If Only boss Andy Freeth steps down
If Only chief executive Andy Freeth is to step down from the luxury operator at the end of the month after two years in the role.
Product and distribution director Gordon McCreadie will “take charge” of If Only in the newly created role of general manager.
Freeth and McCreadie joined If Only in 2018, moving along with a number of other directors and managers from Travel 2 and Gold Medal, where they were managing director and sales and marketing director respectively.
In November 2019, If Only was acquired by Elegant Resorts owner Portman Travel Group for an undisclosed sum, with founders Brendan and Mary Maguire retiring from the business.
The senior team at the time, including Freeth, McCreadie, Tracy Docherty and David Irving, remained with the company following the acquisition, but Freeth said it was always his plan to move on after settling the business in with its new owners.
Portman chief executive Redmond Walsh confirmed the If Only and Elegant Resorts brands will remain distinct, but McCreadie will now report into Lisa Fitzell, Elegant Resorts managing director.
He said: “Andy and I go back a long way and he leaves us with my best wishes. He has left in place a solid and very capable team with a clear plan. I have known Gordon and his senior team of Tracy Docherty and David Irving for many years and look forward to working with them more closely.
“Despite the current short-term challenges facing the luxury travel sector, we are all optimistic about seeing demand come back over the next 18 months. As a trade-only operator, If Only will continue to provide bespoke luxury holidays and tours to some of the world’s most beautiful destinations. Gordon has great ambitions for If Only, and Lisa and the PTG board look forward to supporting him and his team in achieving those ambitions over the next few years.”
Freeth said If Only was turning over £26 million when he and McCreadie joined. In 12 months, they had increased that to £38 million, and had been on track to hit £50 million this year.
“In a short space of time, total sales were on track to nearly double,” he said. “That’s been set back by the pandemic but it’s still a cracking business and it’s well positioned to grow again, focusing on the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean. We’re already seeing some green shoots, and some demand to these destinations.”
Walsh added: “Everybody has been knocked back but we believe we will get back to that £50 million turnover in 18 months.”
Asked if dnata’s proposed merger of its Travel 2 brand into Gold Medal and closure of its office in Glasgow could present an opportunity for If Only, Walsh said: “Let’s see how that pans out. There are some tough decisions having to be made and a lot of moving parts, so I’d rather not comment now as to whether that might give us some opportunities.”
But McCreadie said the team had “given the business the strongest springboard to capitalise on any opportunities that arise” at the back end of 2020 and into 2021.
“We have started doing e-quotes, we have new brochures, we’ve reduced our call-handling times by 25%. The company is in an excellent position in the luxury trade space,” he said.
Freeth added: “It’s been a great couple of years and I’m proud of what the team have achieved. We moved offices, grew turnover significantly, increased the product range and professionalised all aspects of the business. I know that Gordon will do an excellent job leading If Only and I look forward to seeing the team take the business through its next phase of growth.
“Covid-19 has had a material impact on the business but with supportive, well-financed owners, loyal customers and a great team, I am confident they have a very bright future ahead. I feel sad to leave but this has been the plan since November last year and I’m excited about what my next project may be.”
Freeth said he would take a short break and a summer holiday, but that he would then like to stay in travel, albeit a different sector.
“I want If Only to grow and be a huge success. I don’t want to get involved in anything that would take market share in that space but the travel industry is very wide and varied,” he said.
“Although our industry is having a difficult period, I am optimistic about the sector’s medium and long-term future.”
McCreadie said: “I’ve worked alongside Andy for over 10 years and they have undoubtedly been the best of my career so far. Andy leaves the business with my best wishes for the future, although it does mean we are breaking up our double act.
“We have a strong succession plan in place to support the continued development of the If Only brand. Tracy, David and I are under no illusions that the market is going to be challenging, as it has been over the last three months, with strong competition and potentially less business.
“We therefore will make sure If Only are the best on the day and every day. With the excellent team in Glasgow, the support of our loyal agents and the backing of The Portman Travel Group we are confident that we will achieve our goals and are excited about the future and taking If Only to the next level as a team.”
Prior to dnata, Freeth held roles for companies including Cosmos, Airtours and accommodation-only provider Holidaybrokers, before joining Global Travel Group as sales director.