Strictly Business: Polly Davies, owner of Marco Polo Travel
I got into travel... After studying business studies and marketing. It was a dream job at Falcon Holidays, an operator with just 20 staff of mostly young, ambitious graduates when I joined. I then went to Africa to do voluntary work in Turkana in Kenya and travelled independently for nearly three years through Sudan to Egypt and overland from Athens to India along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, through Iran and Pakistan to Amritsar. I then spent four months in India, including six weeks trekking in the Himalayas, and on to Burma and Thailand, Australia and New Zealand for nearly a year, New Caledonia and California for a month. I decided I wanted to set up my own business so I went to work at Trailfinders to learn how to be a travel agent, utilising Galileo and all the British Airways ticketing courses.
I started my business… in 1989, working from home. I was the first homeworking agent in the UK, as far as I’m aware. The business specialises in walking and adventure holidays at all comfort levels. My first booking was Egypt and Kenya for £4,000 per person. Within 18 months, Marco Polo Travel was one of the top-selling agencies for Abercrombie & Kent.
I’ve grown the business by… Being market-oriented and communicating direct with our clients. We had a 93% repeat and referral rate before the pandemic; now it’s 100%. I’ve always marketed to women travellers and ran seminars for that demographic for 10 years in the 1990s. This was a very good vehicle for free publicity and they all booked holidays with Marco Polo Travel.
We adapted to the pandemic by… Being very patient with our clients who, in turn, have been incredibly supportive of us.
One thing I’ve learnt from the crisis is… Personal relationships are key. Our clients trust us and we work with Aito operators that we trust. Most of our clients did not cancel their holidays, they just postponed them.
The suppliers we have the strongest partnerships with are… Explore and Cox & Kings. Explore was direct‑sell when I approached them in 1990 to sell small-group trips and now we are one of their top-selling agents. We have clients who have booked more than 50 Explore holidays! Cox & Kings is great for four and five-star group tours and tailor-made trips. We were their top agency until the pandemic.
My proudest achievement is... Winning Travel Agency of the Year with two national newspapers, being named Woman of the World' on the front page of The Daily Telegraph in 1994 and suggesting that Aito should have a network of travel agents back in 1991.