Andrew Botterill used to be the vocal boss of the Global Travel Group. He was one of the three men who tried to establish the Triton super-consortium, and was a regular fixture in Travel Weekly and at every major travel industry conference.
Then he disappeared from the industry circuit.
The Global Travel Group was one of the entities, alongside Travel 2, Travelbag and Harvey World Travel, that was snapped up by Australian firm Stella Group between 2005 and 2007, with promises that it would become the third-biggest travel group in the UK, rivalling Tui and Thomas Cook.
It didn’t quite go according to plan. Three years ago, Botterill was made chief executive of Stella Travel Services UK and tasked with leading it as a separate entity from Stella Australia – and turning it from a loss-making business into a profitable one. Since then, he has kept his head down.
Stella Travel Services UK is owned by private equity firm CVC, which also owns major household brand names Saga Holidays and Debenhams.
The UK arm became a legally and structurally separate entity from the rest of the Stella Group.
Botterill saved £18 million, partly by closing the company’s offices in London’s Archway, resulting in 450 redundancies.
In accounts posted at Companies House for 2009-10, it was profitable for the first time.
Botterill is looking for 15% improvement in profitability this year and claims he will achieve that by the end of June.
He claimed CVC still regards travel as a sector that’s “an interesting space” and confirmed there was “cash available for reinvestment and acquisition”.
“The spaces in which my three brands operate – there’s still room in all of those markets for consolidation, and we see this year as being a year in which those kinds of opportunities may arise.”
However, he added: “It’s not going to get any easier; it’s only going to get tougher.”
Global Travel Group
The group still operates a consortium model. Some members do not belong to Abta, while others belong to Independent Options where they enjoy the benefits of Global membership but are also Abta members.
Botterill admitted it had fewer members than a few years back and said turnover had decreased 10% over the last five years. But he said the quality of the membership was much higher.
“We’re a lot more picky. The criteria for joining is a lot stricter, but we are not chasing volume in terms of agent members; what we’re chasing is the ability to give more to the agents that we’ve got – and so we’re going to invest in products and services that will help them increase their turnover.”
With a database of more than one million customers, Botterill has been pushing to broaden the brand’s appeal still further – to students at one end of the scale and empty-nesters at the other.
Investment has primarily been made in technology. Botterill claimed that “as a dot.com, it has come on leaps and bounds”.
“A lot of the customers are flight-led, but what we’ve been working on is broadening the Travelbag experience by adding on land and tours.”
Botterill revealed Travelbag would be adding five shops to its network over the next 18 months, despite the fact that people booking through the shops account for only 12% of its business.
He said: “The shops are multi-channelled, and it’s about having a showcase for the brand. We don’t mind how they then book as long as it’s with Travelbag.”
Stella owns a short to mid-haul online specialist called Sunmaster, which Global bought from one of its members.
Run by managing director Paul Edwards from offices in Halifax, it sells dynamically packaged holidays, predominantly low-cost and charter flights with accommodation from Global Rooms, all under its Atol.
Botterill said the company would double in size over the next three years.