By David Barclay | July 20, 2022
Thank you for reading my inaugural blog post as I launch Barclay & Company Travel. You may be curious why I left a successful career in the corporate world to strike out on my own and launch a business in any industry I have not worked in previously. If so, please read on for the story of the birth of Barclay & Company Travel.
In today’s blog post, I will cover:
- Why I decided to launch a luxury travel business
- My vision for my new company and the critical capabilities I needed to acquire
- My company’s focus & niche
- How I chose the name Barclay & Company Travel for my new venture
The idea of launching a luxury travel business had been rattling around in my head for many years. My wife Bobbi and I love to travel. I had thought that when I retired from the corporate world it would be fun to run a travel business and plan travel for others as I also traveled the world checking off items on my bucket list with my newfound freedom, flexibility, and available time. I love planning our own travel (for me the planning and anticipation of a trip is as exciting as the trip itself) and I thought I would enjoy helping others with their planning and living vicariously through their trips.
As is common in life, nothing plays out exactly as planned and the COVID-19 pandemic changed things for many people including me. I made the decision to leave PepsiCo well ahead of my original target retirement date given the strain the pandemic and remote schooling had put on my family. During my sabbatical I worked with a career coach to evaluate options for what to do next. We spent many sessions reviewing my career self-evaluation, mapping out my interests and strengths, and brainstorming possible future career paths. My career coach noticed during these sessions that I kept mentioning the idea of a travel business as something I had on the backburner for my retirement years, and when I spoke about this idea, I showed excitement and passion my career coach said she rarely saw in others she had coached. She asked why I was continuing to explore other career options I wasn’t passionate about and wasn’t jumping to pursue this idea.
My career coach also introduced me to another Kellogg grad who had started a luxury travel business in 2019. Connecting with that Kellogg grad was very enlightening and motivating. It reinforced what I already believed to be true – that my personal experience using travel advisors and traveling the world was a huge asset, that my most important job as an advisor is to work with my clients (hopefully soon to be many of you) to create a clear vision for a trip, with clear goals and objectives that can guide the design of a perfect trip, that my skillset gained as a management consultant and innovation focused executive provided the analytical assessment and planning rigor needed to successfully plan luxury travel. Perhaps most important, her experience provided assurance that I could easily learn everything else I needed to start a successful travel business.
Armed with this information, I made my decision and dug into researching what I would need to start my business. I knew a few things:
- I only wanted to plan luxury travel. Although I have taken many moderately priced vacations during my life, the trips that are the most memorable are the ones where I’ve splurged for unique activities and luxurious pampering. Since my goal is to create life-long memories for my clients, I want to focus on those trips where my clients are willing to invest for those unique experiences.
- I needed an initial area of specialization. Since I love cruising on luxury cruise ships that seemed a natural area for my first niche. I knew many of my clients wouldn’t be avid cruisers. Not every vacation I take with Bobbi or with our family is on a luxury cruise ship. We take many land-based customized trips. I knew I would plan many custom trips for my clients, but I hoped I could convince my clients to consider adding luxury cruising to their travel repertoire as I think it is a great option for maximizing the exploration of our world.
- I needed the capabilities to plan anything for my clients. I didn’t want to tell a client “Sorry, I don’t have the partners or travel suppliers to deliver on the vision for your bucket list trip”. Whatever a client wanted to do, I wanted to be able to deliver, whether it be renting a helicopter to tour a location from the air, chartering a yacht for a truly custom cruising experience, or getting private tours of the most popular sites. I knew I needed a strong network of partners.
- I wanted to have access to the Virtuoso consortium. If you have used a luxury travel advisor you may have heard of Virtuoso, but since many of you probably haven’t heard of Virtuoso, I’ll quickly explain. Within the travel advisor industry, there are a number of organizations formed by travel agencies/advisors coming together and pooling their buying power. Barclay & Company Travel, even a few years from now when my business has scaled, won’t be large enough to negotiate the top perks and special treatment for my clients. By gaining access to a consortium, my business benefits from that pooled buying power so that I can deliver more value to my clients. Virtuoso is the only consortium that focuses solely on luxury travel – that’s its strength and vendors/travel providers know that. Luxury properties and travel providers will go above and beyond to keep clients of a Virtuoso advisor happy, because Virtuoso represents a combined $29 billion of luxury leisure travel purchases each year.
