With almost half its team TTG 30 Under 30 alumni, specialist tour operator Latin Routes tells Abigail Healy about how the programme has helped to shape the business and reveals ambitious plans for the future
Martin Johnson, Jessica Bain and Hayley Griffiths all represent different areas of the business at Latin Routes – consumer sales, trade and marketing respectively – but they wholeheartedly agree that their involvement in TTG’s 30 Under 30 programme influences how they
run their company.
Johnson was part of the first intake, the class of 2012-13. He had just founded Latin Routes with business partner Bain, whom he met while working at travel agency Trailfinders, when he joined the programme.
“I had my eyes opened to the rest of the travel industry,” he says. “Trailfinders was quite insular so it was great to meet people from a range of different sectors.”
It was following that revelation that Johnson and Bain made the decision to launch their business to the trade, which they say has “transformed the business” and now represents 35% of their sales.
In 2013 Latin Routes joined Hays as an IG member, which gave them a strong platform from which to grow and fellow members to learn from. Bain became part of the 30 Under 30 class of 2014-15 with the business having recently launched to the trade and her role focusing specifically in that area. “I met loads of trade contacts through the programme. Anneka Bones from Southern Cross Travel was great and they have done some fantastic bookings for us since,” she says.
Bain also mentions how useful she found the speakers throughout the programme. She highlights Oliver Brendon, owner of ATD Travel Services.
“Olly was particularly useful. Our team was up to four by then and we were looking to appoint a non-exec chairman. He had some really useful advice and following that we brought [former Advantage chief executive] John McEwan on to our board.”
Thanks to new investment at this stage the company was able to leave its original premises, above a pizza shop near Kingston station, and move to a larger riverside location where they had space for a separate meeting room where Johnson and Bain now conduct regular training sessions for their staff.
It was during Bain’s time as part of the 30 Under 30 that she met Griffiths, also part of the 2014-15 group. Griffiths was working at TrekAmerica when the programme began and Bain instantly noticed there was “something about her”. Griffiths left to go travelling part way through the programme and the two kept in touch. A well-timed email from Bain, now ensconced in the new office with space to employ new staff, collided with Griffiths’ boyfriend accepting a new job in the UK and the pair returning early from their trip.
“It was like serendipity. I’d always felt an affinity to South America, despite working for TrekAmerica, I speak Spanish and I’d travelled there. When I first met Jess and heard about Latin Routes I thought it sounded amazing, after receiving her email I started pretty quickly and haven’t looked back,” says Griffiths.
The new recruit’s role was to get the marketing ball rolling as it was an area in which neither Johnson or Bain had expertise. “I came up with a strategy for the business going forward and aimed to get the whole team involved with the new messaging we were putting out.”
She explains how she sat down with Johnson and Bain and asked them about their business with questions such as; If Latin Routes were a person who would it be? How would you approach them in a dinner party situation?
From this she created a “brand footprint” for Latin Routes and devised the mission statement: “Crafting truly individual expertly packaged holidays”. She is also working on a brochure and brand refresh that will launch in the autumn.
With a strongly focused brand behind them, Johnson asserts that the next goal is to “turn Latin Routes into a market-leading company”.
He is focusing on the company infrastructure and has recently taken on a new system that will, within reason, allow the sales staff to send quotes back the same day. He is also investing in the phone system, which will reduce wait times on calls.
He highlights a trend of people moving away from larger operators to independent specialists and says the company is winning bookings from operators that sell worldwide. “The trade is fed up with big operators and long waits on the phone,” he says.
Partnerships are also a huge focus, both on the agent side and with other suppliers. “Since August 15 we have been fully independent [from Hays] and have our own Atol, which means we will be able to work with anyone,” he says. And Bain is relishing the opportunity to get out to more agents. “I’ve found it fairly easy to get in with agents as there was a real demand for a trade-friendly South American specialist but I just wish there was five of me!” she says.
She highlights that the company offers an incentive scheme whereby agents can earn two room nights in South America for each booking they make and after they’ve made five bookings they can earn return economy flights.
“It’s our way of supporting agents who give us business but also encourages them to travel there and experience it for themselves.”
Looking to the future, it’s clear this trio have no plans to slow down. To meet Johnson’s goal of becoming the market leader, growth is essential, but the team don’t want to do so at the expense of the personalisation that makes them special. Johnson says: “What we’ve founded is what we’ll take forward; small teams in close groups with the same person taking a client or agent right the way through the booking process. It’s about scalability and that’s one of the reasons we took John [McEwan] onboard, he is really helpful when it comes to strategy and growth. If there’s one thing he knows, it is how to scale a company.”
There are also new partnerships with operators including Silversea, with which Latin Routes is hosting a daytime training session on September 7, and hints of other exciting developments in the pipeline. While they’re keeping a tight lid on those for now, it’s clear that Latin Routes has a whole lot more to give.