Readers’ lives: How a web entrepreneur broke into travel

Charles Duncombe set up online tights business at the dawn of the internet age, so entering the travel industry was not an obvious next step for the corporate lawyer-turned-dotcom entrepreneur.

But in 2002 his expertise was called upon by a friend running a high street agency who wanted to take full advantage of the explosive growth of the world wide web.

“I was a bit sceptical to be honest as I knew nothing about travel and there were already some dominant online players such as and Expedia,” Duncombe says. “He had a small website which wasn’t doing too much as his speciality was the face-to-face business.

“I decided to see what I could do so utilised the then cutting-edge technology and bid on the word ‘holidays’ – at a fraction of what it costs now.”

By lunchtime, his friend and now business partner Richard Dixon was calling him to stop whatever he was doing because the agency couldn’t handle all the calls that were coming in. was born shortly afterwards when the pair decided to combine their skills.

Today it is a multi-million pound business employing 45 staff and selling high-end holidays with an average selling price of around £4,000.

And it could easily be bigger. But Duncombe believes it is important to ensure the staff selling the holidays are high standard.

“It is tempting to try to grow as fast as possible, and once or twice we may have moved a little quickly,” he says. “But it is far better to move at a speed which ensures every link in the chain is strong.”

Charles now has and in his collection of online businesses and plans another soon. He won’t reveal what it will be – and your guess is as good as ours.

Charles’s tips for online success


Find a niche and stick to it
It can be tempting, especially when times are tough, to try to offer all things for all people – but it doesn’t work.

Niches can be big too
A niche doesn’t necessarily mean small, there are often massive and wide-reaching opportunities within a niche. We, for example, are experts in long-haul.

Don’t expand too quickly
As your business expands, don’t be tempted to rush its growth. It is better to focus on ensuring your quality, in terms of staff, for example, stays high.

Holidaysplease is always on the hunt for top-quality agents. To find out more email

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