First of all (as usual!), apologies for the lack of blogs lately but as you can probably imagine things have been rather hectic as we have been working very closely with martins on the handover of the business. Martins have ran some private tours already and are going to bravely start a limited tour programme from next weekend, needless to say, we wish them every success.
As from about the middle of next week I will hand over the admin of the site to Noelle and William Martin and hopefully our new site www.signaturetours.ie will be up and running soon so if you enjoy my blogs keep a look out, also don’t forget my homepage at blogger.com (http://barrattexec.blogspot.com/) I will continue to post news on there as it happens.
Our last tours back in December really did mark the end of an era for us and it is hard to adjust to giving up our baby, you know what is happening to our business but what about our vehicles? Well I shall now reveal all in order of age:
Celtic Spirit – Our original bus is staying with me and Chris and has recently been resurrected for a trip to UK hopefully next weekend where it is to have an obscene amount of money lavished on it to make it as good as new and ready for our forthcoming nostalgia tours.
Celtic Princess – Our faithful minibus is again staying with us but is now no longer a bus, it is undergoing a conversion to our very own camper which will help us to travel during the summer a little and indeed our first festival is booked for August!
Celtic Pride – Now up for sale and honestly will be a fantastic buy for anyone – contact us if you are interested!
Celtic Shadow - Will remain to be our car and will be available for chauffer tours under our new company.
Celtic Star – Is to be the main vehicle operating Barratt Tours as it has been sold to Martins – they had better mind my friend Rambo!
Celtic Angel –Our new coach is to be the backbone of our new Signature tours – look out for them!
So major changes and a bit of a scary time but we are both feeling good about the new found freedom that we will have particularly in the summer months.
Finally as this is really my last official Barratt Tours blog I would just like to thank everyone that has made Barratt Tours what it is today and I will do my best to thank you all in order:
My partner in life and business – There would be no Barratt Tours to sell without the help of one very special person – Christine, she has been a rock to me as well as other driver, cleaner etc etc. I think we have made a fantastic team and her exploits and qualities are too many to mention here but suffice to say she deserves far more than half the credit for our success.
Our passengers - nobody is more important than all the lovely people we have met over the years that have really made our job a pleasure. At the lowest times it has always given me a boost to hear words of encouragement from appreciative people who choose our tours and one of the greatest buzzes for me is when I hear things like” I did this tour with you in 1998” or similar – I will really miss that!
Our friends in the trade – There really are too many to name without running the risk of forgetting somebody, so you all know who you are both fellow day tour operators and coach operators – it has been an honour and a privilege to work with some of you lovely people and the feeling of “belonging” has made the journey very special to me and Chris.
Our competitors – from the (mostly!) friendly rivalry between us and our fellow rail tour operator (hi Jim) to the crazy and blatant copying of other lower quality operators I suppose this has been a vital ingredient of the wild 14 years of our Barratt Tours journey, one thing I hope is that you will all be rewarded with the amount of success appropriate to the amount of commitment, imagination and integrity that you have (if that is true it don’t look well for some, ha ha!)
The last thing I would like to say is that we wish Martins all the luck in the world with Barratt Tours and I hope that we have given you a firm foundation to build on, indeed I hope you will make one of my visions come true – I want to see a brand new Van Hool TX in full Barratt Tours livery – go on, I know you can do it!
First of all sorry for the lack of blogs for a few months now it is fair to say we have been making some life changing decisions and free time has been shall we say slightly limited!
As I hope regular readers will know, we enjoy our jobs but after 14 years of running Barratt Tours we felt it was time for a break and another challenge, this business really has taken it out of us and with the increase in competition we feel we are having to work ever harder for less return.
We always have loads of ideas of what we would like to do but the sheer amount of work in running our day tours has really tied us down, we took a holiday a couple of weeks ago and whilst relaxing in the sun I realised that it was the first Saturday that we hadn't worked since early March!
