aggressive move to upgrade our technology platforms and unfortunately we could not hire at scale [in our existing locations]. We needed a big city centre to bring in a different calibre of people which is harder to do in more remote regions.

“We will make a big investment in Manchester,” he added.

Earby houses a call centre taking bookings across its cottages.com brand.

Kjellberg said: “It doesn’t mean all the staff at these locations [due to close] will lose their jobs because we have flexibility to work from home or relocate. We are trying to make sure we treat our colleagues with the utmost respect and dignity; this is a big change in how we operate.”

He added: “We are trying to do it as seamlessly as possible so it doesn’t affect trade and operations. We will reinvest every penny, and more.”

The company plans to invest in technology to create a new web platform for its Hoseasons and cottages owners and customers, and create a better booking experience.

“We will keep the two brands but over time we may move to the same technology supporting these brands. What travel agents will notice is faster response times and that parks are easier to find [online],” he said.

Meanwhile, Cottages.com has announced it is pulling out of Ireland, putting an end to its 26-year operations in the country.

Parent group Vacation Rentals [UK] Ltd [Awaze and its brands are trading names] sent out letters to hundreds of Irish property owners to tell them that it was ceasing operations in the country at the end of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter, signed by Vacation Rentals’ Vice President of property recruitment, Shelley D’Arcy, read: “In light of Covid-19, we have had to review our business model and, as a result, will cease to trade in and will permanently suspend sale of properties in both Northern and the Republic of Ireland at the end of this year.

“This means we are hereby serving notice to terminate the agreement between us. Accordingly, your property [or properties] will not be advertised or available for booking on our websites,” it added.

The company confirmed it would honour all existing bookings made for dates between now and the end of the year.

Bookings have dropped in recent years as property managers increasingly seek to diversify the channels on which they make their homes / cottages available, particularly with the rise to prominence of platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com.

Cottages.com currently works with more than 21,000 properties in Britain, Ireland, France and Italy. It previously required owners to sign exclusive agency deals to list with them but the rise in competition put paid to that strategy.

The brand previously belonged to US hotel group Wyndham Worldwide Corporation before it decided to sell off its European vacation rental business in 2018 to global private equity firm Platinum for $1.3 billion. Last March, Awaze was unveiled as the corporate name for Europe’s leading managed vacation rentals and holiday resorts business.

Vacation Rentals made national headlines last month when it was forced to reverse its decision not to offer refunds to all customers whose trips had been cancelled to the coronavirus outbreak, following an independent probe by industry watchdog Competition and Markets Authority [CMA].

The CMA previously threatened legal action against firms who fail to provide refunds to those affected by cancellations of holidays and weddings due to the coronavirus outbreak. Last week, Sykes Holiday Cottages became the second major holiday cottage rental agency to reverse its Covid-19 cancellations policy after pressure from the watchdog.