Special report: 'Brochures still very much alive'

Special report: 'Brochures still very much alive'

BP Travel Marketing Services has been distributing brochures for 40 years. Managing director Paul Markland tells Chloe Berman why brochures are still a vital part of the booking process

The death of the traditional holiday brochure has been long-predicted, but the firm that distributes them to travel agents is adamant talk of its demise had been greatly exaggerated.

As BP Travel Marketing Services celebrates its 40th birthday, managing director Paul Markland insists the brochure remains a vital part of the booking process.

“There is still an appetite for brochures,” he said. “Brochures and agents are inextricably linked.”

Just like traditional high street agencies, BP has been forced to reinvent itself over the years as the internet has transformed the way customers book holidays.

BP now accounts for just 45% of parent Orbital Marketing Services Group’s business, which has expanded into the health, education, domestic tourism and mail order sectors and operates nine separate brands.

However, for Markland, brochure distribution is still at the heart of a business that started out as a direct mail service in 1972 and today employs 450 staff in nine locations.

It was founder Joe Burford who saw a gap in the market to establish a direct mail business for the travel industry and put his house on the line to start BP from small offices in Folkestone, Kent.

BP Direct Mail started out delivering airline fares and schedule information to agents in the days long before email.

In the 1970s, the name changed to BP Travel Trade Services and the company moved into brochure deliveries.

Markland has worked at the firm since the beginning. He said: “The package holiday industry was in the early stages in the 1970s, and we had an agent mailing list so it was natural for us to set up a brochure delivery service.

“There were more and more destinations coming to us who wanted to create a tourism market from the UK. We worked with them to put them on the map.”

However, in 1981 disaster struck when the premises in Folkestone burned down. “The building burned for five days, but we were determined to carry on.

“We moved to an industrial estate in Folkestone and were back functioning in 10 days. The Dunkirk spirit proved to be true in this case.”

In the 1990s the business moved to Ashford and the management team began to appreciate the need to diversify.

“It was clear the world was beginning to change and we decided to diversify to open up parallel revenue streams,” said Markland.

The company is now strong in the education and health industries, and it has also established Take One Media in the domestic tourism sector, which provides racks of leaflets to hotels, airports and tourist information outlets.

At the same time, BP has continued to keep on top of changes in the industry.

Recent launches include Brochurebank.co.uk, which consumers can use to order brochures online, and fortnightly deals newsletter Nextholiday.co.uk, as well as e-broadcasting for travel clients.

The company has also just developed its first iPhone and iPad app for an operator client.

“Nextholiday.co.uk is a big growth area for us and we’d like to take it from fortnightly to weekly,” said Markland. “We need to counterbalance the fact that there are fewer agents and operators.”

As it marks four decades in business, BP is now the only major player in the brochure distribution market following the buyout of Au Logistics in 2008. It delivers 98% of brochures in the UK.

Markland added: “No matter how they book, customers still want to flick through a brochure. It is still very much alive.”

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