- I didn’t want to build the back-office support structure needed to run a modern travel advisory. Building my own back-office would bring significantly higher risk, increase the time to launch my business by 3x-4x, require a major capital investment and demand significantly higher sales to reach profit breakeven.
Focus & Niche
Guided by these requirements I mapped out the structure for my future business. Since I didn’t want to build a back-office that left me with two options: buy into a travel franchise or partner with a host agency. A travel franchise is very similar to franchises in other industries. Take McDonald’s, the epitome of a franchise business. Franchisees use McDonald’s branding, piggyback on McDonald’s advertising and promotions, and utilize McDonald’s supply chain and other corporate functions to support their franchised businesses. Travel franchises operate similarly to other franchise businesses – advisors buy a franchise, operate under the franchisor’s brand, and utilize the franchisor’s back-office support structure. Since I wanted to create my own brand, the franchise model was out. This left partnering with a host agency as my ideal option. Host agencies are a relatively recent trend in the travel industry. They provide the required back-office support and allow businesses like mine to create a unique brand. They provide a huge range of services including accounting, vendor contract negotiations, IT services, and in cases like mine where someone is coming in from outside the travel industry, lots and lots of customized training programs. Some even have internal marketing teams that can create custom marketing content to supplement the marketing programs created by the independent advisor businesses.
With my direction determined, I researched and compared host agencies. After narrowing my list to four host agencies that best fit my criteria, I contacted and interviewed the agencies to better understand the services and support they could offer. After many weeks of discussions, I selected Brownell Travel. Brownell is the oldest travel agency in the U.S. and has a very storied and prestigious history. Many in the industry compare Brownell’s reputation in the travel industry to that of other well-known names in other sectors, such as Harvard in education and McKinsey in consulting. It was one of the first agencies to begin offering hosting services and right before I partnered with them, had finalized transitioning their business from a hybrid agency model (having both internal advisor-employees and hosted independent advisors) to a host-only agency model. This meant that every advisor partnered with Brownell is an independent business owner, running their own travel business and utilizing Brownell’s services for their back-office. I partnered with Brownell because it over-delivered on all my requirements:
- Luxury Travel: That’s Brownell core focus, their industry connections are with the top luxury partners and suppliers in the industry.
- Luxury Cruises: Brownell has strong relationships with the luxury cruise lines I’m focused on for my niche.
- Strong Capabilities: Brownell has on-the-ground partners everywhere in the world capable of providing any requested travel experience. Whether I need to book a luxury hotel in Tokyo or charter a private yacht to sail the coast of Croatia, by partnering with Brownell I gain partners around the world able to supply whatever my clients desire.
- Virtuoso: Brownell is not only a member of Virtuoso, it is a top 5 Virtuoso agency, which means by partnering with Brownell I gain the top benefits of access to the Virtuoso network.
- Back-office support: Brownell has an incredibly robust support team, far more robust than the other host agencies I considered. In addition to general hosting support, I have access to a marketing team, an air desk and a travel insurance desk (Brownell is the only host agency in the industry to offer an insurance desk which allows me to offer unbiased, personal advice on travel insurance options).
The final benefit of partnering with Brownell is its mentoring program. Started in 2006, it is a “by invitation only” program for individuals like myself who are new to the travel industry. During my first year in business, I will complete a very structured program of trainings, vendor meetings, business start-up goals, and marketing plan development and execution, all designed to ensure I successfully launch my business and am set on a path for rapid growth in the years to come.
Choosing a name
As you might expect, I spent a lot of time working on the name. I held brainstorming sessions with friends to identify appropriate descriptive words and then appropriate potential names. I polled a select group of potential future clients to see which potential names resonated with my target market. I assessed which potential names might conflict with existing businesses. In the end I wanted to make sure the name aligned with the vision I have for this company and what I hope it will become in the future. I did not start this business to be a sole practitioner, my goal is to grow and scale this business and build a team of professional travel advisors. I could have chosen Barclay Travel for the name. However, Barclay & Company Travel better conveys where I plan to take this business. While I will always be the figurehead and lead spokesperson for the company, the name supports that any advisor at this company will be able to deliver the incredible service that I know our clients will expect.
For those of you who have read this far, thank you for spending the time to learn the story of my company’s creation.
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Owner, Barclay & Company Travel
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