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Mare Tours is Belgium’s largest chain of independent travel agencies. “With 18 offices, being able to make contact by telephone is very important,” says CEO Marie Jeanne Vancamp. “Not only do customers have to be able to reach us quickly and without too much difficulty, but in-house communication needs to be smooth, as well.” That was the problem. “Until three years ago, every Mare Tours office had analog lines, with separate telephone numbers and answering machines, and rented switchboards to hold it all together,” Vancamp explained. “Each office was really an island on its own. For example, if one office unexpectedly didn’t open, it was difficult to transfer the phone calls to another branch.”
The cost price was high, too: in-house communication took place using external lines and so it all got charged. “We’d been Proximus clients for ages and they suggested the Unified Communications in the Cloud concept,” said Vancamp. “We liked the idea straight away: it offers far more possibilities. At the same time, the costs should fall sharply and we have a clear overview of the monthly costs per user.”
During preparation for the installation, a full inventory was taken of the telephone system: what lines are there? What routers? What switches? What capabilities does the front desk need that the back office doesn’t? “Then it was all installed and configured,” Van Camp recalls. “As a test case, we started with our smallest office. It took a while before we got round all the branches. Not only because the installation was fairly extensive, but also because the staff had to be trained.”
We didn’t do a huge market survey to choose a provider. Proximus was the only suitable candidate. “Our telephone network had been cobbled together with bits and pieces over the years,” she says, laughing. “Proximus knew exactly how it all hung together. If another supplier had had to start from scratch, the transition would have taken a lot longer.” When you switch to a totally new installation, you often have to pay your dues and that was no different here. Vancamp: “At first we had a few teething problems, and that’s quite normal. But Proximus sorted them all out very promptly.”
The advantages of the system soon became clear, too. “Our costs fell spectacularly. The investment paid for itself in less than a year,” says the CEO. “We no longer rent any devices and the external lines have gone. We can be reached far more efficiently and quickly and we have a lot more technical capabilities. Proximus takes care of all the system programming, too. We don’t have to worry about that any more. And if something goes wrong somewhere, we have one central point of contact for our whole network.”
There are other features that Vancamp is looking into for the future. “Suppose a customer comes into the office in Aalst and wants to book a trip to Thailand. I can see a time when our Thailand specialist, who is over in Mol, can explain things to them via video communication. The capability is there, so why shouldn’t we use it?”
Established in 1985, Mare Tours soon grew into the third-largest player on the Belgian tour operator scene. The company has 18 branches, its own call center and 48 staff. That makes it the largest independent chain of travel agencies in the country.
Marie Jeanne Vancamp established Mare Tours on 5 November 1985. Before that, she spent five years gaining experience with other tour operators. First as a guide and then in a travel agency. Her husband joined Mare Tours later on as a shareholder. In 1999, Thomas Cook took a 49% holding in the company.
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