Special Report: Newmarket hails shift to air and cruise

Operator’s commercial director David Sharman tells Samantha Mayling that agents have helped it through an uncertain market this year

Newmarket Holidays is on course to equal or even surpass 2017’s record sales growth, thanks in part to axing its range of domestic and European coach breaks.

The operator’s sales soared by 15% in 2017, but 2018 was a more challenging year with “single-digit” growth.

However, after dropping coach breaks in January and focusing on air and cruise holidays, plus ongoing support from the trade, Newmarket is on track for a bumper 2019.

The new strategy has helped the operator to “firmly position” its brand, according to commercial director David Sharman.

He said: “Our air and cruise programmes represent by far the biggest proportion of our business and are where we believe the company can continue to grow.

“Agents are now much clearer about what to expect – higher quality, greater value and what Newmarket represents.

“Sales in these core areas have exceeded our expectations this year.”

The “security, advice and comfort” that agents offer customers during this time of political uncertainty mean that trade sales are “outstripping other channels”.

“Agents helped customers navigate the uncertainty and Newmarket attributes a significant proportion of this year’s growth to that belief,” he said.
Strong voice

Newmarket’s membership of the Association of Touring & Adventure Suppliers (Atas) also pays dividends.

“Atas has placed an important spotlight on this sector,” said Sharman. “The touring sector is lucky to have such a strong trade voice. News and commentary are at the heart of Atas’s activities and it has facilitated operators coming together as a body.

“It gives gravitas to the sector and shows what potential there is for agents to sell a diverse range of holidays to a wide demographic.

“The events are crucial. Agents attend these events – where else can we showcase what Newmarket offers?”

Many high street stores now have their own touring sections, Sharman noted.

To tap into this growing demand, Newmarket upgraded its trade portal earlier this year to offer more training and marketing support – and is seeing positive feedback from agents.

Overall, Newmarket employs 150 staff, and its trade sales team of six plans to recruit more in the second half of 2019 to help growth in 2020.

Furthermore, it has dedicated retail support in its call centre, marketing and finance teams.

Plans for 2020 will get another boost in September when new chief executive Niel Alobaidi takes the reins.

“That appointment represents the next significant step in the implementation of our strategic plan,” said Sharman.

“We have a loyal customer base, a firm financial base, and excellent relationships with our suppliers and partners. We also, and most importantly, have a team immersed in destination and operational expertise.”

One particularly strong market is long-haul, and Europe is still growing, albeit in an “unpredictable” manner, Sharman said.

Newmarket has nine tours to India and Nepal, with more in the pipeline, and other growth areas are Asia, South America and African safaris.

“Touring America and Canada continues to be popular and these destinations remain at the heart of our portfolio,” added Sharman.

Despite uncertainty in Europe, Sharman remains “bullish” about the overall picture on the Continent.

“We have therefore continued with our own European flight charter programme to Italy in 2020,” he said.

“Italy continues to be the destination of choice and we offer a range of tour types, from gourmet to vineyards, opera to train journeys, plus favourites such as the stunning Amalfi coast or the less-travelled beauty of Puglia.”

Newmarket is also looking to expand its range in Croatia.

“The strategic review to focus on escorted tours by air and cruise holidays has enabled us to further strengthen our core activities and not chase sales in areas that were not performing,” he said.

“We introduced 35 new tours in our January 2019 collection and our summer launch will see further exciting additions.”

Target market

The over-50s market is Newmarket’s priority and its portfolio of more than 300 holidays is evolving to cater for different audiences within that sector.

“The introduction of small-group tours, for example, appealed to a
new customer base that wouldn’t look to travel on a tour of 40. We also have a growing number of rail-based escorted tours,” said Sharman.

“You don’t have to abandon your core to appeal to a wider customer base.”

He added: “There are now more than 23 million people aged over 50 in the UK – that is more than a third of the population and it is also the third with the highest level of disposable income.”

Further ahead, Sharman feels the issue of overtourism is one of travel’s biggest challenges.

“Satisfying customers’ thirst for travel, exploration and new experiences needs to be balanced with achieving it in a sustainable way,” he said.

“If we don’t do this ourselves, I can see the consumer calling us to account and demanding that we provide travel in a sustainable way.”