Andrew Stanley, CEO; Steve Hemsworth, MD; Guy Proddow, Founding Director; and Daniel Grave, CEO Golfbreaks.com USA, in conversation with GBN.com, review an eventful year and explain what they see as major opportunities ahead
Another successful year for Golfbreaks.com then?
Andrew Stanley (AS): Absolutely. It’s been a very eventful year with some significant changes to the business taking place, but the bottom line is that we’ve enjoyed a 17th consecutive year of growth – not too many companies can say that! In 2015 we booked golf holidays for more than 220,000 golfers and are once again seeing the rewards of doing the very best we can for our customers. I always go back to service, value and choice… if we are doing it well we know that customers like it. Customer loyalty is a huge part of what we do.
What were these changes?
Steve Hemsworth (SH): I suppose the biggest single one would be the decision to sell our market-leading TeeoffTimes.co.uk brand to GolfNow. It was not an easy one to make given the success we’ve enjoyed with it over the last eight years, but looking at the wider picture it became clear that it could be hugely beneficial to the Golfbreaks.com brand as we seek to grow our burgeoning USA business. Part of the deal with GolfNow was the formation of a long-term strategic partnership which gives us direct access to millions of American golfers through GolfNow and their parent company, Golf Channel. As a result of this deal GolfNow are able to accelerate their entry into the UK market and Golfbreaks.com can do likewise in the USA. It’s a win-win really.
So you are streamlining the business in a sense?
Guy Proddow (GP): Yes, it’s all about Golfbreaks.com now, but operating in three distinct markets: the UK & Ireland, the USA & Canada, and now also Scandinavia. Our Copenhagen office is now up and running, helping golfers in Sweden and Denmark (initially) to book holidays in the UK, Europe and beyond. We have a dedicated team over there and bespoke websites so golfers can browse, book and pay in their own language and currency. With so many avid golfers and a real appetite for golf travel the Scandinavian market represents a great opportunity for us.
You’ve been operating in the USA for nearly three years now. How is that progressing?
Daniel Grave (DG): We said all along that it was very much a two-pronged approach, and it’s fair to say that both areas are doing very well. In the first instance it was about developing a comprehensive portfolio of US destinations for our UK audience. We’ve enjoyed three years of aggressive growth on that front, with top-sellers being trips to the Masters, the Carolinas, Florida, Arizona and California… as well as some emerging destinations like Oregon, Alabama and Minnesota.
We’ve also now properly launched Golfbreaks.com in America, helping US golfers to arrange their trips to play Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. Yes, we’re booking bucket list trips to St Andrews and the South-West of Ireland, but it’s also about making the many wonderful links of the British Isles available to golfers at a range of budgets. With marketing activity now underway we’re actively targeting the 30million people who play the game in North America, and our Charleston office is now really gearing up for some rapid growth.
Closer to home you’ve aligned yourself with some very significant partners?
AS: We have indeed… The most significant this year is the European Tour, with whom we have launched the European Tour Travel Club that enables golfers to book some truly unique experiences such as Pro-Am spots or playing Tour courses on the Monday after the tournament finishes, complete with Sunday pins and spectator stands. We’ve also sponsored Sky Sports’ European and PGA Tour coverage for the first time, which is yet another milestone for us, as well as renewing our partnership with The PGA. When you add in our partnerships with the likes of Callaway, Volvo, Monarch and now Galvin Green – not to mention tourism partners such as Brand USA, Visit Wales, Tourism Ireland and the Algarve Tourist Board – it speaks volumes about what we stand for and how committed we are to aligning ourselves with like-minded companies.
What have been the growth areas for you this past year?
GP: It seems like the old favourites of Portugal and Spain have enjoyed something of a renaissance in the last 12-18 months. The value of the pound against the Euro has certainly helped and you can’t ignore the political situation that has put a dent in the demand for areas like Turkey and Morocco. But it’s that classic combination of great golf, excellent hotels, good weather and superb- value deals that continues to drive it.
Further afield, we’ve seen the likes of Mauritius and the Caribbean growing well, while golf holidays to the USA are becoming ever more popular. With so many great options – as well as Ryder Cup and Masters packages – there’s been a real surge in interest. Closer to home, we’re seeing a huge amount of bookings for UK Tours, taking in places like Bournemouth, Cardiff, Southport and East Lothian. Having experienced a few of those myself I can safely say that a UK city tour really does tick all the boxes.
The company itself has also grown?
SH: Yes it has. We outgrew our previous premises and moved to a new office in Windsor – complete with a fantastic golf simulator room! We’re up to 150 staff now and growing all the time so it was vital that our office provided an enjoyable and spacious working environment. The staff love the new office and it’s certainly helped to maintain the energetic company culture. This last year we also received some very welcome external recognition, winning awards from Investors in People, Rate My Placement and the British Travel Awards, as well as being named by the London Stock Exchange as one of the 1,000 Business to Inspire Britain. These all tell us that we’re on the right track!
What’s the plan this year and beyond?
AS: Basically, the plan is to continue with the strong growth that we’ve enjoyed up to this point – but without resting on our laurels. There are around three-and-a-half million golfers in the UK, so we’ve still got a long way to go until we’re getting every one of them booking with us every year. Not to mention the many millions in Scandinavia and America. We’re still as ambitious ever and are determined to establish ourselves as the world’s No.1 golf travel company… and that means increasing turnover to £100m. Our USA and Scandinavian operations will be huge, but we also want to become the largest inbound golf tour operator for golfers in China, Korea, Japan and India by leveraging our existing platforms and services.
AS: We just want to carry on making the entire journey easier for golfers… from that first visit to the website to the time they’re in the 19th having a post-round beer. We’ve recognised the changes in customer habits in terms of technology, creating a new website that is optimised for mobiles and tablets and is capable of online bookings, as well as a new members area that makes paying for breaks much easier, especially for larger groups. We are also looking to provide golfers with more and better content, from useful Destination Guides to video reviews, helping them to get a much better feel for the venues and areas they are looking to book. 2016 is going to be a very busy golfing year, with the Olympics and Ryder Cup on top of four eagerly anticipated Majors – all we need now is a British or Irish winner or two!
Gentlemen, thank you very much