Former Wendy Wu Tours managing director Laurence Hicks is set to launch three new travel ventures – an online aggregator of touring holidays and two businesses for the LGBT market.
Hicks has joined forces with technology expert Rhod Evans – architect of Travelink, which sold to Comtec, and Tiger Bay which sold to Atcore, to create Tour Hound – a touring and adventure aggregating platform.
He said: “It will pull in all the content and inventory of participating tour operators with touring product and will be a search and results-driven platform that will return options based on the criteria the consumer has input. It will be like a comparison website where a consumer’s choices determine the results.”
Hicks stressed Tour Hound was not going to act as an agent making sales but instead an aggregator of content, driving consumers to tour operators’ websites or generating leads to their call centres.
He said: “If the operator has online bookability, then we will drive customers to their websites to book. If they don’t, it will be lead generation and we will both capture customer information that we will deliver to partners via email, or for each operator featured, we will give them a dedicated number that customers can call. We will own those numbers so can track that the call went to the operator in question and that operator would know if the call was generated by Tour Hound.”
Hicks said he would like to have 10-15 tour operator partners’ content loaded on the site for launch in mid-Summer, and expected that to double within six to nine months.
He said he was already in advanced talks with up to 10 partners who saw the new distribution channel as a “no brainer”.
Tour operators won’t pay to feature on the site, but would pay Tour Hound a commission on any bookings made that came via the aggregator or for leads generated into its call centre.
Hicks said he had a “war chest” of funds to spend on marketing both on and offline to raise awareness among consumers, and he said the next step after launch was to consider a B2B model of the site.
“Initially, it’s going to be a B2C business, but if the model is successful, we could potentially licence the software to agents,” he revealed.
Meanwhile, he is also launching two travel businesses aimed at the LGBT sector.
The first, inclusiveretreats.com, will be a fully online bookable site offering properties that are “either owned, managed, run, sympathetic to, or understanding of, the LGBT market”, said Hicks.
“We are building a platform that will list those properties – from homestays to five-star hotels – that have these credentials and where LGBT customers can be assured that they are not going to have their lifestyle choices questioned when they arrive.”
Hicks, who officially left Wendy Wu Tours last week after announcing his departure from the China specialist in February, said the site has been set up in response to growing demand from agents and his personal experiences.
He is already in talks with brands like Belmond Group and Centara about featuring on the site, and also intends to list a Sicily property he owns with partner Sam Stanley, believing that homestays will be very popular with LGBT couples.
Hicks said the thing that will set inclusiveretreats.com apart from other sites when it goes live this summer is that it will have full online bookability, and the ability to dynamically package other elements, such as flights, transfers, car hire etc, with the accommodation.
This will be possible under the ATOL licence owned by parent company Beachball Holidays and Travel (currently undergoing a company name change to The Tonic Travel Group), which has been trading since 2004, predominantly fulfilling flights for timeshare prospects and owners in Malta.
This umbrella brand, The Tonic Travel Group, which is 80% owned by Hicks and 20% owned by director Martin Zahra, formerly of Belleair Holidays, will encompass the Malta flights business and be joined by inclusiveretreats.com. Hicks said it was likely he would have to talk to the CAA about increasing its 500 passenger licence.
LGBT-friendly agents or any agents looking to focus on the LGBT sector will be paid commission for any bookings made on the inclusiveretreats.com site.
Hicks said: “No-one else is offering anything like this. We are contracting product, the inventory will either be held by us or we will have XML feeds with live pricing and we will have offers available. We will market this via all the major LGBT channels and also via a lot of activity on social media.
“It [the LGBT market] is a market where agents don’t know where to look at the moment,” he added.
He said it would not just be restricted to beach properties but would add city breaks, ski, cruise and villas over time.
Hicks’s final venture, also to be a trading name of The Tonic Travel Group, is called Attitude Tours, and is being run in partnership with LGBT magazines Attitude and Wink, to offer exclusive LGBT tours led by an LGBT personality.
He revealed he was already in talks with Sir Ian McKellen about a ‘Gandalf revisited’ tour to New Zealand.
He said he was actively recruiting for a general manager of The Tonic Travel Group, and for a team of people to run the Tour Hound tours aggregator.