TOURISM MATTERS: Unique marketing concepts pay off
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my introduction and what became a near 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 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 from a small office in Britain’s most easterly inhabited island, Mersea.
Among our first customers was my wife, who later joined the fledgling business and played a vital role in its growth.
We soon outgrew the minibus and started chartering other firms’ coaches. We knew there was a market for travellers who wanted a high standard of transport from a convenient departure point and accommodation 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 – including the InterContinental and Schweitzerhof in Berlin, Admiral Copenhagen, Pultizer Amsterdam, Cayre, de Castiglione and Concorde Lafayette Paris, Royal Windsor, Brussels and Crowne Plaza Hamburg.
These were 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.
For instance, the InterContinental in Cologne would be full with business people Monday to Thursday nights, but occupancy would plummet to less than 30 per cent over the weekend.
We soon discovered that if the holiday duration was right and the product quality high, 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 long Paris weekend, we celebrated by inviting as many clients as possible for a special anniversary day on March 26, 1986.
Some 26 coaches transported over 1 300 people across the English Channel on one of ferry operator Townsend Thoresen’s newest ships, which was renamed Spirit Of Incentive for the day in honour of our company’s business achievement over 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 organization.
Growth was mostly achieved by word of mouth, our customers becoming our marketing ambassadors and introducing us to their friends and family.
However, again, we introduced some unique marketing concepts. One of which I am especially proud, was persuading an offset web printer to produce, for the very first time, a 16-page full-colour brochure for less than BDS$0.15 each.
At the time the largest 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 grabbed attention.
It was, when I look back, an enormous financial gamble – a spend of £36 000 (almost BDS$120 000) in one single shot. We needed a two per cent holiday booking response to justify the expense. By the end of the first week, it had already surpassed five per cent.
There was no going back, or so it seemed then.
• Adrian Loveridge is a hotelier of four decades’ standing.