GBN talks to Andrew Stanley CEO of Golfbreaks.com which has recently completed its 15th year of trading
How has the last year been for you?
Well we celebrated our 15th birthday and enjoyed a 15th consecutive year of growth in 2013 so it was a very good year for us. More importantly, though, we booked just over half-a-million people across our three brands Golfbreaks.com, Teeofftimes.co.uk and BookaSpa.com. Ensuring that every single one of them receives great service and has a great time at their chosen destination is what we’re all about. The fact that 98% of the independent reviews we receive say they are very happy with what we are doing tells us we’re on the right track. I’m also delighted to say that the growth of 2013 has carried on into 2014. We’ve had a fantastic start to the year and are already more than 20% up so we’re very optimistic about what the year holds.
What have been the growth areas for you this past year?
Teeofftimes.co.uk has been absolutely flying, booking more than 350,000 golfers in the last year, so that’s been really pleasing. For Golfbreaks.com, our Rest-of-the-World destinations are really doing well with both Turkey and Morocco performing brilliantly. Clearly, all-inclusive packages with great courses and a warm climate is a winning combination.
We made a big effort to get our USA offering right and that certainly paid dividends, too. Commercial Director Daniel Grave relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, to open our first overseas office and is now overseeing our American operation. A year in, we’re already seeing the benefit of this and we’re fully committed to really ramping up our USA activity in the coming years.
Closer to home, UK packages are still very much our bread and butter, and we love working with all the resorts to source great value, 1-night & 2-round packages for our customers. The groups market has been really good for us, so we’re doing all we can to support that. Times are still tough out there but we are doing our very best to ensure that we live up to our strapline of ‘saving golfers time and money’.
What’s the state of the golf travel industry right now?
Well, all the signs are certainly encouraging. Research from Sports Marketing Surveys into the number and frequency of golfers taking golf breaks gives us plenty of reason for optimism. We know that 85% of golfers surveyed have taken a golf holiday of between three and six days – either in the UK or abroad – in the last three years. On top of that almost half are taking golf holidays more frequently than they did five years ago. So while we recognise that people’s finances have taken a hit in recent years, the SMS data – plus our own booking figures – tells us that golfers are enjoying golf travel more than ever. Times are hard for everybody but for many it seems that the annual golf trip is firmly cemented in their diaries and we are doing all we can to make it as affordable as possible.
So what’s the plan for the next 15 years?
Basically, the plan is to continue with the strong growth that we’ve enjoyed up to this point – but we’re not resting on our laurels one single bit. 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. We just launched a Spring campaign that in addition to offering the very best deals also provides golfers with all sorts of added extras, including free places, free buggies, free drinks and more. Coupled with the longer days and warmer weather – not to mention the Masters effect – we’re hoping it will entice people to get booking.
Does more growth mean offering more and more destinations?
We’re always on the lookout for new destinations, with much of the growth being demand driven. When countries or regions become popular, golfers demand a greater choice and it’s our job to give it to them. That’s why we’re expanding our offerings in established areas like Turkey, Morocco and the US, as well as looking further afield. One of the team has just got back from China to check out the developments there, and we’ve got the Dominican Republic going live any day now – that’s a fabulous place with some incredible courses. Then there’s Bandon Dunes in Oregon which has become one of golf’s true bucket-list destinations. So, there are plenty of new destinations on the way, but of course we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the UK, Spain, Portugal and France are still where the majority of our customers visit.
You’ve completely revamped the Golfbreaks.com website, talk us through the changes
The website is effectively our shop window, which is why we’ve made a massive investment in creating a totally new site. It’s certainly an enormous improvement over the old one. We spent 18 months working on it – taking on board customer feedback and specially commissioned market research, as well as working with leading digital agency August Media to ensure new advancements in website capabilities and functionality were incorporated. It was a lot of hard work but the net result is a site that makes researching, finding and booking a golf break easier than ever. And that makes it all worthwhile.
Why was it necessary to change a site that worked perfectly well already?
The simple answer is that working perfectly well just isn’t good enough. We know that 50% of web traffic to the Golfbreaks.com site now comes from smartphones and tablets, so there was a clear need for a site that would enable golfers to research and book their golf holidays on the go, and automatically adjust to work perfectly on whatever device they are using. The clubhouse discussion about where to play next is now just as likely to involve an iPad as a traditional brochure so we have to make sure that golfers have both options.
Teeofftimes.co.uk is also mobile enabled and we now have apps for both iPhone and Android, ensuring golfers can book wherever and whenever they want. Digital technology is a part of our everyday lives already so why shouldn’t it extend into golf?
You’ve also confirmed some very strong partnerships in recent times?
Yes, we’ve reaffirmed our commitment to working with PGA Professionals by renewing long-term partnership agreements with both The PGA and the PGAs of Europe. In addition to helping PGA members develop golf travel as a new income stream, we are also delighted to be sponsoring the 4-ball Championships on both The PGA and the PGAs of Europe tournament schedules.
We already have our Spanish Pro-Ams – that take in both Valderrama and La Reserva every February – and these are proving hugely popular, with more than 150 players from across Europe taking part in the 2014 events. We’ve also just announced a first-ever North American Pro-Am – sanctioned by the PGAs of Europe – that will take place in February 2015 at this year’s US Open venue, Pinehurst. We’re really excited about this new event and look forward to seeing a lot of Pro’s over in North Carolina to take on the famous No.2 course.
Being a Partner of The PGA and the Official Golf Travel Company of the PGAs of Europe is something we’re very proud of. We also work very closely with the Foremost buying group, and all these relationships really underline that commitment we have to working with the golf industry.
On a slightly different note we have also partnered with industry-leading review provider Reevoo, who now collate and independently verify all of our customer reviews. We know the importance of reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations in the decision-making process. Sites like TripAdvisor are massively influential in general travel, so there’s no reason to think that golf will be any different. Our customers can now read thousands of course and venue reviews – plus reviews of us as a company – that are only from real, paying customers. Golfers trust the views of other golfers so it’s an invaluable resource. Plus it gives great feedback on the resorts, the courses and also our service – and that can only help us all to improve.
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. 2014 is going to be a very busy golfing year, with everything culminating in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, and we’re excited about everything that we’ve got going on. A British or Irish Masters winner would be just the start the industry needs so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for Rory and the boys at Augusta next week!
Andrew Stanley, thank you very much.