FAST-growing Barrhead Travel is taking up slack in the market left by struggling rival Thomas Cook, including a major push into the corporate travel market and international expansion ambitions.
Next month the firm will launch a new travel shop targeting business customers in Glasgow as it expects to boost sales by £14 million in corporate travel bookings in the next year to 18 months. At the same time, Barrhead is set on conquering the English market with its expanding franchise model. The firm has hired Trevor Davis, a former senior executive from Thomas Cook, to lead its expansion in England.
Sharon Munro, the chief executive of Barrhead, declines to revel in her competitor’s misfortunes but admits the Glasgow-based firm has benefited from the retrenchment of the bigger, listed travel agency as it struggles to manage debt.
Munro added that Barrhead is debt free after she led a management buyout of the business from her father, chairman Bill Munro, in 2007.
The firm has invested £300,000 in expansion in recent months and has developed a new software-based performance management system it calls Nevis. Earlier this month the company formed a partnership with the Midcounties Co-operative, a significant travel business with 54 branches in England. The group will use Barrhead’s new trading platform and the two firms have joined forces to form a buying group for flights and beds. Together the two have a turnover of around £600 million.
Munro said: “We don’t have shops where they are, they don’t have shops where we are. They are going to take our technology and together we feel as if we have the buying power to get better deals and pass the savings on to our customers.”
The Nevis system will also be used to spearhead Barrhead’s expansion in Australia, both licensing the technology to other companies and establishing franchise operations. But Munro adds that a potential acquisition of an Australian business for Barrhead was “still very much on our radar”.
“We have been talking to people in Australia who actually want to buy the system. They are blown away by the technology we have developed.
“We believe we have a great franchise model so we are looking to franchising in Australia, but on top of that we are keen to open our own offices in Australia.”
The company’s flagship corporate travel office will open next month in Glasgow in a former furniture store premises employing 60 people.
“We have been doing corporate travel for some time now. However, the technology we now have and the teams of people we have been building up has allowed us to have this growth.
“Corporate travel is definitely back. People are travelling more than ever before. I don’t think they are travelling first and business class as much but they are definitely travelling.”