Buoyant Barrhead Travel packs in a 20% rise in first-quarter turnover

Bill Munro, chairman of Barrhead Travel at the firm's Glasgow HQ. Picture: Robert Perry
Bill Munro, chairman of Barrhead Travel at the firm's Glasgow HQ. Picture: Robert Perry
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BARRHEAD Travel said yesterday that it bucked the decline in the UK package holidays industry with a 20 per cent increase in turnover in the first three months of 2012 thanks to its “tailor-made” tours and new own brand holiday range.

The Glasgow-based firm said its revenues reached £27.5 million in the quarter to the end of March, a year-on-year rise that compares to figures for the UK travel industry indicating an average decline of 8 per cent over the same period.

The early months of the year traditionally see a rush of bookings for summer holidays as British workers set their sights on a week in the sun, but this year the demand was muted by the ongoing squeeze on household budgets and uncertain economic outlook.

An increase in air passenger duty is also adding to the industry’s headwinds. But chief executive Sharon Munro said Barrhead had opened seven new stores since last year, bringing its total branch network to 35 across Scotland and Northern Ireland – and had invested in its website to support a growing demand from customers wanting to buy their holidays online.

She said: “All of our departments have performed exceptionally well throughout the first three months of the year.”

Munro, who’s father Bill founded Barrhead Travel in 1975, said the company had focused on building travel packages that are tailor-made to suit each customer, with in-house specialists trained to create bespoke holidays.

“Customers are responding very well to this approach and like being in control of every aspect of their holiday – without the hassle and time constraints of researching and booking it themselves,” she said.

Barrhead has also invested in its product portfolio, offering a selection of exclusive holidays and extending its own-brand holiday range to include new destinations such as Venice and Barcelona.

It has developed its range of niche products, such as river cruises, which are all proving popular and helping to boost sales.

Munro added: “Confidence is returning to the market, but we’re finding customers are paying more heed to the level of security and financial protection on offer and therefore choosing to book with a brand they can trust.

“All of our holidays, be they booked online, in-store or over the phone, come with full financial protection and we only work with trusted, secure suppliers.”

Originally operating from one shop in the south Glasgow suburb of Barrhead with just four staff, the firm has gone from strength to strength recently, with turnover up 30 per cent last year to £130m and staff numbers rising to 550 in the last 12 months.

The company was bought by a management team lead by Sharon Munro about four years ago, although her father retains a 25 per cent stake and plays a non-executive role at the firm.

It now has its sights set on expansion into England with a new customer call centre due to open in Cumbria later this month.

In 2002, Barrhead Travel opened the first city centre travel superstore in the UK, in the heart of Glasgow.

The group also operates a range of online brands, including the US-based Flightsdirect and niche travel website Go2Lapland.

The company is now projecting a turnover of £155m for the full year, which would represent a 23 per cent increase on 2011.