If Only founder sets sights on becoming ‘one of the big boys’

as just appointed five senior bosses from Travel 2 and Gold Medal, to drive a three-fold expansion in sales in three years, says the move will “make it one of the big boys in time”.

Brendan Maguire, who set up If Only 16 years ago, said it had been a challenge in recent years to compete with the buying power of huge organisations like dnata, parent company of Travel 2 and Gold Medal.

But he said: “We have increased our turnover every year and now plan ambitious expansion into new destinations and sectors, and so before long, we will be one of the big boys ourselves.”

But Maguire insisted the 100% trade-focused luxury operator, based just outside Glasgow, would not lose any of its core values or ethos.

“If Only started as a one-man business, and it’s been fairly dramatic fire-fighting along the road. But I believe we’ve always had strong values and are generally well thought of in the trade. We havbe six BDMs on the road. There will be very few agents across the UK who don’t know us.”

Maguire said he plans to forge even closer ties with existing agent partners and potentially new ones.

“The strong independents are our biggest strength – that’s the core of our business, including the likes of Midcounties and Travel Counsellors. There are a few that aren’t dealing with us at present and who knows, they may now have a change of heart now.”

If Only also sells through Thomas Cook’s retail estate.

Maguire also said he had really good support in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

He also confirmed If Only would continue to support consortia conferences. “We are already headlining quite a few. We will become even more prominent in the next few months/years.”

Commenting on the appointment of Andy Freeth, formerly managing director of dnata Travel-owned Travel 2 and Gold Medal, Maguire said: “Andy sees this as a long-term opportunity to develop a business where he can be involved in all decisions. It will give him his mojo being able to see this business grow rapidly.”

He confirmed his existing sales team would now report into sales and marketing director Gordon McCreadie, but said everyone in the business was really excited and had taken the news well.

“I’ve talked our plans through with the entire team and I’ve been very pleased with the reaction. It’s been really good. They see it as a win-win. You can almost hit a plateau with things and sometimes you need something big like this to give you the impetus to take you to the next level. Everyone is very excited and nobody is leaving as a result, as far as I am aware,” said Maguire.

He confirmed that changes and developments would take place very quickly.

“We plan to release new versions of two our existing brochures in the coming months and then two totally new brochures in November/December,” he said.

Maguire revealed If Only, which has to date been known for long-haul luxury to the Indian Ocean, Far East and Arabia, would now be looking west for growth.

“We are going to venture further afield. I thought we had a credibility issue elsewhere in the world, but after the launch of our Australasia programme last year, it’s given me the confidence that we can succeed in other destinations.

“We are going to launch a couple of dedicated brochures to new destinations – we need to sit down with the management team and work out where to launch first – but we will look at the Caribbean, North America, Canada and South America,” he said.

Maguire said he will also launch a cruise and stay brochure and do more private touring.

“We have sold Silversea for the last two years because we thought it was in-keeping with our brand but we are going to look to sell more lines, combining cruise and stay with destinations we operate to.”

He also said more focus would be put on private touring, which was its way of differentiating its offering.

“If you’ve got the talent in your res team, you can shine over others by offering really bespoke special private tours in destinations. We are going to really increase that.”

Maguire admitted that some of the holidays it offers might be “a wee bit more mainstream” than it offers currently, as it expands into new destinations.

“Inevitably, because of some destinations in the world, we have to compromise a little, as we do in Thailand currently for example. We offer a number of four star and even three-star plus properties. That will be the case in other destinations we add I am sure, but for the most part, we plan to retain our image as a luxury tour operato