Your Stories: Michael Davies on opening his first shop after being made redundant
The managing director of York-based Heritage Collection Travel, Michael Davies speaks to Harry Kemble
Q. How did you start out in travel?
A. I went to Connexions, a young person’s Job Centre, and got a job at Fiveways Travel in Hazel Grove, Stockport. The training and the experience I got from that job shaped my whole career. I really wanted the job. To get there, it was a two-hour commute from my home in Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester. I started in January 2009 and by September that year I was flying to Barbados on a fam trip on a business-class flight. I just thought ‘this is the industry for me!’ I well and truly got the travel bug at Fiveways, it just gripped me. As an 18-year-old, people were trusting me to book their trips and I was going to Barbados. It was mind-blowing.
I started in January 2009 and by September that year I was flying to Barbados on a fam trip on a business-class flight. I just thought ‘this is the industry for me!’
Q. You opened your first shop in January. How have the first three months been?
A. As you know it’s been difficult for the industry, but coming from a low base it feels really busy at the moment for the first time in two years. My partner Lana helps me out on the odd afternoon. It would be great to give someone the same opportunity as I had when I worked as an apprentice. But for the first time I feel busy and I’ve got people coming into the shop and talking travel. It’s amazing to think that I’ve got customers travelling this month. I’ve got customers in Val d’Isere and Tenerife who I booked with Inghams and Jet2holidays. Those bookings were made after I opened the shop on January 7.
For the first time I feel busy and I’ve got people coming into the shop and talking travel. It’s amazing to think that I’ve got customers travelling this month
Q. Why did you decide to launch Heritage Collection Travel?
A. I was made redundant as a sales consultant by tour operator Africa & Beyond in July 2020. I just thought if I did not set up my own company then I would never do it. By the time I got my Atol licence from the Travel Trust Association, it was lockdown again. I’d always wanted my own brand and shop. I launched Heritage Collection Travel out of a co-working space called York Hub. I went to the pub after work with a couple of the guys from the shared office and they said they were interested in helping me set up a bricks-and-mortar shop. I thought it was just pub chat. My accountant was also in the pub so I asked him to have a chat with them and to check that they were genuine. I’ve now got three investors. The concept of Heritage Collection Travel is to bring that special atmosphere to booking a holiday. It’s hard to believe that we’re here on the high street.
I’d always wanted my own brand and shop. I launched Heritage Collection Travel out of a co-working space called York Hub
Q. How quickly do you plan to grow the business?
A. It’s just me for the time being. One of the investors, my marketing manager Tom, comes in on Tuesdays. Lana is here a few days a week, greeting customers, doing the brochure stickers and keeping the place clean. I had to isolate last week, which was a nightmare just as we were getting into full swing, but Lana was a godsend. I would love to replicate this in a number of different places. The vision is to upscale across different towns similar to York. In 10 years’ time I would love to have 10 shops.
The concept of Heritage Collection Travel is to bring that special atmosphere to booking a holiday. It’s hard to believe that we’re here on the high street
Q. What’s your target demographic?
A. My target demographic is honeymooners. I attend wedding fairs in York. Honeymooners are really good for us. The honeymoon is a huge purchase for couples and as an agent you can add a bit of theatre to the sale. When I do my boosted Facebook posts, they’re generally aimed at people in their late-20s and people that are interested in experiential travel. However, I do not want to put other people off. I want to offer all things to all people with that added level of service. I can still offer a day trip to Blackpool or Scarborough.
The vision is to upscale across different towns similar to York. In 10 years’ time I would love to have 10 shops
Q. What products would you like to sell more of?
A. Cruise is something I would like to learn more about. We did a little bit of it at Africa & Beyond. I would like to be able to answer people’s questions. I had a fantastic meeting with Silversea’s regional sales manager for the northeast and learned about the butler service on board. I’ve now stuck a sticker in the window saying I am a Silversea Cruises preferred agent.
Honeymooners are really good for us. [It’s] a huge purchase for couples and as an agent you can add a bit of theatre to the sale
You’ve set up a big screen in the store – how do you use it to boost bookings?
We’ve got a cinema room at the back of the shop. It’s got a big screen and a fridge. Customers can book it for appointments if they have an idea about a holiday. I’ve also got an Oculus Quest virtual reality headset. I noticed there were a lot of travel videos on the YouTube VR app. With the headset on, you can ‘stand’ on the banks of the Serengeti in Tanzania. It’s an amazing sales tool. There’s an app linked to Google Maps, so you can put the headset on and show customers which restaurant to go to in Italy, for example.
There’s a lot of potential. Instead of moving a computer mouse around, you just move your head. I’m still getting to grips with it. A lady came in last week who was scared of heights, but she was soon ‘flying’ over skyscrapers in New York! I used to work for Destinology in Wilmslow which was a huge concept store. It showed me what you can do in a travel shop. It was amazing. The travel sector is not something to give up on just yet.
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