So what is happening? Well I have to report that we have sold the Barratt Tours day tour part of our business to our very good friends Martins Coaches of Limerick along with one of our vehicles.
Martins are long established and we feel sure will pick up where we leave off and operate great tours, they have some excellent driver/guides to step into our shoes.
This will take effect from 1st Jan 2012 so if you want to take a tour with us personally our last ones will be to The Cliffs on 17th December and Blarney and Cork on 18th December, we are thinking of having a few special guests along for both so book now and give us a good send off!
I cannot pretend that this has been and easy decision but a number of more personal reasons clinched it, as you know Chris was really ill last year and the sad passing of her mother really made us focus on things outside work. Also the realisation that we hadn't been able to do anything in the summer other than work for 15 years made us think, you might know I love music and old vehicles but every event connected with either happens when we are flat out with work! To summarise really we were starting to feel that life was passing as by particularly since we are both over 21 now!
So what are we going to do?
I have some big plans to launch a new website - still travel related but not involving coaches much! Also we are keeping our new coach Celtic Angel to offer our own small group tours which we will be running together which will be nice and these going to be known as Signature Tours, we will be releasing details of these very soon so keep watching the website – it will be linked from Barratt Tours!
I think I have given you enough news to digest for this week, look out next week for an up date and more information on our plans and the Barratt Tours programme for 2012.
As a final thought I would like to thank everyone that has taken our tours over the last 14 years this incredible journey would never have been possible without you!
It has been quite a busy period for us because as I have mentioned we are working on a major change for next year so every minute that is not spent driving, cleaning buses, doing office work or fixing buses is spent working on plans for 2012, I think we are still getting a good share of the business but as ever things could be better – hence why we are having a major shake up!
This week is a very nice one for us because, as usual my lovely parents are coming over to see us on Wednesday night for a weeks visit, it will be lovely to see them and test out my dads coach washing skills which at the age of 76 have to be seen to be believed! Unfortunately work commitments mean we get little time off to spend with them but it is always lovely to have them touring with us, I know their visit means a lot to Chris since she lost her own mum and my mum has filled the role of surrogate to Chris beautifully – thanks mum!
I had an “interesting” day on Saturday for the wrong reasons all was going well until Caherconnoll when my microphone chose to expire! I have a spare hand held mic which came with my coach which I had always assumed worked as it was brand new but guess what? It didn’t and so I had to shout a few facts which is not easy until Doolin when Chris met me with a replacement, I hope it didn’t spoil anyone’s tour, although some might have been glad to have me silenced!
I hope to be able to share some big news and pictures next week of a momentous occasion for Barratt Tours, times certainly are changing for us and I think they might be changes for the better although I’am not sure our bank manager would agree – watch this space, we are bursting to tell you!!
First of all big news we received a really pleasant surprise in the post the other day, sadly it was not a cheque for a million Euro but a certificate from Tripadvisor giving us a five star rating and a certificate of excellence, relatively small things like this mean such a lot to us and so for all of you that voted a huge thank you – we really owe it to you!
I’am writing this as I often do at Caherconnoll and today is a big day in the Burren in that the Sky ride bike race is taking place, so far I have been totally untroubled by it and I have to say the organization of the event seems to be very good, we were all well warned of closures in advance and, touch wood, all is going fairly to plan.
I cannot believe that we are already coming to the end of August, normally at this time we would be thinking of holidays for the winter but there is so much going on behind the scenes here for next year that we are not really sure what will be happening, as usual Thailand is beckoning but its looking a long way away at the moment!
For all time is flying by I have to admit our stress levels are not too stable, as you will gather there is a lot going on in our world and whilst I think we are getting our share of business the problem still remains that on quiet days we are still loosing some passengers to our opposition and so we both end up working for nothing which just proves the point that there is not really enough business to go around, what is so heartening though is that we seem to be getting the bulk of the business despite being slightly more expensive and we think that has a lot to do with word of mouth and sites like Tripadvisor, without sounding too cocky it has taken 14 years to gain a reputation like ours and whilst we are by no means perfect we are a lot closer than some, check out Tripadvisor and you will see what I mean!
