An Expert View with…



How did you get into the leisure boating business?

For much of my career, I worked in multinational companies in the hospitality business, including Wimpy and Pizzaland, Pizza Hut and Guinness Irish Pubs, mostly based in the Far East. I returned to the UK in 2001 and started to look for a hospitality business to run along with my wife, Judith. Meanwhile, our son Jay was looking for ‘anything to do with boats’ and the two searches came together when we settled on English Holiday Cruises, an inland holiday cruise business based in Gloucester. We were attracted by the unusual nature of the business; it was virtually the only inland cruising business with any scale in the UK, and there was an opportunity to build it further by improving the hospitality offer.

How did you develop a Groups offer?

When we bought the business, it was already accommodating coach parties quite regularly. However, the packages were often different to the individual retail packages on offer, the quality of hospitality was inconsistent and there were virtually no bookings by private groups. It was important to sort those issues out early on. We resolved the issues of inconsistent hospitality by attending a course in Tourism Excellence, joined the Quality in Tourism Scheme run by Enjoy England, secured feedback questionnaires from every guest, improved crew recruitment and training procedures and invested in equipment and décor upgrades. Once our product had improved, we renewed our website, employed a PR agent and advertised in the group travel media. We have now been running the same, high-quality cruise holidays for coach parties, private groups and individuals for several years as we believe that everybody deserves the same high standard. GTOs often come as casual individuals first, and only then realise what a good holiday we would provide for their group, so we have to deliver the same product whenever they return. Our flagship vessel, the Edward Elgar, is a four-star Hotel Boat for 22 passengers and it sells out every year, often to private groups. We have received terrific reviews from group leaders and a high proportion of our business is repeat or referral business.

What do you find groups appreciate that is different from individually-booked customers?

Coach parties, clubs and other groups can secure a better rate from us by reserving the entire vessel well before their holiday date. If they come by coach, they only need to hire it for the outward and return journeys and the travel is more relaxing than by car. They also avoid car-parking charges, which are compulsory at our city centre location. We look after everything, not just the accommodation and full-board meals, but also guided tours to local places of interest and a commentary about the glorious views and destinations along our sailing routes. Even when we have a ‘retail’ cruise with guests who don’t know each other at first, by the end of the cruise everybody is the best of friends and already a group member! Some even come back together.

Richard Clements has now been running English Holiday Cruises for over a decade.