It sounds like a serious traveler’s dream, starting your own holiday company, not tied to any one provider to ensure a broader range of offerings, with prices 25% to 40% cheaper than anywhere else.
That dream became a reality for travel enthusiasts Brett Norton and Stephen Knight when they launched their travel startup, Ultimate Travel Club, during lockdown. The pair are also travel industry veterans and called on their combined knowledge and experience in commercial strategy and marketing for travel, leisure and hospitality businesses to develop their concept.
CEO Norton says: “We are both travelers first, and as travelers, we want greater flexibility, more choice and real impartiality. But we’re also all in the travel industry, so we know that traditional companies aren’t set up to offer all this at a reasonable price, which is why we went ahead and created our own travel company.”
Central to Ultimate Travel Club is its subscription model, charging members an annual fee of £99 ($120). Business revenue comes from subscription fees rather than from what members purchase via the site, including holidays, cruises, flights, or car hire.
As Norton explains, traditional travel firms are built around inherited infrastructure and high overheads, adding additional costs that get passed on to the customer.
“Our business was specifically designed to provide flexible travel at the best prices, says Norton. “It’s because we don’t have the legacy business model and costs that established travel companies have that we are often 40% cheaper than other providers. Last week, our live online price comparison tool showed that 91% of searches were cheaper with us than with other holiday providers.”
Ultimate Travel Club was soft-launched at the end of 2021. The founders used feedback from their first members to tweak the customer journey. They invested in the platform by opening up free search access for all online and developed a price-comparison widget before launching an official marketing campaign.
While most members search and book online, aided by a members’ app, the firm also has UK-based travel experts available to answer questions and make bespoke telephone bookings. Alongside the consumer proposition, the company has developed business travel, partnership and employee benefits propositions
Launching a travel business during the pandemic was always going to be challenging, with frequent changes to the travel rules and the fact that the founders couldn’t physically meet as a team as they prepared to launch the business.
“Regular check-ins kept us aligned, and while we are still cloud-based, our customer experience staff are working in shared office spaces to suit them,” says Norton. “We meet daily online and physically in London every month. We have made a virtue out of being virtual.”
The startup secured £250,000 in seed investment from several angel investors, while the rest of the funding came from several founder members and the directors themselves.
Membership is currently doubling every month, and to date, those members have collectively made savings of more than £1.6 million ($2 million). “Within two years, we would be disappointed if we hadn’t captured over 150,000 active members,” says Norton.
The company employs 10 people and forecasts an annual turnover of £5 million by the end of 2023. “The forecast is modest and realistic,” says Norton. “We are looking for sustainable growth, and all our revenue is going back into tech development and marketing. We have an addressable market of 6.7 million people in the UK alone.”
The founders are in discussions with several well-known brands looking to partner with Ultimate Travel Club across various sectors and channels. Norton anticipates the B2B side of their proposition to grow more quickly than the direct-to-consumer element of the business.
He says: “We’ve had great feedback about how the proposition works for individuals, companies of all sizes looking for gifts or great ways to reward, retain and attract talent, and SMEs that want to save on staff travel. In the future, UTC 2.0 will allow us to create hyper personalization using machine learning and AI to understand and serve content based on individual travel likes and needs; that’s when it will get very exciting.”