How the thirst for a good English cuppa led to a global travel empire

Timothy Barber
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IF, when staying in a ski chalet, your day has ever started with being brought a cup of tea in bed, you have Andrew Dunn to thank for it. It may seem a simple enough touch of hospitality, and the sort of thing that’s par for the course nowadays in chalets of a certain level, but when Dunn started his travel company Scott Dunn – now a fixer of global bespoke holidays, but still with a core business in the European ski market – it represented the kind of service that was hard to come by.

“It sounds silly, but in 1987 that was groundbreaking,” Dunn laughs. As a 22-year-old entrepreneur back then, his first and most important decision was to ensure his chalet hospitality came with a little more care and finesse than the rest of the market – and since all his customers were from the UK, why not start with a good old cuppa first thing in the morning? It’s a decision that stood him in good stead – his company now turns over £22m, and sends over 10,000 people on holiday each year.

Those customers pay on average £9,500 for their trips, though some pay well into six figures to gain the most exclusive experiences imaginable. While the majority of the clientele are British – and most of those work in the City – the company has a growing international presence, recently opening an office in Monaco (where else?) to service the global jet set. It’s all a long way from Oxford Polytechnic (as it still was in the 1980s) where Dunn was studying biology and psychology when he had the idea for his business.

At that time, Dunn had never even been skiing when he and some mates decided to head to the Alps for a break. His sister was working there as a chalet girl, and in the mornings he helped her out in order to earn a bit of cash for an afternoon ski pass. He not only got a taste for the slopes – an obsession that still takes him onto the piste several times a year, when he isn’t travelling around the various global destinations in which the company operates – but he saw what an opportunity there was to improve on normal chalet accommodation.

“It was all still sheets and blankets instead of duvets, and having a private bathroom for your room was a real luxury,” he says. After going home to complete his studies and research the ski hospitality industry, he returned to the Alps with a £5,000 loan from the bank and began taking his first guests at a chalet in the Swiss resort of Champery. As well as providing cups of tea, duvets and foot spas, Dunn got hold of a clapped-out Land Rover and packed it with enough English bacon for an entire season of proper full English breakfasts. It went down rather well.

These days the chalets Scott Dunn manages are the kind that tend to come with luxury swimming pools, and you’ll find them in all the top Alpine resorts. The major part of the business organises dream holidays worldwide, from Mauritius to the Maldives, Africa to Australia. As with much of the travel industry and much of the luxury industry, last year was a tough one, but things are already on the up – bookings are returning to normal levels, and the average customer spend is now a grand higher than it was in 2008.

“January and February were our best two months in the history of the company,” says Dunn. “People put off booking holidays when they thought their jobs were at risk, but there has been a huge pendulum swing the other way. A holiday is a fundamental in people’s lives, and if they didn’t take one last year, this year they feel all the more need to go away.”

The latest innovation Dunn is bringing to the travel industry is rather more sophisticated than good bacon for breakfast. With young children himself, he became convinced that luxury resorts were underperforming when it came to family offerings, and decided to do something about it.

“Historically hotels just haven’t taken on board the fact that children are as important as adults,” he says. “they create lovely restaurants and spas and golf courses, but their provision for kids is an afterthought, whereas it should be structured, organised and professional.”

The result is OurSpace, a sophisticated kids club at the ultra-luxurious Anahita resort in Mauritius, with its own pool, computer room, activity areas, sleep rooms and more, all overseen by Scott Dunn-trained supervisors. Another is soon to open at Italy’s Borgo Egnazia resort, and Dunn aims to roll out the concept far and wide. The hotels pay his company a consultancy fee for the operation plus a share of income generated, and in return have their family guests amply catered for. No doubt that includes the odd cup of tea too.