Damian Herinckx spent 18 years in banking prior to deciding travel might be an interesting career path.
After five years at Dial A Flight, he is now at the helm of small agency Travel Kingdom, which in just over a year has won accolades from Global Travel Group and is turning a decent profit – all during one of the most challenging times in the history of the industry.
But while awards are great, Herinckx says they are not as important as a strong business and a healthy profit and loss account.
“Anyone can turn over a fortune, but unless you are making decent returns, it’s just vanity,” he said.
Herinckx was asked for help by the owner of the fledgling business last year and in a matter of minutes he flipped the business plan on its head and laid out what would become a successful strategy.
“The owner had rented an expensive shop, which was the wrong thing to do,” he said. “I cut out that expense immediately and focused on high-end travel with business, first and premium economy seats only.
“Suddenly the overheads were tiny, which took the pressure off, and we were selling high-ticket items that require fewer bookings, offer greater returns and create far fewer problems.”
Initially, the business was spending £800 to £1,000 a week on Google advertising, but that has reduced significantly now that Herinckx has built a reputation and solid customer base.
Herinckx admits he was working 60-hour weeks for a long time and emphasised how hard it is to get a young travel business off the ground.
“But it is a great industry, enormous fun and well worth the hours when things start to come together.”
The big challenges
- Getting the right staff is the hardest thing. I believe in paying over the odds for staff as they are worth it if they are dedicated and hardworking.
- Having good contacts is a must if you are to be successful.
- There is a distrust of companies people haven’t heard of – this can be difficult to overcome.
Top tips for start-ups
- You need to have high stamina levels as it can be very demanding and requires a lot of pushing to gain new customers and good repeat business.
- It is important to have some cash in the back pocket to start the business. There will be an initial outlay, but if you run things well and keep the overheads low you can be turning a decent profit in 12 months.
- Know when to turn customers away. Some customers will take up a lot of time and ask for 50 different dates and have you running around in circles. It is a tough discipline but you need to be prepared to drop certain customers to focus on better ones. Once you have more time and staff you can look to convert the difficult customers.
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