Rob Burley put his marketing expertise to good use after his own niche in Formula One grand prix races was hit by the pandemic. Juliet Dennis reports.
Q. Before the pandemic, what type of business were you running?
A. I started my business with the Travel Trust Association 10 years ago. At first I was trying to sell everything. I was struggling and living hand to mouth. I love Formula One and used to go to grands prix as a spectator. I realised I could make more money by focusing on this niche than trying to sell other holidays.
It was a learning curve but I took on a member of staff two years ago and we shared some office space and also worked remotely from home, exclusively selling Formula One Grand Prix packages. Then last year we started to sell NFL American Football travel packages. We were doing fine until March.
“It was a learning curve but I took on a member of staff two years ago and we shared some office space and also worked remotely from home, exclusively selling Formula One Grand Prix packages.”
Q. What happened to your business when the pandemic hit?
A. International sporting events were cancelled. I rolled half a dozen bookings into next year and had to refund everyone else. I have used a government loan to bankroll the airlines and suppliers that still owe us money. I had to let my member of staff go. She had been on furlough and I was reluctant to let her go after the money I had invested in training her.
The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the biggest events in the motorsport calendar and is still due to go ahead next May, although I am starting to get doubtful. Fortunately, my wife has been working and we scraped through lockdown OK.
Q. How did your idea for a new business, Niche Travel Brands, come about?
A. I had an idea about five years ago to teach agents how to identify a niche in travel and bring it to reality. I decided to revisit that idea to train agents. I had gone through this amazing experience of learning how to use Google AdWords. I’m finding a lot of agents think ‘niching’ down is the right way to go but they don’t know how to move forward.
“I had an idea about five years ago to teach agents how to identify a niche in travel and bring it to reality. I decided to revisit that idea to train agents.”
Q. As well as a training course, you are planning your own podcasts…
A. I’ve been recording podcast episodes, to launch in November. It’s called Travel Marketing Made Simple and I plan to run them weekly on my website, nichetravelbrands.com, and to email them to all those who registered for my webinar. I thought I’d speak to founders and directors of travel companies like Carol Savage at Not in the Guidebooks. She talks to me about her experience setting up and marketing a business. Hopefully, these podcasts will provide a bit of inspiration and advice for agents.
Q. Do you have any further plans for your new business?
A. The third part of my plan, which is probably for next summer, is to create some kind of co-operative of niche agents. They could help develop leads under one umbrella and refer work to each other and get something back. It could be a network for adventure and niche specialist agents. This idea is still in development.
“The third part of my plan, which is probably for next summer, is to create some kind of co-operative of niche agents. They could help develop leads under one umbrella.”
Q. What does the future hold?
A. With Niche Travel Brands, I’m feeding my love of travel and marketing into one. But I’m planning to keep my travel agency going. I’ve got a database and repeat clients, so when sport does start up again, I don’t have to start from scratch. It may be I have to retake on someone. At the moment, I am not expecting to live off my new business, but I am not out of pocket.
I feel lucky I’m someone who has ideas and during lockdown I had time to think and it made me realise these ideas could fit under one company. It’s so easy to get downhearted in the current situation. It may be a while before sports travel fully recovers; in the meantime, I feel my time can be best spent laying the foundations for this new venture. Right now, my skills and knowledge can help agents prepare for the future and help them hit the ground running when travel starts to return to normal.
I’ve got a way with Google AdWords
I met a Goodle AdWords expert through my local business networking group. He got some Google AdWords on Formula One, and that was how my first motorsport booking came about. It was for first-class flights with Emirates for four nights in Dubai with tickets for the Paddock Club [hospitality area] at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and cost around £50,000. At the time, I felt sure someone was playing a trick on me. A few weeks later, the client booked it.
“I broke it all down and created my own course of five modules with video tutorials. Six weeks ago, I marketed it on Facebook and I now have about half a dozen agents doing my Travel Expert Accelerator course.”
I started to get more confident about using Google AdWords and did some courses. I broke it all down and created my own course of five modules with video tutorials. Six weeks ago, I marketed it on Facebook and I now have about half a dozen agents doing my Travel Expert Accelerator course. I also have a forum for agents to ask questions and I’m doing one-to-one Zoom calls. I also put details of a webinar I’ve done on marketing your business on Facebook, explaining why choosing a niche is so powerful and how to use Google. So far, more than 600 people have registered