A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my introduction and what became almost a addiction to the tourism industry, and in this column I would like to continue with part two. After three years on the road with Globus Gatway, I felt that I had the confidence and knowledge to start my own tour operation. Of course it’s a lot more difficult than it initially sounds. Start small and grow was the plan. Using my savings, I purchased a Ford 12-seater minibus and began by driving and guiding my own long weekend tours to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Brugge based from a small office in Britain’s most easterly inhabited island, called Mersea.
Among our first customers, was my now wife, who later joined the fledgling business and played a vital role in its growth. We soon outgrew the minibus and started chartering other firm’s coaches. We knew there was a market for travellers who wanted a high standard of transport from a convenient departure point, to stay in nice hotels, but at an affordable cost. It went far beyond price though, we wanted to get it right, without compromise.
Our groups stayed in beautiful hotels which included the Inter Continental and Schweitzerhof in Berlin, Admiral Copenhagen, Pultizer Amsterdam, Cayre, de Castiglione and Concorde Lafayette Paris, Royal Windsor, Brussels and Crowne Plaza Hamburg. Hotels that normally would charge room rates far above our meagre budget. But, when contracting accommodation, I soon learnt the first question you asked, was when do you want us? This was the secret.
Related Link: The Tourism Business, A Labour of Love for Adrian
For instance, the Inter Continental in Cologne would be full with business people Monday to Thursday nights, but over the weekend, occupancy would plummet to less than 30 per cent. We soon discovered that if the holiday duration was right and the product quality high that many people would take three or four breaks a year. As egotistical as it may sound, we pioneered new standards in the industry at that time.
Ten years after I drove and escorted that first Paris long weekend, we celebrated by inviting as many clients as possible for a special anniversary day on the 26th March 1986. 26 coaches transported over 1,300 people across the English Channel on one of the ferry operator Townsend Thoresen’s newest ships, which was renamed ‘Spirit of Incentive’ for the day, in honour of our company’s business achievement during the previous decade. As far as I am aware, it still remains a record number carried by a ferry at one time for a single travel organisation.
Growth was mostly achieved by word of mouth, our customers became our marketing ambassadors and introduced their friends and family. However, again, we introduced some unique marketing concepts. One of which I am especially proud, was persuading a web offset printer to, for the very first time, produce a 16 page full colour brochure for less than BDS$0.15 cents each.
At that time the largest circulation free newspaper, the Yellow Advertiser, was based in our area, distributing 750,000 copies weekly. It was a rather drab grey publication, so a colourful insert falling out when opened, grabbed attention. It was, when I look back, an enormous financial gamble. A spend of UK36,000 (almost BDS$120,000) in one single shot. We needed a 2 per cent holiday booking response to justify the expense. By the end of the first week, it had already surpassed 5 per cent.
There was no going back, or so it seemed then.