Newmarket ‘majored on India’ at the first Atas conference

David Sharman of Newmarket Holidays tells Ben Ireland how the operator has ‘kept growing’ after a record year in 2017

Sustaining a wide range of products and increasing visibility among agents as a specialist for certain destinations has helped Newmarket Holidays battle through a “tough” year with continued growth and expansion plans.

Commercial and new business director David Sharman admitted that 2018 had been challenging, but said Newmarket had “kept growing” on the back of a record year of 15% growth in 2017.

And even if growth is at a slower rate than last year, the operator sees it as a huge positive in the climate. Part of that success is down to working with other operators in the touring sector through the Association of Touring & Adventure Specialists (Atas), according to Sharman.

“The great thing about Atas is that although we are all competitors, we are stronger together. It brings everyone together in the same conference room and gives us a really broad breadth of tour operators appealing to quite a wide range of ages and budget,” he said. “For an agent in an Atas Conference room, everything is there. You have so many operators at your disposal.”

Trade sales team

Newmarket’s success with the trade has been demonstrated by its decision to expand its on-the-road trade sales team. The appointment of Stuart Cowell takes the team to four, including head of trade sales Richard Forde. It has also recruited Jessica Barbosa as sales support for the trade. By the end of 2019, Newmarket hopes to take the total trade team up to six.

“The sector is growing and the number of events and the requirements we want to deliver to the trade is growing too,” Sharman said. “It needs investment.”

He listed Tipto roadshows, Travel Weekly roadshows, the Atas Conference and various river cruise events as essentials on the company’s calendar, and outlined a vision to grow the team as the sector grows.

“There are so many good events that enable us to get face-to-face with trade partners. The product range for escorted touring is quite a complicated offering sometimes, so we need to make sure we are maximising our opportunities. We don’t want to miss out. If we are not there, our competitors will be.”

In terms of where to find their new team members, Newmarket may look beyond the obvious locations.

“We are completely open-minded as to where we look,” Sharman said. “We have people in our team from a travel agency background, and people from a tour operator background, and if you get people from those backgrounds they really understand the sector. People from a tour operating background would understand the demands of working on the road, for example. That would be ideal, but although you need to be the right sort of person [for the job], the main thing is finding someone who shares our passion for travel.”

Product focus

Newmarket has more than 350 tours in its programme, covering all corners of the globe. The challenge, Sharman said, was educating agents about its different products while making sure to give enough detail to help them specialise.

That may mean some agents having an intensive course on its growing India product, and another agent learning all about Italy.

At last year’s first Atas Conference in Birmingham, Newmarket “majored on India”, Sharman said – adding that the operator will do something different this year.

“You need to make yourself stand out at an event,” he said. “If you try to showcase all your wares, you sometimes end up a bit too broad. When you’re visiting agents, you might have 10 minutes in the shop. Sometimes it’s quite difficult to get across everything you do. We’ve learned it’s about constantly drip-feeding that information. If you try and deliver too much, you end up delivering nothing.”

Value for money

Newmarket wants to be known for covering a wide range of destinations but wants to be considered a specialist in some. India is one example where Sharman says the operator is continuing to carve out a niche.

It also aims to cater for all in terms of price point, with short breaks in Italy from £399 and worldwide cruises for £53,000. “The Newmarket approach is to offer a quality holiday experience that represents good value for money,” Sharman added. “Value for money doesn’t mean cheap. We think it’s working, because we often have guests ask how we offered so much for the price.

“When the customer has a really good experience they go back to their agent when they return and ask where they should go next.”

Newmarket’s core market is travellers over 50. “It’s a growing market and if you get it right they are incredibly loyal.”

Destinations that have done well this year include Canada, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, according to Sharman. He said river cruising had continued to grow, especially as a result of Newmarket’s recent partnership with A-Rosa, which has seen the operator dedicate its river cruise programme to the line and its ships.

The number of small-group tours Newmarket has on offer has also continued to rise throughout the year, after a concerted effort to focus on the area.

“With smaller groups, you have more flexibility,” said Sharman. “If you’ve got a minibus of 12 people rather than a coach of 50, it gives you more options.”

Sharman said the rise of small-group tours could also help quell the fears of overtourism in some major destinations.

“People will always want to go to those iconic places,” he said.

“But increasingly we are seeing guests want to do something a little different. As part of the touring sector, and an industry, we have a responsibility to make sure we care for the destinations we take our guests to and have their best interests at heart.”