Virgin Holidays has been arranging holidays since 1985 and is the largest, most successful transatlantic tour operator, and market leader for travel to the USA and the Caribbean. The company also offers holiday packages for Canada, the Far East, South Africa, the Middle East, Indian Ocean and Mauritius, as well as a comprehensive ski program.

The Challenge

Virgin Holidays receives a high number of telephone calls from customers every year, many of which involve paying for flights and holidays. When the company moved to a paid-for number it anticipated a decline in volume, but in fact the number of calls increased to 1.5 million per year, representing 8 million minutes of conversation. Virgin Holidays handles 80% of its calls through one large call center, made up of both on-site and homeworking agents. The remaining 20% of calls are directed to individual retail stores, where staff are also authorized to accept payments over the phone.

Exceptional customer service is a priority for Virgin Holidays and the company likes to remain in touch with their customers even while they are away; making sure that everything is going to plan and offering the opportunity to book additional activities or other extras to enhance their holiday.

To cope with the high volume of telephone payments Virgin needed a fully secure system that was compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), but would not compromise customer service in any way. The large number of homeworking agents presented an additional security challenge.

The Solution

Virgin Holidays chose to implement Semafone’s Cardprotect Voice+ solution, selecting the flexible and robust hosted version provided by Semafone in partnership with Gamma. Cardprotect Voice+ uses Semafone’s patented payment method and allows callers to input their payment card data directly into their telephone keypad. The numbers are disguised using dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) masking, so the customer service agent cannot see nor hear the numbers, and is able to stay in full communication with the customer at all times to help with any issues that may arise, which significantly improves the quality of customer service. Cardprotect Voice+ takes the payment card details and transfers them directly to the payment service provider (PSP), bypassing the contact center environment entirely.

The implementation saw Semafone’s solution integrated into Virgin Holidays’ Crawley-based contact center, as well as across its 100 plus UK retail stores. Bespoke Cardprotect Voice+ payment pages were able to integrate with DataCash for transaction payments, including refunds, and the telephony system was integrated with Virgin Holidays’ customer relationship management system, TravelBox.


Telecommunications Manager Patrick Watters, who was in charge of overseeing the implementation at Virgin Holidays, commented; “We worked closely with Semafone and Gamma to make sure that the hosting and integration were all as seamless as possible. The only issue we encountered was a minor matter of ‘clipping’ taking place on certain calls, but the Semafone team responded quickly and fixed the problem at once. I can honestly say that the sum total of issues can be counted on one hand, which is incredibly rare on a major project like this.”


More than 650 agents are now using Cardprotect Voice+ to take payments over the phone for package holidays including extras, flights and insurance, and they were delighted to find that they were no longer obliged to record and type out customers’ card details. They also expressed relief at not wasting time asking people to repeat digits, or having to call people back to double check card numbers.

UK customers, who tend to be more aware of the potential threats to their credit card data, say that they appreciate the additional security measures that Virgin Holidays is taking.

“From a governance point of view, Semafone is completely spoiling us. Not only are we now fully PCI DSS compliant, but we receive quarterly reports from Semafone that are incredibly detailed and highlight any anomalies and changes to the system. The level of detail in the information provided is outstanding.”

Patrick Watters – Telecommunications Manager at Virgin

Virgin Holidays