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ICT: The path to inspiration

Wholesaler ICT has upped its game for this year's brochure, and announced a series of exciting tours aimed at enticing the next generation of coach passengers

‘Inspiring coach travel’. That’s the simple new slogan for Independent Coach Travel (ICT), and it sums up the new ethos that the wholesaler is striving to create.

Peter Stratton: 'We wanted to find out what products clients will want in 10 years’ time'

Based in Purfleet, Essex, ICT has seen a turnaround in the last two years. The 32-year-old business had fallen into the habit of producing an old-fashioned brochure that repeated those tours it knew to sell well year after year.

But now, with Peter Stratton at the helm as Managing Director, the business has forged forward, offering exciting brochures, more choice, and a good number of quirky new ideas to rejuvenate coach tours.

Research is key

Peter believes in research to find out what the customer wants. He was a driving force behind the Coach Tourism Association (CTA)’s passenger survey last year (Coach Monthly, February), and ICT has used the results of that survey to deliver improvements in its brochure.

“We wanted to find out what products clients want today – but also, what they’ll want in 10 years’ time,” says Peter. “The industry has to look now at what products it will need to develop for the future.

“For the coach industry to fully understand its clients, we need to go back, ask questions, and find out what they think they want to do.”

The survey, funded by the CTA, revealed some interesting results that should give heart to anyone who worries the industry is in danger of dying out. In particular, the loyalty of customers is to be celebrated – 92% of respondents who had been on a coach tour said they would do so again – and the fact that people are more likely to consider a coach tour as they get older. Many respondents perceived coach tours as being a luxury option, and a high percentage also favoured special interest tours.

Price was fifth on the list of considerations people make when booking a tour; destination and comfort were first and second respectively.

“The coach industry perhaps sees itself as a bit downmarket,” says Peter. “But coaches cost up to half a million pounds each, and have wi-fi, power points, leather seats – everything’s moved on.”

Ultimately, it seems coach holidays are a luxury option for older people, and customers are likely to keep coming back for more. With this research, ICT has produced its largest and most varied brochure ever.

Favourites with a twist

Coach holiday operators all face the same conundrum: If you put exciting new tours in the brochure, how do you get your loyal customers to book them? And how do you stop them getting bored of their old favourites?

The team at ICT and South Quay Travel

ICT has worked hard to craft tours that take in those old favourites, but with an exciting twist.

For example, the Channel Islands tours in the brochure are joined by one with a ‘wartime’ theme. It focuses on the little-known story of Jersey’s occupation by the Germans in the Second World War, and uses the Pomme D’Or hotel, a key site of the Liberation. During the stay, a special Bunkers at Night tour allows guests to see sites not usually open to the public.

“If customers have visited the destination once or twice, doing something different gives them a reason to return,” says Ian Marsh, Sales Manager.

Day trips take on an exciting new element, with the ‘Day Experiences’ section including one night’s accommodation and going to the likes of Guernsey, France, Dublin and Disneyland Paris.

There’s a small section of the brochure dedicated to the quirky. ICT has taken on board the TV tourism trend and added a new Only Fools and Horses-themed tour staying at a themed Best Western hotel in Del Boy’s stomping ground Peckham, plus a Gavin and Stacey tour in Cardiff; there’s also a Beatles-themed tour of Liverpool staying at the Hard Days Night hotel.

“People are really keen on the special interest tours,” says Ian. “It's a hard market out there for tour operators – you've got to do something different to stay ahead of the curve.”

“We're not expecting people to buy exactly what's in the brochure,” says Peter. “But we hope it'll give them inspiration as to what they can do, and show them that they don't have to do the same old same old.”

Time will tell how successful the new brochure is when the tours start to run, but thanks to that combination of the classic and the quirky, they're likely to be big-hitters.

And, ICT can help operators promote their tours – not least by producing a brochure customised for the operator to give out to its own private groups.

A new approach

The new way of doing things makes ICT seem like a fresh new company, but its roots go back to the 1980s. Its strong relationship with Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), which launched in 2009, saw the two businesses merge a couple of years later, and the ICT commercial team of 20 is now part of a larger group of 120. That group also includes South Quay Travel, a wholesaler for GTOs.

Aside from the main brochure, ICT and South Quay have each launched separate products branded 'Complete': Complete London, launched last year, has already been a success. Complete Disney is in the pipeline, which will highlight ICT’s long-running relationship with Disney as one of only two official group agents.

It’s also launching a division for inbound travel, plus a rail brochure based on Eurostar’s portfolio, and a holiday villages brochure based on its relationship with Pierre et Vacances. More cruise options are available too; ICT has full access to CMV cruises, and also works with Condor Ferries, City Cruises, Croisi Europe and others.

“Our strapline is inspiring coach travel. That’s what we want to do: Bring an inspirational approach to the industry,” says Ian.

Peter says: “Today’s 60-year-olds think of themselves of 40-year-olds, and they’ve benefited from being healthier, fitter and with more disposable income. As the population is getting older, it means the coach industry has a huge market, and they don’t just want what’s cheap and cheerful.

“We’re very excited for the future.”