Barrhead ‘one of Internova’s darling businesses’, says US group’s chief

Barrhead Travel has cemented itself as “one of the darling businesses” in Internova’s global portfolio of brands, according to the chief executive of the US-based group.

In an interview with Travel Weekly on a flying visit to the UK, J.D. O’Hara said the growth of the Scottish-based agency since its acquisition by Internova in 2018 has been “incredible”.

“Barrhead has been through some tough times, namely the demise of Thomas Cook and of course the pandemic, but it has rebounded really well and has become one of our darling businesses – not just in the UK but across the entire group,” said O’Hara.

“Jacqueline Dobson [Barrhead president] has done a fantastic job along with the rest of the team in Glasgow. We’ve fixed areas of the business that needed fixing and it’s now a much more efficient business and a market leader in Scotland.”

More: Barrhead Travel credits cruise bookings for ‘exceptional’ year

Barrhead announced at its annual conference in October it is launching a specialist US division in 2024, which will see it build on growing momentum for the destination.

O’Hara described the plans as “super exciting”, adding: “When you acquire a business you want to see its logo and name everywhere and anywhere you can – it means growth is happening.”

When asked whether there are plans to grow Barrhead’s retail network in 2024, O’Hara revealed there are “discussions about growing meaningfully”, hinting there are store openings on the horizon, but would not share exact details.

“Any expansion would be thoughtful and purposeful and we would give it a lot of consideration, as we always do – we’re not just going to grow for the sake of growth and open stores for the sake of opening stores,” he said.

O’Hara said 2023 has been Internova’s best-ever year and he is targeting an even better year in 2024, eyeing 8-10% revenue growth, which is “north of what we’ve ever done in the past at the budgeting stage”.

This year’s success has been largely down to the “remarkable” rebound of leisure travel, particularly in the cruise and touring sectors, but corporate is “still lagging a little bit”.

Looking to the future, O’Hara believes NDC is one of the major hurdles facing the industry – but he said he treats such challenges as opportunities.

“Some airlines are moving faster than others [with NDC] which presents a challenge from a technology perspective,” he said. “But we see it as an opportunity as we’ll be able to align forms of booking across the entire channel, which will be beneficial to us and our partners.”

Similarly, O’Hara think artificial intelligence will present “tremendous opportunities” as it will “enable us to do some of the more mundane tasks so that our people – our greatest assets – can focus on doing what they do best”.

O’Hara is feeling positive and optimistic about the coming 12 months, thanks to strong forward bookings – but given the uncertain economic landscape, he is maintaining a degree of caution.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about 2024,” he said. “If forward bookings are an indication, it looks very promising. I’m hopeful it will yet again be our best year in history, but the last couple of years have showed us you never know what might happen.”

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