Following on from last week’s part 1, here’s the second half of our chat with Alan Godfrey, owner & director of Ocean World Travel.
Damian: There’s massive publicity around Celebrity Edge, MSC Bellissima etc, do you get enquiries for the new ships that are launching?
Alan: Yes we do, but I think what we need to look at is what we actually do with that information. We don’t do as much with it as we should - and we will be doing much more with it in the future, especially online. Social media and internet publicity is huge, and we don’t really take those opportunities as well as we should do at the moment really.
Damian: You’re members of Advantage Travel Partnership - how does that work for you and what do you get out of it? What does a consortia give you that you need and otherwise wouldn’t have?
Alan: Well up until we went into the high street, we were always independent. Advantage, from the last 18 months of working with them, have given us some good value, certainly in terms of the retail side and general trade because we had no commercial deals in place ourselves at all, so the support mechanism for that side of the business is really good.
Even on the cruise side, I’ve been really surprised at how they’ve actually added value in that area. In previous years that we’ve traded I’ve been slightly cynical, but we should have probably moved into Advantage quite some time ago really if I’m honest.
Damian: Do you use the help they give you such as window displays, direct mailers etc, and do you use all of their services?
Alan: With the window displays, we have a couple of screens in the windows so we tend to go down the more digital route. We do a lot with Advantage materials when we can, on local door drops, just to get the name across. I can’t say that I’m getting anything but praise for what we’ve had from them so far.
Damian: Do you do much direct mail yourself, to the local houses and area?
Alan: Yeah we do, we will try if we can. I think we did it four times last year, and went to 12,000 households locally just to get the name across.
Damian: Is the response on that easy to measure?
Alan: Not necessarily. Some of the things you do are easily measured because it’s a particular offer, but actually we’ve been using it as a brand building exercise so here’s an increased awareness of us locally.
What’s really interesting, I was only looking at a Facebook post the other day on a local page where someone asked if anybody knew a local travel agent, and somebody who had booked with us had said that they should try Ocean World Travel. The reply to that was ‘I thought they only did cruises?’. So hence the reason why we’re trying to push that bit harder to get build the awareness of us out there.
Damian: Would you look at re-naming the business at all? Or the shop?
Alan: It’s tricky because 25 years of a brand is not something we want to lose so we have to try and find another way of doing that. We put things out on the windows and bollards outside the shop to prove we do other things, but we’ve definitely got some work to do there.
Damian: Where do you see the business this year, in a couple of years, what are your plans for it?
Alan: This is an interesting year. I think that, coming back to the ex-UK bit, I’m quite pleased in a way that with that horrible word - Brexit, that we do a lot of business with companies that generally deal in sterling. It makes you feel a little bit more insulated from the external influences and problems of European based holidays or further afield.
I think it will be a tough year trading-wise, but I have to say that the start of the year has been promising. I think there’s going to be an interesting year ahead, and I’m relatively up-beat about this year but I don’t think it’ll break big records.
Moving forward from that, I mentioned earlier that the early signs of being in the high street are promising, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to say that over the next year or so we dip our toes in the water somewhere else. Also I can tell you that the internet and what we do on the internet at the moment is changing in a positive way, I think both for us and our customers, and hopefully for the partners we work with.
Damian: So definitely a future for retail then?
Alan: Yes, but I think, let’s be clear about it, I think it’s a change in habits. I think that if you have one retail shop that’s fine, but two or more is needed to get it to work.
Damian: So there’s a real economy of scale -
Alan: Yeah I think there is. I think it’s about having your main office as your big overhead and then thinking about running a satellite store. The new store doesn’t have to be big, but I think that way you can get it to really work.
Damian: Since you’re talking to us - how has Widgety helped fit into your plans, and what would you like from us in the future?
Alan: One thing is that as soon as you start talking about websites or anything online, it’s generally an expensive investment where you find yourself having to take that leap of faith and spend lots of money and just hope that in the long term it will pay off.
With what you provide; an off-the-shelf system that gives us a massive amount of content, and - I suppose I shouldn’t really say this but - at a relatively competitive price.
Damian: My wife thinks it’s too cheap!
Alan: Well I don’t agree with her! It allows people of our size to have oodles of content, give us credibility in the market place for a relatively low cost, and I think that’s where it works really well. I think your challenge is to try and continue to add value as much as you can.
Damian: Yes definitely, and we’re adding in new cruise lines all the time. We’ve got Virgin Voyages on board and we’ve just signed up with lots of smaller expedition lines such as Aqua, Australis, Coral, National Geographic etc - are you looking to try and sell those? More expedition, luxury, and to move out of your main products?
Alan: I think coming back to the retail thing, there’s definitely more of a move toward high-end stuff, and I think if you take a sort of general bucket-and-spade holiday they’re readily available through any distribution channel you choose within travel. So we do have a need to offer niche products, and with your content we can offer a bit more expertise and experience, so yes absolutely.
Damian: It’s an interesting area where you shop is, there are some really big villages, lovely houses, and bigger towns and cities aren’t far away. Is there a real mix of people within that whole Chandlers Ford area?
Alan: Yes absolutely, and we’re actually serving the local community and actually doing them a favour being there really.
Damian: Are there no other travel agents where you are?
Alan: No, as far as I know there was a travel agent in Chandlers Ford about 12 years ago. It’s a nice area to be in, the catchment is good, the average house prices are very high, people seem happy to spend money on what they want as opposed to just buying the cheapest.
I think the fact that we’re about a two minute walk from the local Waitrose gives us an idea that we’re in the right area for what we want to do really.
Damian: Yes definitely, it’s a great place. That’s everything I have to ask you, thank you so much for talking to me!
Thanks again Alan, we’ve really enjoyed your insight into the cruise and travel industry as an independent travel agent. You can contact Ocean World Travel on:
Phone: 0800 368 9059
Shop: 132 Winchester Road, Chandlers Ford, SO53 2DS
Is there someone you’d like to see an interview with, or would you like to give an interview yourself? Get in touch with your suggestions and we’ll see what we can do.