First of all apologies for the lack of blogs lately, technology has failed me, I had 3 typed and my USB drive promptly died so they are lost for the moment, if any of you know how to rescue one of these things let me know, I have lost a lot of info I need! Life has also been nothing short of mad lately for us, we have so much going on both in our business and personal life that we barely have time to breathe!
As well as running the best tour company in Ireland which is now officially the most fun as voted by 9.9 out of 10 cats who expressed a preference (sorry cant help myself, our competitors hype beggers belief!) We are still dealing with the business of Chris’s late mothers’ affairs which is not easy with everything else that’s going on at the moment.
Back to the here and now, I find myself becalmed in the reception of the hotel at Blarney Woolen Mills as the weather has turned a bit nasty which has scuppered my usual routine of taking a walk for an hour or so. Let me bring you all up to date, we recently had another trip over to UK on business but unfortunately I cannot reveal why just yet – suffice to say I think we will surprise you in a good way!
We are currently working on a deal for next year that will mean the biggest change for us since we moved to Ireland, these are exciting a terrifying times for us, watch this space for news real soon!
We are getting back into the rhythm of running our 9 tours every week but it does feel harder each year – maybe it’s an age thing! We have finally received our new brochure and we think it looks lovely, also the new brochure marks a new strategy for us, we have given up trying to compete on price so we have come up with the idea of competing on value for our Cliffs of Moher tour. We wanted to find a way to show how much we appreciate people making an informed choice and choosing our tour.
We are going to offer everyone on the tour a discount voucher giving a range of deals on food, gifts and admissions, we have been negotiating these deals for a while and I hope they will show that we are dedicated to offering the best experience and value to our dear customers at all times and I hope they might tempt a few people to try us over our opposition.
Whilst work is fairly settled at the moment I have to report that behind the scenes we are planning the biggest change for Barratt Tours since we formed our little enterprise 14 years ago, exciting and nerve racking times are ahead for next year, I would love to share our plans but unfortunately we have to remain tight lipped for the moment, there will be a little hint later this month but life is both exhilarating and not a little scary at the moment! I honestly cannot remember either of us having so much nervous energy and creativity, when we are both working we are bouncing ideas off each other all the time – I dread the phone bill! However I can assure you that not much will change this year but watch this space for next year!
I have been so absorbed with work and home life lately that I have strayed away from telling you all about one of my great loves and escapes – music. I have been listening to all my favourites lately but one band in particular continue to entertain me – Elbow, they have released a new album “Build a rocket boys!’ and it is a beautiful piece of work with some lovely lyrics and the kind of big sound that they specialise in. We went to see them at the O2 in Dublin in March and they were stunning as were their support - the Irish band Villagers who played a lovely set – check them out, I think they will be huge!
Well, that was quite a weekend! I was in Cork yesterday and we were totally booked out with my coach and Chris was at The Cliffs with a respectable load on her coach so business is picking up slowly and I honestly think it is little more than word is starting to spread about our little business. Whenever we finish a tour we always try to remind everyone to help to promote us by spreading the word if they have enjoyed our tour either by a Tripadvisor review or simply telling someone else and it really seems to be working, I love the fact that people are choosing us despite the fact we don’t make silly claims or spend a fortune on advertising or indeed commissions to booking agents. I have often said this but I believe that the internet has been the greatest “leveler” for small businesses like ourselves, no matter how large a company you are if your product and attitude is not right it seems the truth will out and one unhappy customer can do a world of damage!
I also believe that the current practice of some of our larger competitors paying huge commissions on bookings to hotel receptions, hostels etc has a very limited shelf life, we are finding people have much more savvy now and do their own research on review sites and forums and making up their own mind well before the hard sell at reception!
