Friday, August 12, 2022

The travel enthusiasts who started their own holiday company

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Shreya Christina
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It sounds like a serious traveler’s dream to start your own holiday business, not tied to a single provider to guarantee a wider range, with prices 25% to 40% cheaper than anywhere else.

That dream became a reality for travel enthusiasts Brett Norton and Stephen Knight when they launched their travel startup, Ultimate Travel Club, during the lockdown. The pair are also travel industry veterans and called on their combined knowledge and experience in commercial strategy and marketing for travel, leisure and hospitality companies to develop their concept.

CEO Norton says: “We are both travelers first, and as travelers we want more flexibility, more choice and true impartiality. But we’re all in the travel industry too, so we know that traditional companies weren’t created to offer all this at a reasonable price, so we went ahead and started our own travel company.”

Central to Ultimate Travel Club is the subscription model, where members are charged an annual fee of £99 ($120). Business revenue comes from subscription fees rather than what members purchase through the site, including vacations, cruises, flights or car rentals.

As Norton explains, traditional travel agencies are built around inherited infrastructure and high overheads, which incur additional costs that are passed on to the customer.

“Our company is specifically designed to provide flexible travel at the best prices,” Norton says. “Because we don’t have the old business model and the costs of established travel companies, we are often 40% cheaper than other providers. Last week, our live online price comparison tool showed that 91% of searches were cheaper with us than with other holiday providers.”

Ultimate Travel Club was soft-launched in late 2021. The founders used the feedback from their early members to tailor the customer journey. They invested in the platform by providing free search access for everyone online and developed a price comparison widget before launching an official marketing campaign.

While most members search and book online, aided by a members app, the company also has UK travel experts available to answer questions and make bespoke telephone bookings. In addition to the consumer proposition, the company has developed proposals for business travel, partnerships and employee benefits

Starting a travel company during the pandemic would always be challenging, with frequent changes in travel rules and the fact that the founders were unable to physically meet as a team as they prepared to launch the business.

“Regular check-ins kept us aligned, and while we’re still cloud-based, for customer experience our employees work in shared office spaces that suit them,” Norton says. “We meet online every day and physically in London every month. We have made a virtue of virtual.”

The startup received £250,000 in seed investment from various angel investors, with the rest of the funding coming from various founders and the directors themselves.

Membership is currently doubling each month and to date those members have collectively saved more than £1.6 million ($2 million). “Within two years we would be disappointed if we didn’t catch more than 150,000 active members,” Norton says.

The company employs 10 people and expects an annual turnover of £5 million by the end of 2023. “The prognosis is modest and realistic,” Norton says. “We are looking for sustainable growth and all our revenues go back to technical development and marketing. In the UK alone, we have an addressable market of 6.7 million people.”

The founders are in talks with several well-known brands that want to partner with Ultimate Travel Club in various sectors and channels. Norton expects the B2B side of their proposition to grow faster than the company’s direct-to-consumer element.

He says: “We’ve had great feedback on how the proposition works for individuals, companies of all sizes looking for gifts or great ways to reward, retain and attract talent, and SMEs looking to save on staff travel. In the future, UTC 2.0 will allow us to create hyper-personalization using machine learning and AI to understand and deliver content based on individual travel wants and needs; then it becomes very exciting.”

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