INC. Travel Group is realigning its focus on managed travel in niche markets, following an upswing in activity driven by travel bookers.
The corporate sector has always been a priority for Bill Tannahill, the group’s chief executive, but with its many acquisitions over the past few years, plus new technology and a new consortium membership, there are also many other plans for the Manchester-headquartered TMC.
“It’s difficult to stick it out in a homogenous market,” he says, “so we hooked on to two ideas – we have travellers and bookers.” This is reflected in the company website, and a new campaign which immediately splits visitors into “movers” or “move makers”.
“We speak and service both, but we’ve found over recent months there are more enquiries from bookers,” he adds. “Our strategy is to grow our corporate base – it’s the biggest sector, but we want to support that with niche, such as other sports, and marine security.”
Tannahill would have every right to sport a knowing look as the industry’s wave of acquisitions and buyouts continue, having overseen several since joining the Incorporate Travel shortly after it was set up in 2013.
After it was formed, INC. swiftly purchased Yorkshire-based independent agency Sellers Travel and Tannahill joined three months later.
“We realised we needed significant volume to grow business,” Tannahill says, which led to the decision to buy Bolton-based SAT Business Travel. “They had marine business, and a good margin… but we had to improve the technology.”
Then the Travel Management Company: An agency which manages business travel for a company. changed tack, and briefly paused to take stock and consider growing more organically. “In 2014, we were still under the Incorporate brand. We had a disparate office structure, so relocated to Manchester. Then we began to see the stresses, the growing pains, of growing a business.
“We made a few mistakes in the first two acquisitions, we did too much too quickly,” he recollects. “In 2016, I took over as chief executive, and immediately made key promotions internally. At that point, it felt right to put an identity on the business.”
The INC. brand then took over – but the acquisitions continued, with the Travel Management Company: An agency which manages business travel for a company. snapping up Fairway Travel in Halifax in December 2016. “Fairway has a niche, so we wanted to support them from an infrastructure perspective. The Fairway name will stay, but we would go in as INC. Travel Sports to get into new sports.”
Focus on the future
Today, INC’s turnover is £25m, and it counts Umbro and Brother as clients. It joined the Advantage Focus group last year
“My view is, we are not a technology company. Our accounts have one individual, it’s all about the personal service – get it right, and you can remove the headaches.”
Tannahill is hoping to clear those headaches from potential customers moving from larger TMCs. “We’re getting a lot of traction from clients from people saying ‘we’re with the big boys, but they’ve got a single way of operating’. I’ve said to some clients that they were probably too large for us, but we pitched anyway – and won.”
INC. has been shortlisted in the Best TMC (Less than £50 million UK annual sales) category for the 2019 Business Travel Awards. See the full shortlist here