Excursions Limited, UK, restarts with a huge increase in business
Everyone likes a good news story and Excursions UK has one. From 450 port calls in 2019 to 750 this year, the UK shore excursion provider has witnessed a massive restart post Covid-19.
Managing director Rupert Woodard says: “It’s been a hugely busy year. It just bounced back. The blessing is that our whole team is back and we are now recruiting extra staff for next year.”
The ability to work from home means Excursions UK can have people on the ground in many locations throughout the UK from Kirkwall to East Sussex with the head office being in Swindon.
The reality is that the past couple of years have been extremely difficult to navigate as the industry stuttered to a restart. Staff on furlough were unable to pitch in unless they were ‘unfurloughed’, which caused all sorts of difficulties when cruiselines were forced to cancel itineraries as another wave hit.
Fortunately for all concerned, the return came before the business hit the rocks. Woodard explains that his decision to concentrate on small, niche, luxury and expedition ships back in 2008 – prior to the sector taking off in more recent years – turned out to be a wise one.
Supply chain issues have meant the team had “to do a lot of lateral thinking,” explains Woodard. “The standout issue that we experienced in UK was with visitor attractions. Some have not yet reopened and those that have are not taking group bookings any more, for example to visit Windsor Castle bookings have to be made online. We have to pass the cost on to the cruiselines which are not keen to take the risk and hence cancel the tour.”
In addition some attractions are so busy that they no longer need to book in groups. Hence Excursions UK “had to do a lot of reinventing and create some new tours.”
With the UK the first to open to cruises, Excursions UK has seen calls rise dramatically from clients such as Noble Caledonia and Hurtigruten. “We have also seen quite an uplift for next year as well and again I suspect that is partly redeployment,” says Woodard.
The company’s client with the largest ships is Viking Cruises, which was the first to start cruising down the English coast post pandemic on May 24. Creative thinking was needed to create tours of no more than 90 minutes as passengers had to remain in bubbles in buses, and hence were unable to take comfort breaks outside of the ship.
Despite the constraints, Woodard looks back on it as “quite a nice experience,” saying there was a lot of understanding from cruiselines and passengers. “Everyone involved was happy”.
Looking ahead, he says: “The company is growing nicely. We have about 20 lines we love working with. We have new product and new things coming next year. Cruiselines are coming back and newbuilds too. We have become a bit of a magnet for the smaller ships. We are not distracted by volume.”
Sustainability is high on the company’s agenda having introduced beach clean tours before the trend set in. Now everything it does is audited by Travelife, which encompasses not just the tours themselves but office protocols for the employees both in the office and at home.
Vital to the success of any tour is the engagement of the local community. Woodard cites the example of Carol’s ponies in the Shetland. When passengers stop to pet them, they can also make a donation. The first year there was enough to buy an MRI scanning machine for the local hospital, the second, during Covid, an osteopathic bed and this year … well let’s see.