“Business is up on last year, with ocean and river cruising doing particularly well,” said George Barter, Chairman, J Barter Travel Group, in an interview with Neil Steedman, ITTN’s News & Features Editor, “and we will soon be launching a new website, Camino by Travelnet.”
J Barter Travel Group, the national and Munster region winner in the 2015 ITTN Travel Agent of the Year, is Ireland’s longest established travel agency (www.travelnet.ie), having celebrated 150 years in business last year – when the agency was also declared Cork Business of the Year by the Cork Business Association.
The group is also a member of International Travel Partnership, the UK-based networked alliance of independent travel management companies in over 50 countries worldwide and with a turnover of more than €3 billion a year.
The group now has four branches – two in Cork City at 92 Patrick Street and Douglas Village Shopping Centre, at Old Market in Bandon, Co Cork, and Waterford Shopping Centre in Lisduggan, Co Waterford, while Managing Director Tom Randles regards the group’s website, www.travelnet.ie, as “our fifth branch”.
“The business started in 1865 in Castle Street, later moved to Academy Street, and around 1990 moved to 92 Patrick Street, where we own the whole building,” said George. “In the late 1960s we had opened a branch in Douglas Village Shopping Centre – Marks & Spencer and TK Maxx recognised our drawing power by opening either side of us! – and in the mid-1970s we had acquired Auto Ryan Travel in Bandon, and more recently Travel Creations in Waterford.
“We had also acquired Tommy Tobin Travel in Dublin and ran a corporate business in Dublin and Cork, with a franchise agreement with BCD for the whole country as BCD Ireland, but then in 2007 BCD bought out the franchise and took over the corporate side.
“So we now have the four branches and 20 staff, with 10 in Patrick Street, five in Douglas, three in Bandon, and two in Waterford. Home workers? No, we have thought about that but have never had any – not only is one-to-one contact important in this business but also it can be hard to find people with all the attributes needed to be a successful home worker. We have a low turnover in staff and have taken on three juniors in the past 18 months.
“Are we looking to open a fifth branch? No, our investment is currently in technology and our online presence, but if an opportunity arose – along with a good location, good rent, and good staff! – we would certainly consider it.”
“We regard our website as our fifth shop window,” added Tom Randles. “We have partnered with Digital Trip for the past five or six years and have recently invested heavily in technology so that our website offers a fully optimised booking facility, including low-cost carriers, so that all are bookable on mobile devices. We also took on a full-time marketer a year ago, plus another and an intern recently.
“We don’t do print advertising anymore, it is all online now, and 95% of online bookings are being made by new clients from across the country.”
“Overall business is up on last year, with ocean and river cruising doing particularly well,” said George. “Cruising comes in all grades, from 3-star to 6-star, and clients are beginning to understand the differences between them. Crystal Serenity’s current expedition cruise through the Northwest Passage sold well, while Norwegian Cruise Line’s Euro-priced brochure has been benefitting that company. River cruising in Europe is popular because you can sail down the Rhine or Danube and it is easy to get on and off, without your luggage, and see several cities and countries.
“Long-haul is also doing well and, after the recession, honeymoons are coming back with spending power up. Las Vegas and Florida (often combined with a cruise) are popular, while Mexico is starting to show.
“We do a lot of walking and cycling tours and have specialised in the past four years in exclusive Camino walking tours with two full-time guides in Spain, Michael Grainger and Juan Rodriguez. These are particularly popular for charity sector events and among transition year students.
“We will be launching a new website, Camino by Travelnet, in the near future.”