Surrey couple Hugh and Ben Eddon-Carruthers spotted a gap in the market. They spoke to Samantha Mayling about setting up Huben Travel during the pandemic
Q: When and why did you set up Huben Travel?
Ben: We started work on it in January and launched in July. I was a West End stage manager for 11 years and Hugh is an accountant. We had a terrible work‑life balance and had a passion for travel. For our honeymoon, we’d booked to fly to New York and sail back, but the cruise was cancelled. We called operators for advice and saw there was a gap in the market for speaking to people on the ground. We needed to become the people we had been looking for.
Q: Why did you choose Protected Trust Services to provide back-office and other support?
Hugh: PTS have been fantastic, for their support and training. They have come into their own and are magnificent. They are on the end of the phone for any questions we need answering. We looked at every single route into the market and with PTS, it seemed to be “it’s your business, PTS will support you”. It felt like the right model.
We also joined the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association and Gay European Tourism Association. Everyone in the industry has been friendly, collaborative and supportive. Carrier and Lusso are our main operators – the support they give us is incredible.
“Our weakest link is marketing as neither of us has experience, so we brought people on board.
Q: How are you marketing the agency?
Hugh: We use social media agency Ginger Juice, which gets us in front of a very targeted audience with our offers. Laura May is our marketing and content manager. She was Kuoni’s senior copywriter for 12 years. KBC is our PR agency. We were in The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and National Geographic. Our weakest link is marketing as neither of us has experience, so we brought people on board. I have friends in marketing who say you have to market when other people are not, as people will remember your brand.
Q: What will you do on the tours you plan to host?
Ben: We’ll meet clients off the plane and take them in a minibus with champagne to the hotel, then to a bar. The local tour guide can take them to attractions and we can join them, such as a trip to Napa Valley on our San Francisco tour. We’re also looking at hosting cruises and ski trips, gathering like-minded travellers together.
“We’ll meet clients off the plane and take them in a minibus with champagne to the hotel, then to a bar. The local tour guide can take them to attractions and we can join them.”
Q: What about destinations that are not LGBTQ‑friendly?
Ben: We support destinations that support us. The Maldives is popular, but it is illegal to be gay, so we’re pushing Mauritius and the Seychelles. The family market is very important to us and there may be hotels and resorts where gay parents might mix with people from different cultures and countries. We are doing our research as we don’t want to send people on a difficult holiday.
Q: How can you stand out from competitors?
Hugh: We have first-name relations with guests and our customer relationship management system is set up so we know who people are when they call, and the names of their husband or dog, for example. We have an optional personality form to find out what clients like, and we can offer two sets of holiday recommendations.
“We have first-name relations with guests and our customer relationship management system is set up so we know who people are when they call, and the names of their husband or dog, for example.”
Ben: We plan every detail such as making dinner reservations in advance. There is a bolt-hole hotel in Tenerife that we go to, where restaurants are booked up so we know to email ahead.
Q: Have you travelled this year?
Hugh: We work all day in the house so we need to get out at weekends. We went to Artist Residence in Penzance for a long weekend. Working in the corner of a hotel means you can talk to the staff and get the vibe. We have a flight to California in October – fingers crossed – to plan our San Francisco/Napa hosted tour.
What was it like setting up during lockdown?
Ben: We used lockdown to our advantage – we had time to set it up properly from home. We have contacts at every hotel, down to the reception. People have had time to speak to us. We had no bookings or cancellations to sort; it’s all fresh.
People such as Eamonn Holmes are talking about using travel agents – people have tried to save money by booking themselves but we can do the work for them. Our first booking was a trip to Scotland, for a couple, on the sleeper train to Edinburgh then Gleneagles. We are massively pushing domestic.
“People such as Eamonn Holmes are talking about using travel agents – people have tried to save money by booking themselves but we can do the work for them.”
Hugh: We know we have got a good idea. We have had three or four months to invest and do the legwork. I am a contract accountant and I’m still working to pay the mortgage, and we have savings.
We are learning the rules, regulations and legislation – and Covid is an extra layer of complexity. I have an accountancy and compliance background so I am used to checking stuff – having strict processes is key. We are both used to working long hours, but we’re still waking up excited about this new venture