So, in conclusion I hope that we can continue to compete and that all our hard and honest work will continue to bring rewards by people taking a more informed choice when it comings to booking tours, I honestly don’t believe any of you to be as stupid as some companies clearly think you are!
It has been a mad week again at Barratt Tours, numbers are all over the place, some days are quiet and then out of the blue we get a really busy day, that’s what happened this weekend, we are busy today for our Cliffs tour and totally booked out for Cork tomorrow but we do have large group booking still it is lovely to be busy at last!
We had a lovely day off yesterday, when Chris’s mother passed away she left us her car which was a very practical and smart Honda Jazz but its not really our scene so we have decided to sell it and buy something less sensible! Before the Honda Chris’s mum fell in love with a car which was not very sensible – a Mercedes SLK, she loved that car and it was only when her health was failing that she had to change it. I said to Chris that for what we will get for the Honda she could buy a used SLK and it would be a fitting memory of her mum – needless to say she loved the idea!
Always the motor dealer I threw myself into finding one and yesterday we viewed one which ticked most boxes but needed a little bit of work and guess what? I have just got myself another project! We are collecting it next Friday and I know Chris cannot wait – she deserves a treat after the couple of years she has had and you never know I might even get to drive it once in a while, I will post a photo next week.
Mention of the next couple of weeks reminds me that on 22nd and 23rd June we have a large group booking which means we cannot offer our day tours on those days. Sorry if you were planning on traveling with us those days but we just cannot afford to turn away large groups at the moment, it will be business as usual from Sat 25th June though!
As regular readers will know Public Holidays are not my favourite days, I see everyone enjoying themselves on holiday while I work, also it means loads more traffic and consequently pressure for us, we were both on tour yesterday, I had our normal cliffs tour and Chris had a private tour to The Cliffs. We made it through unscathed and I think everyone had a good day with us.
Bank holidays tend to make me a little reflective about the fact that we have never had a summer break for 15 years now, I love my job as I hope you know and our winter time off is lovely but I do love England and Scotland, I really miss spending time there in the summer and in particular touring Scotland and the Islands, I often wonder if we could get a small group together for a relaxing tour of Scotland from here one summer – what do you think, let me know – I would love your thoughts!
One great development lately has been that we have a part time mechanic who is helping out with looking after our fleet which is taking some of the stress of garage work from me and helping us get into more preventative maintenance of the coaches, it is hard sometimes to keep on top of the 3 of them but I suppose we are helped a great deal by the fact that only us drive them so both have great eyes and ears for potential problems – far more so than a driver would I think!
Our new brochure is progressing and we hope to finalise it for print very shortly, it really is looking nice, for the first time we have enlisted the help of a graphic designer as we felt we needed a bit of a re brand to try and freshen our image a little, as I mentioned last week I really didn’t want to go down the sheep and leprechauns route but create an informal attractive offer, we think we might have done it but we will put a version online for you to look at!
Well with that title I’am tempted to say there isn’t any but I did manage to steal a few hours yesterday, the plan was to head out on my motorbike and take care of a bit of business but the wind and rain put me off that idea! I went into town and took care of a bit of admin in the car then headed home to do a little bit of work on our website, I then had the very strange situation of having about 3 hours to myself.
Regular followers might remember that one of my hobbies is model railways and so I had a great time in my own little world creating some typical North East England “scenery” in the form of some superbly cast little allotments – very much a feature of North East life, many people still have allotments to grow their own veg and these little models are truly amazing, they are cast in resin and include crops and sheds as well as a whole load of gardening clutter. The big challenge is to paint all this detail which in the small scale is a challenge however I had a great time just fiddling on and laying a little track whilst listening to the new Elbow album, not quite heaven but nearer than I have been for a few months now!
