Glen Travel director Alan Glen tells Andrew McQuarrie how the family-run business has managed to rack up 50 years in the industry.
Q. How did the business start?
A. My father started the company with his business partner Margaret Donnelly. They had been at the Thomas Cook store on Gordon Street, Glasgow, which was the flagship store in Scotland. My father started our business in 1973 by running charters to Toronto from Prestwick, and we evolved into being a consolidator and then a tour operator. We’ve now got two divisions – we’re a travel agency and a tour operator.
My father started our business in 1973 by running charters to Toronto from Prestwick, and we evolved into being a consolidator and then a tour operator
Q. How many staff do you have?
A. We have 19 people working here in Blantyre – there are six in retail, three directors [Alan, his elder brother David and his younger brother Douglas], an accounts person, a director of operations, two marketing people, and six in reservations and ticketing.
Q. Who are your customers?
A. It varies from local people to clients all over the country, because we do have an internet presence. We get business from London through the internet, but walk-ins are as popular as ever. The footfall has increased ever since we got this store [in 2017] because it’s much more visible.
We’ve got people here with loads of experience — if you added it up, it’s probably 500 years or something like that
Q. How has the business managed to achieve 50 years of trading?
A. Customer service is important – you’ve got to look after your customers and have attention to detail. People like dealing with people. If you look at our tour operation’s reservations department, we’ve got a nice team and agents like dealing with them. One of the things we’ve got going for us is experience. We’ve got people here with loads of experience — if you added it up, it’s probably 500 years or something like that. It counts for a lot because people want to know things are going to be taken care of properly.
We’ve got to be proud because it’s a tough industry and there are not a lot of independents left. You’ve really got to know your stuff to be here now
Q. What are the main destinations you sell?
A. It’s really what’s best for the client. Multi-centre Vietnam and multi-centre Thailand are very popular. Bali is popular, too. And we’ve got connections here with the Middle Eastern airlines, so you can have stopovers or holidays in the Middle East – Dubai and Doha are popular. The US is also still big for us. There’s a little bit of Europe with the cruises.
Q. How does it feel to be celebrating the business’s 50th anniversary?
A. It feels really good. Obviously, having a family business that’s lasted the test of time is something to be proud of. I know my dad would be happy about it [David Glen senior died in 2007] because he brought the three brothers into the business and we’ve made it through some pretty hard times, with the Covid pandemic being the toughest of them. We’ve got to be proud because it’s a tough industry and there are not a lot of independents left. You’ve really got to know your stuff to be here now – there are a lot of good businesses that haven’t made it.
Artificial intelligence is going to be a challenge, but it is also going to be an opportunity, so we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do about it
Q. How will the future pan out for Glen Travel?
A. I think there are always opportunities to grow the business, whether that’s in retail or wholesale. Artificial intelligence is going to be a challenge, but it is also going to be an opportunity, so we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do about it. They were predicting the demise of travel agents for years, but travel agents can harness AI to their advantage. For me, it’s still all about looking after the customer and how we can use AI to enhance the customer experience.
What are your most memorable moments or achievements over the decades?
I got to go to the Kentucky Derby in 1999 and meet Muhammad Ali the night before at the Governor’s Ball. I was with Graham Sadler, who was working for Arena Travel at the time, and we went up to Ali, said hello and introduced ourselves. Graham did most of the talking and he was a wee bit cheeky because he went up and said, ‘You’re looking good for 67, Mr Ali.’ And Ali gave him this look and said, ‘Fifty seven, son. I’m 57.’ That was probably the best trip – I got to meet an idol and someone who was probably the most famous person in the world at that time. What other profession would allow you to do that? It’s amazing.
I met my wife through travel – she worked for Florida’s division of tourism – and we got married in New York in the Twin Towers in February 2001. I feel like I have lived a life in travel. I’ve been lucky. Sadly, my father passed away in 2007, aged 72. But he had travelled all of his life and saw a lot of the world and I think that was a great thing.