Via Kristy Dorsey
As the managing director of Caledonian Travel, the historic bus tour company, Graham Rogers never dreamed that within a few months a “very profitable” business might collapse.
That, of course, was just about all that came before the Covid 19 pandemic was swept away. Caledonian appeared to be on its last legs after more than 30 years doing business in Scotland.
Caledonian Travel and its sister companies were part of a division that also included National Holidays and UKBreakaways.com, and were part of the Wigan-based Specialist Leisure Group (SLG), whose other properties included the Shearings coach travel brand and a range of hotels in Scotland and other parts of the UK.
SLG’s director, U.S. private equity company Lone Star Funds, struggled to find a buyer when the pandemic broke. SLG was placed into administration in May when those efforts failed, resulting in the loss of around 2,500 jobs.
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Rogers stepped in with fellow board members Martin Lock and Carl Brackenbury to save their share of the firm, which had 400 staff and a £ 90 million annual turnover, carrying around 600,000 customers a year. The Scottish tour operator and UKBreakaways.com were acquired in July to form what is now known as Caledonian Leisure, even though they struggled to secure National Holidays.
This was an otherwise solid, productive company placed into administration, and we thought that was not meant to happen,”This was an otherwise solid, profitable business that was put into administration, and we felt that should not have happened,” In resurrecting the company, we were very interested.
“Our customers’ overwhelming opinion was, “Please get the company back, please keep doing what you’ve been doing.
So far, the management team has invested its personal capital in the rebirth of Caledonian, but is in the process of obtaining external financing to restore the company that once owned and operated its own 120 luxury bus fleet. They have also set up an updated destination and event calendar, along with plans for new departure points in northern England.
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But Mr. Rogers said Caledonian Leisure would not hurry to try to get back on the road amid pent-up demand from customers mostly locked up at home.
“We are aware that a number of tour operators in the UK are still advertising, but with the pandemic at the stage we are at, with a second wave of infections, we don’t think advertising is the most responsible thing to do at the moment,” he said.
“When the time is right, we will restart ads and it is healthy to do so.
Asked when it would be, Mr. Rogers said the company is tentatively aiming to start marketing at the end of this year, with holidays beginning in spring 2021. In the meantime, Caledonian Leisure is carrying out all the required tests to ensure that Covid-safe protocols are in place for event and accommodation suppliers, and is implementing its own safe bus travel initiatives.
“There has to be a manageable risk, and there isn’t now, but when there is, it will be worth the wait,” he added.
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Instead, the deposits will be kept separately in escrow by Caledonian Leisure, where the money will stay until the holiday is delivered. Mr. Rogers said this will pave the way for successful refunds or rebookings when local closures force a cancellation or when clients are prohibited from leaving due to restrictions on self-isolation.
He claims that this must become the norm for the entire industry, as safety and consumer security are now paramount: “In the future, it will be important that customers’ vacation money is protected and not taken advantage of.”
So far, the company has been able to get back 30 of its former workers at its Leeds and Glasgow offices, with six of 20 former