Former Tui UK & Ireland managing director Nick Longman is to join upmarket tour operator Audley Travel next week.

He will join as chief operating officer initially, before taking over as chief executive on January 1 2019, when current boss Ian Simkins, who has been at the helm for seven years, takes a step back to become a non-executive director.

The company, which is owned by private equity firm 3i, specialises in tailor made travel and grew 16% to £242 million in revenue last year, and is already up 26% to date in 2018, according to its full year financial results to December 21, 2017.

Longman, who left Tui earlier this year after two decades with the company, said he intended to grow Audley in the UK; in the US where it has been operating for four years by looking at the West Coast and Canada; and launch in other new markets.

He singled out Germany, which is the biggest leisure travel market, and potentially Asia via an office in Hong Kong or Singapore, from where he could also pick up business from Australasia, as key markets of interest.

Longman said 75% of business currently comes from “repeats and recommends” and that there was opportunity to “grow the top line in the UK” by raising Audley’s profile and “looking at the firm’s whole distribution model”.

Speaking exclusively to Travel Weekly, Longman said: “Audley doesn’t have a very high consumer profile, so that’s something I want to look at.” And he added: “One of my strengths is distribution so I want to look at the whole distribution model.”

He said he had discovered that 2-3% of sales currently come via travel agents, contrary to the popular belief that Audley is 100% direct sell.

“The amount we sell through agents at the moment is very small. But there are some very good agents out there that have great customer bases, so I am going to look at this with a very open mind.”

Longman said he had also discovered that many of Audley’s clients worked for the same firms, such as his own former employer Deloitte, so he said there could also be opportunity to sell holidays “on an affiliate basis” as part of the distribution mix.

Commenting on his appointment at Audley, Longman said: “It is a gem of a company I am joining. When I decided to leave Tui, I was conscious I didn’t want to just join another mainstream company. I’ve worked at First Choice and then Tui since 1998 so I was never going to join a Thomas Cook or a Jet2. Same with EasyJet.

“I wanted to work in a different part of the industry. Somewhere that’s a bit more entrepreneurial where the speed of making a decision and something happening is really quick. That really appealed.

“The perception is that Audley is all about high-end. It’s actually all about tailor made and about service. We will book anything for you, whatever it is you want, and add unique elements into your trips,” he said.

Longman added: “From a sector perspective, the over 50s sector is growing and is really robust, compared to the mainstream sector which after the hot summer will have had a tough lates.”

Commenting on owners 3i, which bought into Audley three years ago, Longman confirmed he had “committed to this phase [of ownership] and the next phase”.

Longman declined to comment on a future buyout, but private equity firms usually invest on five-year cycles, so it is reasonable to suggest there may be a sale to new owners in two years’ time.

Asked about the team at Audley, Longman said he was impressed by the current set-up, which had grown the business really well to date, but said “as Audley continues to grow, I know there are people out there, who, if there was an opportunity to join, would find this business really attractive”.

Ian Simkins said: “I am delighted to welcome Nick to Audley Travel and to hand over what I feel is the best role in travel.  I’m really proud of what the team and I have achieved since 2012, growing bookings five-fold, opening up new offices in Boston and London, increasing our quality scores whilst creating more and more unique travel experiences for our clients. It’s great to have Nick on board to build further on this success”

Richard Prosser, Audley chairman, with whom Nick worked while he was with First Choice in Canada, said: ““I am extremely pleased that Nick Longman is joining us as our new future CEO.  His depth and breadth of experience, allied to his strong business acumen and ability to attract customers and build relationships between them and a brand, means that he is the ideal person to build on what we have achieved at Audley Travel and to continue to build on our success.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ian Simkins for his immense contribution to Audley Travel over the last seven years and I look forward to working with him in a different capacity moving forward.”

Longman joined First Choice in 1998 from Deloitte as head of audit. He assumed various roles for the business including group financial controller and managing director of First Choice’s Canadian subsidiary for 15 years. In 2006, he became the integration director for the merger of Thomson and First Choice, and then UK distribution director in 2008, overseeing the move to direct distribution and the growth of online sales. At the beginning of June 2015, Longman became managing director of Tui UK & Ireland.


More: Tui’s Nick Longman to leave business after 20 years [Feb 2018]

Big Interview: Nick Longman, MD of Tui UK and Ireland [Jan 2017]

Audley Travel receives Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For accolade [Feb 18]