Domestic group travel specialist JG Travel Group has named Andy Freeth as its new chief executive.

Freeth, who was previously chief executive of luxury operator If Only and, before that, managing director of dnata-owned Gold Medal and Travel 2.

He will join JG Travel Group in January to lead the next phase of the company’s development and said distribution through the trade would be fundamental to its growth strategy.

Current chief executive and chairman, Luis Arteaga, will remain as chairman. He said: “We want to be the leaders in domestic group travel offering coach holidays, breaks and event travel. After Covid, we have the opportunity to increase our size three or four-fold.”

In 2019, JG Travel Group carried 100,000 customers across its Just Go brand, Omega Holidays which it acquired in 2017, and Albion Journeys, a small business which specialises in bringing wealthy Americans to the UK for heritage tours.

It acquired the name, IP address and database of National Holidays earlier this year following the collapse of parent Specialist Leisure Group, which also owned Shearings Holidays, in May.

National Holidays, which is has a strong customer base in the north, was carrying 500,000 passengers before it failed.

Arteaga said: “Are we going to do 500,000 passengers with National immediately? Probably not, but it gives you an idea of the huge opportunity.

“Super Break and Shearings going bust has created a big, big hole that we want to fill. They invested in the wrong things [coaches and hotels]. We are committed to investing in the things that customers really value and in new distribution channels.”

He said JG Travel Group had “not been good it is being able to maximise the agent channel” until the appointment of Claire Dutton as trade sales manager. “Since we bought Claire Dutton on board for National, I have been impressed by the number of agile agents and their effective use of digital, which is something I did not expect,” said Arteaga.

Commenting on Freeth, Arteaga said: “I have believed for some time that the business needs a new voice and with the acquisition of National, I wanted to bring in someone with experience to lead the business in different ways than I have done to date.”

He added: “Although 2020 has been a really challenging year for our sector, we are confident that the UK domestic market will recover swiftly. We acquired National Holidays in the summer and along with our other brands Just Go! Holidays, Omega Breaks and Albion Journeys we are the clear market leader and positioned amazingly-well for when our sector bounces back. We remain dedicated to inspiring everyone to get out more in life by creating memorable experiences.”

Freeth said: “I’m looking forward to joining the board of the JG Travel Group and I am really excited to be involved in the domestic travel sector. We create hundreds of different UK tours and experiences, from coastal breaks to heritage, culture, and theatre tours.

“I cannot wait to support the team in developing the existing brands, expanding the product range and making the most of the fantastic opportunity we have with National Holidays. Travel agent partnerships will be really important to our success in 2021 and we will be committed to supporting the trade with the tools they need to work with us.

“It’s a new sector for me but the fundamentals are the same – listen to your customers, create products that excite them and create distribution channels to get it out to the market.”

Currently, travel agents account for 15% of National’s sales, which Freeth is confident he can “nudge higher”.

“It’s very exciting to have a large brand to tag onto the existing business and it’s going to be my job to galvanise the team and create unique products,” he said. “We need to do some work with our digital proposition, but I have always said that travel agents will be really important in a post-Covid era, and there are some small things that we can do very quickly, like making the trade aware of the brands that we own and the breadth of our product range and presenting them with a clear proposition to sell.”

JG Travel Group has been 50% owned by private equity firm, Kings Park Capital, since 2016.