A North East travel specialist has unveiled ambitious expansion plans for the year ahead as it looks to leave 2020 trailing in its wake.
Now Lets Travel, an independent cruise travel agency, has extended its head office and contact centre in Sunderland and opened a new store in Newcastle city centre as it looks to bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The firm – which is headquartered at the North East Business & Innovation Centre (BIC) and reported an annual turnover of £4.5 million prior to the crisis – remained operational throughout the pandemic despite seeing its entire business grind to a halt.
Like many others in the sector, the company saw business drop-off almost immediately once lockdown measures were introduced in March, with travel restrictions placing an immediate ban on all travel and thousands of customers forced to cancel holidays.
Despite this, the company is confident that the introduction of a vaccine and the lifting of travel restrictions will see the market exceed pre-Covid levels and – having already received scores of enquiries from customers looking to book up for 2021/2022 – is confident its latest expansion will prove vital as people look to shake-off the lockdown blues.
Paul Johnstone, founder and managing director, said: “In the seven years since we launched the company, it continued to grow year-on-year until the pandemic hit in March. We’re confident that, once the market returns to normal, this latest expansion will help us pick up where we left off pre-Covid.
“Our staff continued to work throughout the crisis, ensuring all of our customers received the support they required to deal with cancellations and to provide them with advice on future bookings and we’re already starting to see this hard-work bear fruit with an upsurge in interest for 2021/2022.”
The decision to open a new store on Newcastle’s Ridley Place follows the success of its first physical branch in Jesmond and is a much-needed fillip for the industry, with six travel operators recently closing operations in the city.
“There’s no hiding from the fact that the pandemic has been catastrophic for the sector,” Paul added. “Over the past year we’ve seen job cuts in almost every aspect of the industry with airlines, high street chains and independent agencies all forced to close their doors and stop trading almost overnight.
“Now Lets Travel has been extremely fortunate in the respect that, over the past few years, we’ve been growing so quickly that we’ve been fixated on the present and never really had an opportunity to pause and plan for the future.
“The Newcastle store is something that has been on the cards for some time and I’m pleased we’ve been able to provide jobs to some of those put out of work from the closure of other high street branches in the city.”
The new store coincides with the expansion of the company’s head office at the North East BIC which will allow the company to manage the increase in customer demand generated from the new branch and will result in the creation of more jobs for the company.
Paul adds: “We moved to the BIC 18 months ago and the team have been absolutely fantastic in helping us grow the business. From a small business point of view, the setup is perfect for any company looking to quickly scale its operations.
“The flexible office space they provide has meant we’ve been able to expand our presence with little to no interruption to our service. They also manage everything from our telecoms to our IT systems and utilities, leaving us to focus on the business while they manage everything else. We couldn’t really ask for anything more and look forward to continue working with the team as we look to the future.”
Donna Surtees, Centre Manager at the North East BIC: “It’s been great working with Paul and the team over the past 18 months and the fact that they’re continuing to grow and create jobs, at a time of such hardship for the travel sector, is testament to the fantastic work they’ve put in since launching the business.”