Hills Balfour makes cuts as travel sector faces tough 2012

Leading travel PR consultancy Hills Balfour has downsized its workforce as agencies across the sector look to tighten their belts in 2012.

Big bucks: New York's tourist board retains Hills Balfour
Big bucks: New York's tourist board retains Hills Balfour

Hills Balfour, whose retained clients include the tourist boards of New York City, Queensland and Kenya, has made two staff redundant from its new business team. A further three consultants are leaving and not expected to be replaced.

In recent months, the 55-strong agency has lost accounts with China holiday specialists Wendy Wu Tours and Cook Islands Tourism.

Hills Balfour MD Jonathan Sloan said trimming the team was not a direct result of client losses, but cited 'higher costs' and 'tighter margins'. He added that not making cutbacks would be 'foolish' in the current climate.

The news comes after a turbulent period in travel, with the value of Thomas Cook's shares collapsing by 75 per cent, hikes in Air Passenger Duty and cuts in government funding for tourism boards.

Another travel agency, Rooster, has experienced client cutbacks after two clients decided to take their PR in-house.

MD James Brooke said he believed the cuts were being made to UK consumer travel budgets as the focus shifted to target the growth markets of China, Russia and the Middle East.

McCluskey International principal Judy McCluskey revealed that her agency had moved offices to reduce its overheads.

'I don't envy UK tourism comms directors,' she said. 'They are fighting for budget, but the focus isn't here - it's on countries where tourism is growing.'

4BGB MD Debbie Hindle noted: 'Tourist board budgets that used to be larger to attract more travellers in downturns just aren't there now.'

Brighter Group executive chairman Steve Dunne said the recession had been slow to hit the travel PR industry, but added:

'I see pangs of nervousness in 2012. Clients are starting to look at their budgets now and see where reductions can be made.'

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