A community bus company has set up a travel agency to help fund its charity parent. Ben Ireland speaks to Chris Wouldhave to find out about CT4N Travel.
Q. You launched in November as part of a wider charity. How does it all work?
A. Nottingham Community Transport (CT4N) is a registered charity and bus operator with 80 vehicles. It also runs a fleet of 12 adapted minibuses which take people from care homes to hospital appointments, among other things. The charity has been going since 1979 and its main goal is to prevent loneliness and isolation. Funding is starting to get more difficult so we’ve looked at ways to subsidise our income, like tendering our buses for things like school journeys. Recently, we’ve been providing transport for Covid vaccination appointments. The latest idea was a travel agency, as that’s my background.
“[My travel background] led me to think we could set up an agency to help support the charity, so I put a business plan together, presented it to the board and they approved it.”
Q. Where have you worked as a travel agent?
A. I spent 25 years in the travel industry. I worked at British Airways, then American Express Centurion Card in corporate travel, and at [tour operator] Amathus Holidays, before running my own agency. I was a homeworker for both Travel Counsellors and Hays Travel for 10 years until 2013. I then took a break from travel, but because some customers, friends and family were still asking my advice, I joined Brilliant Travel to do occasional bookings. It was this background that led me to think we could set up an agency to help support the charity, so I put a business plan together, presented it to the board and they approved it. I’ve tried to take the best bits of all the travel companies I’ve worked for.
Q. How will it work and is there demand in the area?
A. We’ve got an office above a Co-op food store in the Sherwood area of Nottingham. There’s no other travel agency in the area. Once Covid restrictions are relaxed, we’ll work on an appointment system. In the longer-term, we’ll look at the potential of a retail shop to increase footfall. We’ve been getting the word out by putting adverts up on the InYourArea social media site, which we use not just for travel but the wider services that help fund the charity. I’ll have a dual role, managing the travel agency and being HR manager. We’re also going to be taking on homeworkers. So far we’ve hired one, Liam Cortintias, who is working from the northwest. If the right homeworkers come along, we are always happy to discuss opportunities. We want people with experience.
“We’ve been getting the word out by putting adverts up on the InYourArea social media site, which we use not just for travel but the wider services that help fund the charity.”
Q. Will the agency have any specialist focus?
A. I’m a Greece specialist and have been to more than 50 of the islands, so we’ll have a page as a Greece expert focusing on niche trips, particularly to the smaller islands.
Q. Is CT4N affiliated to any industry body?
A. We recently joined Elite Travel Group’s managed agent scheme Elite Travel Experts, giving us access to our own bookable website, state-of-the-art dynamic packaging system and excellent back-office CRM, as well as access to top commercials. Other things we’ve set up ourselves. We’ve designed our own leaflets, travel wallets, branded pens and ‘thank you for booking with us’ cards.
Q. Do you have any plans to recruit?
A. We want to forge links with a local college which offers a travel and tourism course, and we’ll take on apprentices if we grow as we plan. I’ve joined the college’s board of directors and will help put together briefs for their projects. Apprenticeships are changing to be more about practical work, so if we take apprentices on permanently they’ll be better prepared to hit the ground running.
“We expect to do a lot of bookings for customers with additional needs. We’re in discussions with Enable Holidays and believe our customer base is well suited to its range.”
Q. Who do you think will book with the agency?
A. Because our charity helps a lot of elderly and disabled people, we expect to do a lot of bookings for customers with additional needs. We’re in discussions with Enable Holidays and believe our customer base is well suited to its range, while its products can help us serve our customers better. We’re very aware that there’s not much out there for disabled people looking to go on holiday overseas. If they want to book a hotel in the UK, we can do that for them and transfer them using one of our minibuses, all of which have mobility equipment.
Tell us how you will be using the transport group link
The charity is part of the Community Transport Association, which is nationwide. We’ll be going out to all of its members over the next month or so and hope they will promote CT4N Travel to the people who use their services and, if they do, they will earn commission from us. Because we have the transport background, we want to utilise that aspect of the business. One of the things we’re looking into is how we might be able to offer airport transfers with our minibuses.
“We are looking at converting one of our buses into a mobile travel agency, going to other areas of Nottingham which don’t have a travel agency so people can come to the bus.”
For a lot of older people, getting to the airport isn’t always the easiest of things. Because our target customers already know the service, they have confidence in using the provided transport. And we can also offer transfers to people who don’t have additional needs. We are also looking at converting one of our buses into a mobile travel agency, going to other areas of Nottingham which don’t have a travel agency so people can come to the bus. We’re already advertising on the back of our own buses too. It’s a no-brainer.