Last week really was hectic, we had a private tour on Wednesday and a transfer toDublin on Friday. For the transfer we had a small group but huge luggage so I decided to take the ever faithful Celtic Princess (AKA Curt!) with a member of the fleet not often seen, our luggage trailer. All went well and Curt was superb but coming back I headed through torrential rain and gales, I was pleased to see our yard at 10.45, yawn!
This week looks like being another roller coaster ride of ups and downs in business, we are quite busy for the weekend which is a Bank Holiday here and it is rumored that the weather might be improving so hopefully things are on the up now. We are currently working on a new brochure for Limerick which is stylish without being overdone and corny it’s a hard thing to achieve but we are determined not to have the kind of tacky stuff that is out there, ours will be fun but free from sheep, leprechauns and silly claims, we think our customers are cleverer than that – what do you think? We will also be having an electronic version available to download from the website so you can let us know!
Business is just crazy at the moment; we will have a good group one day and then nobody or a very small one the next. Last Wednesday was one of those unexplainable days, we had a large group which Chris looked after but we had a good few on my tour then on Thursday we had 4, it really is strange!
We don’t mind running with small numbers on occasions but with fuel at the level it is now it really can be tough, however we have spent the last 14 years building up the day tour business in Limerick so we are certainly not about to give up because one company thinks it has a right to all the day tour business in Ireland! Sometimes though when you are fighting a big faceless company life seems very tough and unfair however we are still loving our jobs and people mostly love what we do so that often makes life worthwhile!
We are now offering a pick up for our Cliffs tour in Adare three times a week which is taking some planning but is going OK so far. My spirits haven’t been helped by the fact that we have had a couple of mechanical problems lately but on both occasions our passengers had no disruption or delay, for just 2 people we do seem to cope better than many but it helps that we have many friends in the trade!
Mention of friends in the trade has got me thinking, we really do know some lovely kind and genuine people who seem to not only tolerate us but respect our business I think the reason for that is that we have always done our own thing and developed our own niche business and in the process I like to think that we have never poached any other companies business, nobody has a right to business but often it seems to make no sense to go head to head with somebody who is doing the job well, particularly when there isn’t really enough business to go round.
Business has been very mixed of late but I have a large group today for the Cliffs and we have a couple of private tours next week so we are surviving. Our competition have cut their price below us but I honestly don’t care, we are as cheap as we can be and if this is a race to the bottom we are going to continue paddling!
Lets get away from business and take ourselves out into a universe of positivety. One thing that is really lifting my spirits is to see how Chris – my very own free spirit has coped with all that has hit her this winter and is still positive and smiling. Chris is a very spiritual person, not really in a religious way but she is a great believer in destiny and that we all have someone watching out for us. Lately she has taken to occasional quiet meditation and it really seems to be helping her stay focused and upbeat. She has even given me my own crystals for stress, I don’t know if they will work but I have a feeling this season will test them out!
The death of Chris’ mother has really focused us and inevitably we find ourselves looking back into collective memories not just of her mum but times in our life that were special and I have been thinking about those times. Sometimes special memories could be of the mundane, one of my treasured memories is the two of us on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in Thailand, we were just lying on the bunk in each others arms watching lights and little houses and villages flash by, we were listening to “Chasing cars” by Snow Patrol on the ipod and the world just stopped and seemed rather magical for a while. But on the other hand someone else on that rattly old train was probably worried about being late for an appointment the following day and cursing the slow progress – you see magic for some, mundane to others!
I often wonder when I run a tour is there a magic moment for someone on board, maybe when we stop down on Galway Bay and the wind is howling and I’am secretly cursing the weather while somebody might be leaning into that gale, taking great lung fulls of Atlantic air and thinking how marvelous it is to be alive. I really hope so if I thought I could create a magic moment for somebody then it would make this job seem more than worthwhile. If you have had a magic moment on a Barratt Tour let me know I would love to hear it, I suppose I’am becoming a bit spiritual in my old age! If I receive one magic moment I promise I will share one of mine from a tour – it really is a good one!
