A familiar face in the travel and tourism industry, Amy Moore talks to Denise Bridges, Managing Director of Albatross Travel, who was elected Chair of the Coach Tourism Council in May this year
How did you get into the industry?
I started in hotels as a Trainee Manager, gaining experience in all aspects of operations including the kitchen. I subsequently moved into group reservations and then travel trade sales. I spent 10 years at the former Stakis Hotels and then moved to the Whitbread Hotel Company. I also opened LEGOLAND in Windsor as Head of Sales, before returning to the hotel sector. I joined Albatross Travel four and a half years ago.
How familiar are you with the coach tourism industry?
I have been a supplier to the coach tourism industry for over 30 years. I began by working in hotel sales and now I am responsible for tours and holidays. It is a fascinating industry with which I am proud to have had such a long association.
What do you like most about the industry?
For me, it’s all about the people. Our role at Albatross Travel is to help operators come up with tours that they can successfully sell to their customers, and support them operationally by being innovative, consistent and different.
Tell us more about the Albatross Group
The Group was founded in 1985 by Sally and Manfred Thelen in a small office in North London. The company began by providing wholesale group accommodation packages to a handful of coach operators throughout the UK. Since then, it has grown into a multi award-winning collection of group tourism businesses employing over 130 people. We operate around 6,000 groups every year throughout the UK and continental Europe.
How does Albatross Travel fit into the Albatross Group?
I like to think that Albatross Travel is the beating heart at the centre of the Group. Albatross Travel offers wholesale group accommodation packages to coach operators throughout the UK. We specialise in holidays to the continent, countries such as Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland but equally, sell as many holidays into and around the UK and Ireland.
Outline your role at Albatross Travel
My role as Managing Director is to ensure that we are delivering fantastic customer service to our coach operator clients, that we have successful and strong relationships with our suppliers, that we meet our budgets and that we strive to be market leader. Keeping ahead of the game, and being innovative is the key to everything that we do.
What have been your biggest achievements at Albatross Travel?
We introduced the ‘Guaranteed Coach Driver Free Single’ concept on a number of tours. So coach operators buying tours from us which may have as few as 12 people booked, can be assured that the driver will still travel for free and receive a single room. This award-winning initiative has helped to make the decision process much easier for coach operators.
What’s your favourite UK destination?
I love the Scottish Highlands, particularly around Grantown-on-Spey. You’ve got the mountains, the deep valleys and the countryside. It is a simply stunning area.
What’s your favourite European destination?
I would choose Paris. It is a cosmopolitan city, which never disappoints in terms of the variety of things to see and do. Paris provides endless ideas for different tours and short breaks.
Any new developments at Albatross Travel?
Albatross Travel is merging with London specialist brand, Albatross London, with Denise Bridges at the helm.
The announcement follows the departure of Angela Heaton, Managing Director of Albatross London and London Hotels & Travel Service (LHTS), who has decided to step down due to increasingly challenging family circumstances. Albatross London’s sales and operations staff will relocate to Albatross Travel’s base in Larkfield, Kent. The product team, led by Phil Taylor, will remain in central London and continue to work with London suppliers for hotels, theatre tickets and other events for all Albatross Group brands. LHTS will also remain in London and will continue as a specialist brand, servicing its existing client base under the direction of Denise Bridges.
Commenting on the move, Denise said: “I am delighted that the new Albatross Travel team will be able to provide our clients with a complete one-stop-shop offering a full range of products throughout the UK and Ireland, continental Europe and now London, still a key destination in many operator’s brochures.”
How have you approached your new role at the Coach Tourism Council?
I’ve approached it with care, because the CTC is in a great place already. I think that Sean Taggart did a fantastic job as Chair; I believe we have an excellent Chief Executive in Chris Wales and PR administration in Paul Ovington.
How did you become involved with the Coach Tourism Council?
Ever since I joined Albatross, I’ve been heavily involved, utilising the networking opportunities, attending the conferences and workshops and meeting with clients at various stages.
What are your responsibilities?
My role is to ensure that meetings are chaired appropriately and that the correct decisions are made. Chris and Paul are very experienced and do a fantastic job in their respective roles, so they make it very easy for me.
What changes do you plan to make?
I want to see a renewed focus on the Hotel Charter, and to launch an Attractions Charter, to make it easier for operators to see whether a visitor attraction is suitable for coach visits. We need to focus on membership and all aspects around improving the promotion of tourism and travel by coach.
I still think coach travel has an important role to play and I think we can be confident that in a stable economy, growth in coach and group travel will also continue in the year ahead. I think it’s a safe mode of travel for customers – everything is done for them and they don’t have to worry about where their luggage is. Some operators offer a door-to-door service, where they pick-up and drop-off passengers. I think that it’s still a wonderful way to take a holiday.
What do you like most about your new role?
For me, it’s working with a varied mix of industry experts that currently make up the Board. That’s what makes us effective, making sure that we are taking into account all elements of the industry, so that we can come out with the right decisions and the right focus.
What do you see for the future of the Coach Tourism Council?
We need to maintain our efforts on press and PR with our brand ‘Join the Coach Party.’ We have to make sure our conferences are relevant and that we are engaging with our operators. We plan to build membership above current levels of 300 members, of which over half are coach companies, which is really important to us. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I think it’s looking very positive.