Travel group continues to soar

Taking a setback as an opportunity to examine and develop, New Winner Topflight has come back stronger and more sustainable

Anthony Collins, Group CEO, Topflight Travel Group: After a couple of years of internal focus during Covid, the external viewpoint was challenging but very beneficial

In the early 1990s, Tony Collins acquired the ‘Topflight’ brand and applied it to his own start-up tour operating business, specialising in ski holidays as well as summer holidays to Italy.

Since then, the business has grown, both organically and through acquisitions, to become one of the UK and Ireland’s leading specialist holiday companies, with sons Anthony and Neal joining forces in 2013 through the merger of their start-up, Directski.com, the recently acquired Ski Beat (the UK’s leading ski chalet company), Topflight and Topflight for Schools to form the Topflight Travel Group.

Today, the venture employs around 60 permanent staff across its bases in Ireland, the UK, Austria and France along with over 120 seasonal staff in its resorts.

Group chief executive Anthony Collins said the focus across the group is on delivering a personal, high-level service to guests.

Technology-backed people

“That starts with having the right people on the front line, both at home and in our resorts, many of whom have been with us for over 20 years, but also means employing developing technology to help everything run smoothly and ensuring all departments are aware of the role they play directly or indirectly in improving our guests’ experience,” he said.

“My role in the company is to ensure that our senior management team are working towards a common goal of profitable long-term growth, and to see that they have the teams and resources they need to achieve that. I also support the Lean Management champions in our business to ensure that our people and resources are focused on areas that our customers really value.”

Ensuring that its customers always receive the best possible service, the company’s management sought to achieve validation for what it had achieved so far and applied to participate in the Ireland’s Best Managed Company programme.

Covid opportunity

“While Covid travel restrictions brought our holiday sales to a standstill, it did allow us time to reassess and improve every aspect of our business, from the holidays we featured to how we ran our business,” said Collins. “By January this year, we felt our business was in better shape than ever but that we’d like to put that to the test, and get recognition for what we felt we’d achieved.

“So, we submitted our initial application in February and were delighted to be invited to submit a Phase Two application. This required us to be very clear on our numbers and on what aspects of our business were important to our guests, employees, and partners. Preparing the application required discussion and input from the full management team and many of our other staff, which was a very positive process following the difficult Covid years. It was nice to be focusing on the positives and our achievements.”

Challenged assumptions

The chief executive said the process of completing the application forced them to consider all aspects of the business, while the sessions with the coaches from Deloitte and Bank of Ireland really challenged their assumptions and helped them to recognise success, but also areas for improvement.

“After a couple of years of internal focus during Covid, the external viewpoint was challenging but very beneficial,” he said. “And the deadlines set by the Best Managed process also created a sense of urgency — nudging some goals and activities from ‘something we’re working on’ to ‘something we’ve achieved’.”

Attaining these goals was not only important to Topflight Travel Group, it was also instrumental in it being named as a winner, and Collins said the company is constantly looking to improve itself.

Sustainable performance

“We understand that strong, sustainable financial performance is a prerequisite for any Best Managed Company, so we were delighted to have impressed the judges on that front,” he said. “However, I think it was how we’ve aligned so many aspects of our business to our strategy that helped us really stand out. Our strategy is to achieve consistent profitable growth on the back of repeat business driven by exceeding our guests’ expectations.

“We believe achieving that is not the job of one department but rather, it can only be achieved by aligning the destinations we feature, our pre-travel and in-resort service, our technology, processes, and Lean activity. This requires a team who are also aligned around and passionate about this common goal.

“In our business, our nature is to see the gaps and look for improvements, and participating in the Ireland’s Best Managed Company programme required us to step back and also recognise our achievements. As we crafted our application and worked through our coaching sessions, we found lots to celebrate with the team.”

Travel on track

Following the setbacks experienced in many sectors during the pandemic, Collins believes that the travel industry is back on track and the company is looking forward to continuing its success. In the meantime, he would advise any other businesses participating in the programme to avail of all the opportunities offered.

“I could see how some companies might treat participation in the Best Managed programme as a marketing department responsibility,” he said. “But I feel that approach will fall short of what the judges expect and also misses out on the opportunity which the process brings to work with your teams.”