Glacius Travel was started in a garden shed as a snow-sports operator four years ago. Under Barrhead Travel’s Brilliant Travel umbrella, it became a bonded travel agency. Here, Ian Barrie explains its latest move – opening a concession in a ski retailer
Q: Why did you switch from a career as a corporate lawyer to become a travel agent and tour operator?
A: In 2008, I went on a corporate ski trip. It was fantastic – I enjoy skiing and it broke down barriers within the team. When I returned, I started thinking about a change of direction, as I had always had a hankering to set up my own business. I saved up and started Glacius Travel in 2011, as a niche corporate ski travel provider. I am still a freelance commercial lawyer in the summer, which has brought in extra funding to develop the business. Ultimately, I hope to work on the business full-time year round. I do love being a lawyer but there is a lot of pressure; it’s a stressful environment.
Q: Are there any similar skills involved in being a lawyer and an agent?
A: The number of transferable skills is incredible: attention to detail and the ability to communicate something complex, for example. Having been a lawyer in a corporate environment has helped. We double and triple check everything, and when we provide quotes to customers, they are in branded PDF presentations.
Q: How did the agency business start?
A: I started the business in my parents’ shed. For the first two-and-a-half years, it was just me. We took several corporate groups on small trips [as a tour operator] and soon lots of people were asking for normal holidays. At that point, I was Atol-bonded only, not Abta. I went to Barrhead Travel, and fast forward three months, we became an unbranded branch of Brilliant Travel in October 2012. That allowed us to sell the full market of ski holidays to families and groups as an agent. It was a no-brainer to become an agent as well as an operator. In 2013, I met Adam Brown, my business partner, who had worked as a ski rep and was looking for a new challenge. It’s been great to have his operational knowledge. We moved in 2014 to a serviced office. There are a lot of costs and it takes time to build your client base. As a niche operator, it was difficult, but being a full-service operator and agent means we are in profit, as revenue is split across the two businesses.
Q: Why and how did the partnership with ski-shop owners Craigdon Mountain Sports come about?
A: There was a profile on Glacius in The Scotsman in 2012, and I subsequently received a text from the owner of the ski shop asking if I was looking for premises. Building the premises, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, was delayed, but it opened six weeks ago. Now we are a concession in a brand-new ski shop. They sell outdoors clothing and equipment, with a strong emphasis on skiing. This means people who walk past us are usually skiers. At the moment, it’s a case of explaining who we are. But we have several enquiries in the final stages of booking. The future is positive.
Tips on setting up a business:
Tip 1. Clients judge you on your reputation, behaviour and brand, so be on the ball when it comes to anything customer-facing.
Tip 2: Get advice. Speak to as many people as possible to get ideas on how to set up your business.
Tip 3: Be resilient. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!
2012: set up the travel agency arm of Glacius Travel
2011: founded Glacius Travel, Edinburgh
2005-11: commercial lawyer based in Glasgow, Edinburgh, London and Dubai, including three years as a corporate lawyer for travel technology provider Travelport
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