Parents have 40 opportunities to go on a holiday with their children before they outgrow family outings according to travel company chief executive Nick Newbury. He points out that there’s only so much time in a year, and so much holiday leave in a job.
As well as time constraints, pressure is mounting on consumers as the pound in their pocket shrinks against other currencies. Travel companies are forced to compete against each other to win and retain customer loyalty. This is borne out by figures from insolvency practitioner Begbies Traynor which show that the travel industry has 2,679 businesses at risk of insolvency, a four per cent rise year-on-year.
The question under-pressure tour operators are desperately trying to answer is how to attract consumers and grow their business.
Newbury, who in 2002 left his job as a City investment banker to build a luxury travel company Original Travel with two friends, has succeeded by adapting and focussing on detail. In the beginning, Original Travel was based on a single concept, The Big Short Break: tailor-made, condensed adventure trips aimed at busy City workers, a life Newbury understood.
Now, 13 years of uninterrupted growth later, the company’s turnover increased from £2.4m to £15m and it has two acquisitions under its belt.
When he started the business with Tom Barber, chief product officer, and Neil Ghosh, director of sales and service, Newbury said friends and family thought he was crazy. In the early 2000s, the industry faced many of the same challenges it does today: fears of terrorist attacks, high oil prices and a relatively weak pound.
However, Newbury’s logic was simple. “Brits are always going to take their holidays,” he explained.
Original Travel has adapted its original concept to what they now call “Life is in the Detail”. “It sounds sort of cliche, but we believe we’re delivering a holiday that, in some cases, can be life enhancing,” Newbury said. “There are so many reasons people take holidays, and if you’re adaptable at delivering that life-changing moment while delivering a real sense of attention for detail, then you’re ultimately delivering the right product.”
From the practical to the quirky, the company’s 31 service touches include sending GoPros off with those on adventurous holidays, or taking a client’s luggage to the airport so they don’t have to lug it to work.
Newbury's team also responds to events. After the ash from an Icelandic volcano eruption grounded flights over much of Europe, Original Travel reached out to its customers with three options: extend their holiday, wait for the first available flight in an airport hotel, or take up the challenge to get home an “interesting way”.
One family took them up on it, and Original Travel arranged to fly them home in a roundabout way: from South Africa they flew up to Cairo and across to Morocco. Then, after traveling up the coast, Original Travel helped them catch a fishing boat to Gibraltar, and they managed to travel the rest of the way on train.
It’s that kind of work – which Newbury said the company used like a marketing experiment – that’s caused repeat and referred customers to increase on average by 20 per cent every year between 2007 and 2016.
It also has attracted a new investor to the company. On 9 January, Voyageurs du Monde, the Euronext-listed travel company, bought a 60 per cent stake in Original Travel in a bid to expand into English-speaking markets. After two years of research into the UK travel market, Voyageurs saw much of the ethos of their own company mirrored in Original Travel.
The Original Travel brand will stay intact going forward, but the company will have the added support from Voyageurs to expand overseas into America and Canada, while Voyageurs will have a foothold in the English-speaking world.