Being made redundant spurred Hattie Seal to realise her dream of establishing a travel business with her friend Annabel Upson. Juliet Dennis reports.
Q. Why did you set up an agency this summer?
A. About six years ago, I started my career at Tucan Travel, where I worked my way up to tailor-made manager. I was headhunted by a small operator called The Dragon Trip, which specialises in China, and started with them in January. Then the pandemic struck and the manager had to let go of half the staff. I was only there a month and I was left wondering what to do.
A friend and I had talked about setting up our own travel business for three years. Annabel has worked in the charity and travel sectors. Her job was setting up businesses and devising business plans, so our expertise complements each other quite well. After I was made redundant, I rang her and said ‘maybe this is our time’. She got back to me within three hours and said ‘let’s do it’. We built the business from there.
“Annabel has worked in the charity and travel sectors. Her job was setting up businesses and devising business plans, so our expertise complements each other quite well.”
Q. Why was it important to create a business that focuses on sustainable travel?
A. Because we are passionate about it. Our aim is to rethink how people travel; that’s our main goal. We are trying to get people to make small changes that will eventually have a bigger impact. We work with smaller suppliers in destinations and with companies that share similar values, like Intrepid. We are trying to encourage people to be better travellers. When we send them their documents, we give tips such as avoiding single-use plastic, visiting destinations using one flight and using more local, independent hotels and restaurants.
Q. What was it like launching during a pandemic?
A. Initially, it was very strange. We came up with the name and set ourselves up on Companies House. After that, the country went into lockdown. We then didn’t see each other for three months, so it was Zoom chats every morning to discuss our plans and targets. It was not ideal! Annabel is in Essex and I’m in London and now we take it in turns to visit each other and bounce ideas off each other.
We launched on August 22 and decided to do everything ourselves. We built the website. We are self-funded, own 50% of the business each, and work from home so there are relatively few outgoings. We are lucky to both have partners in full-time employment who can support us. We joined PTS [Protected Trust Services]; it just seemed to fit what we needed. We are applying through PTS for an Atol; we cannot offer flights as yet.
“We launched on August 22 and decided to do everything ourselves. We built the website. We are self-funded, own 50% of the business each, and work from home so there are relatively few outgoings.”
Q. What type of holidays do you sell?
A. We build tailor-made itineraries. We specialise in smaller suppliers that we have relationships with and work with Intrepid for small-group tours. We have around 15-20 suppliers, mainly ones you have never heard of! My background is in tailor-made adventure holidays and that’s our focus.
We have a lot of hiking and trekking trips, in destinations such as Uganda, Sri Lanka and Norway. Our target market is people aged 25 to 55 interested in adventure-style holidays. We did a big push at our launch with a competition to stay in a sustainable treehouse. From that we got over 400 email addresses. We’ve also had people reach out to us who have a similar philosophy, like a small company in Peru which specialises in micro-cruising.
Q. What has the first month of trading been like?
A. It has given us time. We have taken some bookings: a few people for Scotland, Italy and Norfolk. We have a handful of enquiries for next year, but bookings are few and far between. In lockdown we have been growing our Instagram profile. As with all start-ups, you never make much money at first and we factored that into our business plan for the first three months.
“We have a lot of hiking and trekking trips, in destinations such as Uganda, Sri Lanka and Norway. Our target market is people aged 25 to 55 interested in adventure-style holidays.”
Q. Your first holiday since setting up the business was on one of Intrepid’s new UK tours. What was it like?
A.Intrepid has launched UK retreats and because we wanted to focus on the UK and offer trips like this, the first thing we wanted to do was get these on our website. We also thought we should have a break and go on one of the trips. We went on Intrepid’s first UK walking trip and had three nights in Newquay. It was great!
Where does the name ‘Travelling Whale’ come from?
We wanted to create a name that stood out from the crowd and had meaning behind it. When we were doing research in sustainability, we came across an article researching how whales naturally capture carbon in their bodies and take it with them when they die to the bottom of the ocean.
“We thought ‘what if we put a percentage of our profits every year to charity by helping the conservation of whales because they are helping combat climate change?’”
The name stuck with us. As a company, we wanted to give back. We thought ‘what if we put a percentage of our profits every year to charity by helping the conservation of whales because they are helping combat climate change?’ We have partnered with a small charity called the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in Scotland.
We want to give 1% a year of our profits to our charity, a minimum of £1,000 annually, but we are hoping it will be more than that.