Essex-based Ocean Holidays has always looked to stay ahead of the technology curve, but now it has the offices to match its ambitions and vision to help luxury travel concierge Winged Boots take off. Lee Hayhurst spoke to co-founders Harry Hastings and Daniel Ox
Ocean Holidays new offices not only offer commanding views of Romford but bring something of Silicon roundabout’s pioneering spirit to the Essex London suburb.
For sibling co-founders Harry and George Hastings and Daniel and David Ox the travel firm’s new HQ underlines not just how successfully the company has established itself but is a statement of intent for the future.
Now the largest operator of Florida holidays from Europe that doesn’t have its own airline, the firm is poised to turn its attention to doubling the size of upmarket travel concierge brand Winged Boots.
It is this brand that best reflects the company’s east London heritage with its celebrity ‘The Only Way is Essex’, football, and City clients and authentic ‘made in London’ brand affiliations.
Ocean Holidays incorporates three divisions: Ocean Florida and Ocean California, outbound destination specialist B2C operators, Ocean Beds, the US-based B2B inbound ‘receptive’ operator, and Winged Boots.
The latter, headed up by David Ox, Daniel’s brother and company co-founder, is the firm’s fastest-growing brand, to date largely through word of mouth, and accounts for a fifth of the firm’s annual turnover.
Harry Hastings said the “dream scenario” is this figure growing to 35%: “This isn’t about switching or moving revenue, it’s part of a strategy of continuing along a growth path for all our brands.
“If you keep doing the same things you are going to be down in a challenging market so you have to keep innovating and charging up hill, which is what we are doing.”
In the financial year to December 31 Ocean Holidays reported profits (EBITDA) of £1.3 million on revenues of £45 million – 10% and 19% year on year growth respectively.
The firm is aiming to hit £100 million turnover by 2020, around double its forecast for this year, and is currently tracking at around 25% to 30% up this year.
In the first quarter of 2016 Winged Boot’s revenue was 46% up on the same period last year. Its core destinations are Las Vegas and Dubai, the latter accounting for a third of bookings.
Following a doubling of the sales team to 12 by the end of the year, plans include a bi-annual Winged Boots lifestyle magazine.
This will be produced by an in-house editorial team and comprise 30% editorial, including destination and celebrity features, and 70% deals.
Lifestyle magazine and events
There will also be a series of special quarterly events for VIP clients with ideas ranging from golf days to a trip to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix.
The magazine and events will build on celebrity and London style brand affiliations forged with the likes of luxury menswear tailor, Thom Sweeney, yacht brokerage Sunseeker London and Pankhurst, the barbers.
For the first time Winged Boots will be crossed-marketed to the 40,000 Ocean Holidays customers, which is the official travel supplier to West Ham, the Premier League club based at the London Stadium in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford.
Along with access to the O2 through a corporate box – the firm believes it can offer the perfect London entertainment experience – the hope is Winged Boots becomes the sort of lifestyle brand its clients look to for more than just holiday inspiration.
“We want to be our customers’ expert in travel,” said Daniel Ox. “We want them to come to our events, to read our editorial, to live and breathe the brand. We want to be close to our clients, be their friends, because that’s what we enjoy.
“If we get this right, it’s a really exciting networking and brand affiliation opportunity. Plus it’s scalable and we are not going to be entering any Pay Per Click wars with other classic luxury travel operators.”
“The average order value of an Ocean Florida customer is £7,000, but when they go to Las Vegas or the Caribbean or Dubai they are not booking with us because they don’t know we go to those destinations.
“Ocean Florida is now in its 14th year so there’s a lot of equity in those consumers and reputation. They know we do Florida, and California, now they’ll know we also do the rest of the world,” added Hastings.
Ox said the firm’s new offices reflect Ocean Holidays’ guiding ethos as well as giving it the space to grow – a dedicated Winged Boots client consultation room has been built in the new two-floor HQ.
The office move was kept secret from staff until the day they were ready to move in last November when the directors asked them to come to work as normal but to a different address.
“Treat your staff well and they will look after your customers,” Ox said. “We wanted to surprise them and we watched as everyone walked in through the door. It was so satisfying to see their excitement.
“We built the offices primarily for our staff, but you underestimate the external effect a new office can have, so when suppliers visit us they realise we are not just a classic call centre.
“We are trying to build a brand and your office environment is one factor that really allows you to be engulfed by the brand. Plus we did it for ourselves because we are really enthusiastic about what we do.”
Bright, open plan and airy, the offices have something of the ambience you’d expect Google and other modern tech firms to create for their staff.
Themed offices and meeting rooms, a break out area and large canteen are designed to appeal to Ocean Holidays’ many young employees as well as the apprentices it brings in each year.
They were opened in the same week as new mobile-friendly websites went live last year, an investment prompted by Google’s algorithm change to favour sites optimised for mobile.
This was a first rebuild of Ocean Holidays’ customer-facing technology for years, the firm having prioritised focusing on its back-end Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform.
But driving its new integrated multi-brand approach is continued investment in the latest CRM technology that allows firms to have a better understanding of what their clients are looking for.
Ocean Holidays operates an online customer acquisition, offline conversion model, so it is crucial that its websites drive calls to operatives who are primed to understand the customer and offer them what they want.
It uses web optimisation tools supplied by Qubit, but 95% of its technology has been built in-house and this month it went live with Journey CRM, the third version of its technology that has been 12 months in development.
The technology will look to give website visitors personalised experiences based on a unique ID built up from all historical customer interactions.
“We are all about customer relationships,” Ox said, “and we are about to lift he lid of the customer data we have across all our brands. It’s the perfect point to go to the next step which is predictive analytics.”