Launching an agency can be daunting, but Ann Roberts, Coddiwomple Travel’s co-founder, tells Abigail Healy how the agency hit the high notes from the outset
A 157-passenger booking would be a coup for any established agency. Yet Ann Roberts and Lynne Woodward, founders of Coddiwomple Travel managed just that within a year of being made redundant from their previous jobs.
The pair worked for a college on the Wirral with Roberts in the Travel and Tourism department for 16 years and more recently running the campus travel agency. Woodward was a retail manager in charge of the apprenticeship programme.
“Lynne had a little office at the back of my travel agency and we were both in our safe comfort zones,” Roberts explains.
Then just after Christmas last year, they were delivered a blow when, along with some 30 others, they were served redundancy notices and the agency shut down.
Looking directly into the face of adversity, Roberts and Woodward weighed up their options.
“Eventually, we said: ‘Let’s take the leap and do this for ourselves,’” Roberts explains.
They approached the Global Travel Group, of which the college-based agency had been a member, and Coddiwomple Travel was born.
But choosing the name wasn’t altogether easy.
“We looked into a combination of our names, but all we could come up with was Wardrobe Travel! It was difficult to find something different that stood out,” laughs Roberts.
While trawling the web for ideas she happened upon “Coddiwomple”, an old English word meaning “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination”.
“It made sense as lots of people aren’t sure where exactly they want to go,” explains Roberts, who was previously a homeworker and worked in agency retail stores.
“It’s become a talking point now,” she adds.
The agency was established, with an office in a business pod in a converted school, but the next challenge was developing a client base. As fortune would have it, their old connections gave them an early boost.
“Lynne and I were members of the college choir and the choirmaster, who runs classes all around the Wirral, Liverpool and Chester said he was interested in doing a choir trip. And we were in an ideal position to help,” Roberts explains.
She spotted a Bruges Christmas markets trip with P&O Cruises, departing in December, and when they put it out to choir members, it “flew off the shelves”.
“We thought we might get 30 to 40 bookings when we started in April but we’re now on 157,” Roberts says delightedly.
To add an extra festive twist, the choir will sing carols at the embarkation lounge in Southampton as well as performing at various points during the cruise. Coddiwomple Travel has also booked coaches to do home pick-ups to take guests to Southampton and a trip into Bruges with Cruising Excursions.
Better still, the cruise booking has had a multiplying effect.
“At least 20-25% of the passengers have already rebooked with us,” says Roberts. She gives examples of an Alaskan cruise and Rocky Mountaineer trip and two separate groups – one of 20 and one of 12 – that have booked Cruise & Maritime Voyages holidays for next year.
“Lynne is a big cruiser – she’s done around 60-70 herself, so I think cruise will be a focus for us,” Roberts asserts.
Roberts is keen to tap into the groups market having dealt with many group bookings in her previous role.
“We have a few speaking events coming up in the new year and someone from the choir is a member of another group and has invited us to come and speak to them,” she says.
Beyond that, the pair hope to maximise the opportunity of marketing to the passengers they have booked on the upcoming Christmas markets cruise, many of whom have never cruised before. They are also busy promoting the business on Facebook and Twitter and have a new website in development.
Roberts says she and Woodward are “feeling confident” about the future and after such a successful start in life, it seems Coddiwomple Travel will be one to watch.