Careful navigation has kept Cork travel firm airborne
Future Proof: Michael Doorley, Shandon Travel Group, Cork
A rise in the use of the internet to book travel, and a dramatic decline in consumer spending on leisure and business, left Shandon Travel managing director Michael Doorley facing a “sink or swim” scenario at the beginning of 2009.
Doorley set up Shandon Travel in 1974, having worked for various travel agencies since finishing school and deciding he wanted to be his own boss. The company now has 32 staff and five retail shops in Cork city and county under the brands Shandon Travel, SAYIT travel and West Cork Travel, including tour operating divisions to France, Cuba, India, South and Central America.
In 2012, the firm scooped the Most Innovative Travel Agent gong at the Irish Travel Industry Awards, an award voted for by travel professionals throughout the country.
Doorley set up Student and Youth Independent Travel (SAYIT) in 1994 after noticing a gap in the student travel and J1 market.
“I looked at the overall travel market in Ireland and one area stuck out like a sore thumb. One travel company had total dominance of J1 visas and student flights, so I decided to try and break that monopoly.”
“It was difficult at first, as all the Government agencies kept referring us to that company. We now hold a third of the market share for student travel.”
The recession hit the travel industry hard in early 2009, resulting in the collapse of some big travel companies according to Doorley.
“By mid-January 2009 we saw a substantial fall off in our daily business and in particular in forward business.”
He said economists believed that in a recessionary economy, travel and tourism would suffer more than most sectors.
“Consequently, some travel product suppliers had a knee jerk reaction to the recession in the Irish economy and began looking for security guarantees that they did not require before the recession, and these were new demands on top of the decline in business.”
“We didn’t take a knife to the overheads – we used a machete. My attitude was to steady the ship in 2009 and then look for renewed growth and continue chipping away at reducing overheads.”
This meant closing retail offices, reducing staff numbers from 50 to 32, introducing wage cuts, negotiating rent reductions and better deals with suppliers, cutting all other overheads. A reduction of more than 50 per cent in overhead costs was achieved.
“Wages account for 60 per cent of our overheads so it was important to take control of that cost. We also closed three of our stores.”