Well I honestly don’t know where to start telling the story of our winter, I suppose the best place is where I left off with Chris recovering from another operation in early December, things still never went great from there as there were further complications and she was back in hospital another twice both before and after Christmas which meant we had to cancel our holidays to Thailand in January but that happened for the best as I’am about to tell.
We went back to England to spend Christmas with the family but even that wasen’t easy, the freezing conditions that I mentioned earlier continued and we left by car for Dublin Port on 22nd December, it was clod and clear in Limerick but by halfway it was getting grey and within a few miles we were in a blizzard which continued all the way to Dublin, to make matters worse there was no road salt in the country by then and so the roads were untreated, I was driving along our main M7 motorway without even tyre tracks to keep me on the road – it was a total white out! Now much as I love our Mercedes car I have to admit it is not ideal in snow and so we got stuck a couple of times but with a push we got going again! We finally madeDublin late in the evening and settled into a hotel safe in the knowledge that we only had to get 5 miles to the port the following day.
We made it onto the ferry to Liverpool with no further problems and had a snowy but uneventful journey to Sunderland, we had a great Christmas, Chris’s mother wasent well so I decided to go there and cook a turkey dinner with all the trimmings which went OK and we had a nice meal, the rest of the holiday largely consisted of eating too much and me coming down with flu so we spent New Years Eve in my mothers watching Jools Holland on TV!!
We returned toIrelandin early January but Chris was still not well and she ended up back in hospital for a minor operation but had to wait until 24th March for the final cure to her problems, she really had a tough time. While this was going on Chris’s mother became very ill and Chris felt she needed to be with her and so we returned to England and normally I would have come home to attend to business but I was so worried about Chris that I decided to stay with my parents and keep her company (not really a hardship for me!) Her mum had a long illness and was in and out of hospital but she remained fairly strong and a bit stubborn (like her daughter there!).
Chris headed back for her operation early in March and I headed back to start our weekend tours, fortunately this operation was a great success and Chris is fighting her way back to full fitness but when she headed back to England her mums’ condition had worsened and I have to report that she sadly passed away in the early hours of last Saturday unfortunately just as I was near home to start a busy weekends work after being in England supporting Chris.
So last weekend I ended up doing our two tours and a transfer before heading back to England from Cork, my heart went out to Chris and I offered to go straight over but typically for her she told me there was nothing that I could do and I would be better working, I think she was right but she has been incredibly strong through all this, it is fair to say my heart wasen’t into work last weekend but my lovely passengers were mostly very understanding and I think they were grateful for us not canceling and going the extra mile but then I like to think we always do!
I returned to Sunderland on Sunday night and it was lovely to see Chris at Newcastle Airport waiting for me and to have her in my arms at last – those were a long 2 days for both of us! I must mention my lovely parents and especially my mum who looked after her in every way she could – she is one special lady but then so is Chris! Fortunately in many ways last Monday was a holiday and so me and Chris had a final bit of “me time” before I started on all the arrangements and paperwork that follow a death and we are still waiting for confirmation of the funeral date.
So next week will be a bit disrupted I’am honoring existing bookings and doing our Cliffs tour tomorrow and Monday and Kerry on Tuesday, then after the tour it will be straight into the car for Dublin where I’am staying in a hotel before an early flight to Newcastle on Wednesday, then all being well we will head back on Friday night and it will be business as usual from next weekend, if you are taking a tour with Chris be extra nice – she has been through a lot!
We may have to take a few days off later in the season to sort Chris’s mums’ property but we will give plenty of warning of that!
So that’s what has been going on with us, I don’t really think I have mentioned business so I will save that for next time, for the moment I’am just trying to run the show on my own, do tours and hopefully remain fairly calm, cheerful and approachable, it sounds a tall order but remember that is just what we both try to do everyday!