Bebo co-founder invests in online tour operator

A new online tour operator aimed at the groups market has been launched with financial backing from the co-founder of social networking site bebo.com.

Pure Escapes aims to offer more competitive prices and an easier booking process than currently on offer in the groups market.

Web start-up entrepreneur Robert Loch has founded the company with backing from Bebo co-founder Paul Birch. It has been created as a division of existing tour operator SpeedBreaks, which offers activity ski holidays for the singles market, and is also backed by Birch.

Pure Escapes’ site pureescapes.com went live on Monday this week. It features 20 four and five-star self-catering properties and offers 80 holidays in France, Spain and Italy.

Loch said the operator is targeting passenger carryings of 1,000 this summer and aims to take the hassle out of organising group holidays.
“I have organised group holidays and it’s a pain – like herding cats,” he said.

Prices are being kept down in comparison with rivals in the groups sector by offering self-catering properties rather than hotels, he added.  Holidays start from £449 per person for a seven-night break, including flights and transfers.

He said: “We think the fact it is being launched during the recession fits quite nicely as prices are very affordable because you are going as a group and it’s self-catering. You can still stay in luxury, for example in a medieval castle surrounded by 240 acres in France, for £599.”

The initial booking can be made by a group leader but once reserved, individuals in the group are given separate web addresses to fill in their own payment details. This avoids one person taking responsibility for paying for the booking, said Loch.
Loch, who is confident the business will be profitable in its first year, anticipates expansion of the programme next year and is targeting the corporate market as well as social and sports clubs.

Previously Loch co-founded business networking site Soflow.com with Birch and more recently set up events company Internet People as well as working on Bebo.

He came up with the idea for Pure Escapes with the company’s director Simon Prockter, who launched speed dating site SpeedDater.co.uk before selling it off and setting up SpeedBreaks in 2004.

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