In this latest TIPTO report, Lisa James finds out how an operator-agent partnership is bringing flycoach destination Jersey back to life
In the 1990s, coaching holidays to Jersey were big business in the northeast, with local travel agency chain Callers Pegasus putting on group departures with flights from Teesside airport.
But when British Midland (now BMI) pulled its route from Teesside and the agency chain was sold, the Jersey tours dried up.
Almost a decade later, they have been reinstated, through a partnership between local independent agency Kyle Travel and operator Premier Holidays.
The first group of 20 clients have just returned from a week on the island, and a second group of 24 will take a similar tour in September.
The bookings have amounted to £21,000 of extra business for Premier, which has a big coaching programme, and there are plans to increase the number of coaching holidays over the coming years.
Gap in the market
It all started over dinner at last year’s Triton Conference, when Kyle Travel managing partner Eddie Kyle and Premier Holidays managing director Sue Papworth started chatting about how the two could do more business together.
Kyle Travel’s Barnard Castle branch, in County Durham, is no stranger to coaching holidays. The area has a high percentage of older clients and Kyle Travel already puts on about eight full-use coaches with Shearings Holidays each year, offering short breaks to UK favourites, such as five days to Eastbourne or Loch Lomond.
But while coach clients are happy to travel within the UK mainland, getting them to go further afield has been a problem. Many have not wanted to travel the hour’s journey to the nearest airport, and some of them have expressed unease about flying.
Nevertheless, Kyle felt there had been a gap in the market for a decade, since Callers Pegasus stopped operating flycoach holidays after it was taken over by Thomson.
Kyle said: “Callers Pegasus had 27 shops and did a lot of coach business to Jersey with flights from Teesside. Once the company was taken over by Thomson, the coach business was stopped in favour of selling other holidays.
“I felt that this left a gap in the market and it was a case of testing whether demand was still there.”
The BMI service to Jersey no longer operates from Teesside, although Flybe operates flights from Newcastle, an hour’s drive for most Kyle Travel clients.
Testing the water
The two companies decided to offer two one-week, half-board holidays to Jersey, staying at the Metropole Hotel.
Premier booked seat allocations with Flybe, and provided coach transfers in Jersey, while Kyle Travel decided to offer clients a free coach transfer to Newcastle airport.
Carol Hunter, manager of Kyle Travel’s Barnard Castle branch, worked with Premier Holidays sales manager for the north, Victoria Culling, on creating a programme, posters and flyers.
Said Victoria: “We helped finance the adverts they took out in the local newspaper, as well as designed and printed flyers and produced posters for Kyle Travel to put in its window, specifically giving details of this departure.”
Carol added: “We did a marketing mailshot to our database and the conversion rate was very good. From the 30 letters we sent out, we got 20 bookings for the May departure.”
The next departure, September 6, is already full and they are thinking of filling the week either side of it.
Kyle said: “The take-up was encouraging. These clients have been taking coach holidays for years, and it was up to us to encourage them to go a bit further afield.
“They like to be picked up and taken. They don’t seem to be very adventurous, so the key was to make it easy for them to get to the airport by providing a free pick-up service.”
Room for growth
“We are going to concentrate on building the Jersey market next year, and expand it to the whole of the northeast. But we are also looking at offering programmes elsewhere, such as Guernsey or Brussels.”
“I have already agreed a deal with the local paper the Northern Echo’s Reader Holidays to be the sole provider of coaching holidays to Jersey, and we are confident it
“The current climate is difficult so we have to keep looking at new areas and trying to be innovative. The older market is not so worried about the credit crunch so, if we get it right, it will be a good little earner for the agency.”
One satisfied customer, 78-year-old Margaret Thomas, has just returned from the first trip to Jersey.
She said: “I’ve been on six coaching holidays in the past three years. I chose this one because Kyle Travel offered a pick-up in Barnard Castle to take us to the airport. That sort of service makes a lot of difference to people living around here.
“Carol (Hunter) came with us on the coach and made sure we were all checked in at the airport and that was a real bonus. I’ve just booked another coach holiday, this time to Ireland in September, again through Kyle Travel.”
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