In the past few years, Travel 2 has left behind the doom and gloom of a business that was losing millions of pounds annually for a new, solid sense of optimism
There can’t be many businesses as candid as Travel 2. The company’s managing director, Andy Freeth, as well as the sales, marketing and commercial director, Gordon McCreadie, are both keen to show me just how well things are going.
Of course it probably helps matters that the business continues to go from strength to strength but at various points during the interview Freeth whips out his phone to show me charts and graphs.
“We never lie about the figures. You’ll never remember what you lied about so if you always tell them how they are, you can’t ever get caught out,” Freeth says.
“We do lots and lots of things really well by putting the agents at the heart of everything we do”
At the end of each working day both he and McCreadie are given a breakdown of the trading activity, as are key account managers from across the business. This enables them to check in detail particular segments and destinations.
“Take Orlando as an example, That’s actually up 55%. From £4 million to £6.5 million so it’s not just a few bookings,” Freeth says.
Florida isn’t an isolated example. Although Australasia and North America continue to account for more than 50% of business, other areas such as Indochina - which is about to get its own dedicated brochure - continue to be targeted.
Freeth says that 2014 will see them “shout and scream about” the Indian Ocean and Caribbean, with plenty of fam trips and promotional events planned.
The business grew 21% in its most recent financial year, increasing total transaction value by £29 million on the prior period. Passenger numbers are also on the up, increasing by almost 25% to 155,000. This optimism is a long way from the doom and gloom that previously surrounded the business.
S8 (now Stella Travel Services) bought the lossmaking Travel 2/4, as it was then known, back in 2006.
“We still behave like we did five years ago when the business was in trouble - our discipline, approach and energy are still the same”
Freeth - who had previously spent time at On Holiday Group and Airtours - joined five years ago. At that point it was losing millions of pounds a year and he set about trying to turn it around.
We had a year of a huge amount of cost-out and stabilising the business, we had probably another year of getting our heads around what was needed to drive the business forward, and the last three have all been in growth year-on-year,” Freeth says.
The headcount was slashed from close to 400 to nearer 200 and in its most recent published accounts the company turned a profit for the first time since 2003.
Freeth credits the turnaround in fortunes to a strong core of senior managers who have worked together for a few years.
“We all know each other inside out and back to front and give each other lots of freedom to work on these initiatives without the red tape of big business,” he says.
“That consistency, that stability, the working relationship you build, you can’t make it happen overnight.”
He later adds: “We still behave like we did five years ago when the business was in trouble. Although we’re seeing a huge period of success, we still behave in the same way. Our discipline, approach and energy are still the same.”
McCreadie, who joined the company in 2010 after a career that included a stint owning his own agency, exemplifies this philosophy. He’s seemingly ever-present at trade conferences and clearly relishes the challenges his job presents.
“It genuinely is a fun place to work. I wake up every morning and I enjoy going to work and the thought of what that day will [bring],” McCreadie says.
“We make sure it is a fun place to work… we work hard and we play hard, and we make sure the team are rewarded and recognised for that, as are our agents. I think we’ve spent a lot of time over the past three years understanding our agents more and what their wants and needs are.”
For a company that conducts its business exclusively through agents, understanding them is key. “We constantly engage with our agent partners and sit them in rooms and listen to what they have to say and how they feel we can improve our business,” McCreadie explains.
“We’re always open to take those comments onboard and look as to how we can implement them. They’re the guys who are at the coalface day in, day out.”
This feedback has led to new initiatives, which Travel 2 will roll out over the coming months. Simply Luxury Europe, a new high-end short-haul product, launches next year and the company is also introducing a new “price beat” policy and a guaranteed price for scheduled airline bookings.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the things that we do are based on feedback from the trade,” says Freeth.
Freeth’s tenure in the top job has coincided with a dramatic change in fortune at the business. Crucially it is no longer leaking cash and both he and McCreadie appear to be relishing their role on the side of the agent.
“Despite some of the doom and gloom, despite the talk of the demise of the high street, despite all the woes and things going on in the economy, we’re just continuing to take share from our competitors, and we’re continuing to innovate in the products that we deliver,” Freeth says.
“And all of the new stuff that we talked about a year ago - or some of it two years ago - is all starting to pay off.”