Marion takes the wheel to drive pandemic cost savings

The owner of a long-established city centre travel business has literally driven her own pandemic protection programme of cuttings costs and keeping customers satisfied.

Marion Owen, who launched Marion Owen Travel nearly 30 years ago, took the wheel herself to lead a series of excursions and coach tours when the rising cost of drivers started to eat into the company’s profits during 2021.

This year Marion has stepped in again on a number of occasions, most recently for an nine-day trip to the Shetlands.

Marion said: “I have had a coach licence for 10 years so I was already a back-up in case the driver became ill. Last year it all proved worthwhile because I was able to drive some tours myself and keep costs down.”

Marion launched the business in 1993 and at one point the office in Portland Street, Hull, housed a team of ten. Now it’s down to Marion and her colleague Emma Williams, and in addition to keeping the business afloat their dedication recently helped them win a major industry award.

The company was named top travel agency in Yorkshire at the TTG Top 50 Travel Agencies 2022 Awards, and Marion revealed a decisive factor was the commitment to go the extra mile.

She said: “We have been shortlisted in the awards for many years when the focus was on use of technology, growth percentage, marketing plans. We’re a very small business and can’t compete with that, but in the pandemic our service levels really shone through and we have been very innovative to keep our heads above water.

“Normally I would be tour manager and make sure everything is OK but with higher costs and lower profits we need to watch the pennies. It’s about protecting the business and being innovative.”

During 2021, Marion motored for holidays from day excursions to a seven-night trip to Pembrokeshire. In total she was at the wheel for about 28 days. With Marion Owen Travel providing a full onboard service of wi-fi, loos and catering with seatback tables, husband Kelly or colleague Emma look after clients when Marion takes on the full driving duties.

Marion said: “Every year you think you never had to work this hard before. When Cruise & Maritime Voyages collapsed in 2020 we had 93 bookings and more than 200 people.

“The problems with the ash cloud in 2010 were minimal compared to this because business never ground travel to a halt. People were still travelling and the wheels were still turning. We only make money when clients travel yet I was working 24/7 to manage everything for people who had already booked and couldn’t go anywhere.

“Every time the government said we were allowed to operate I sent an email to our clients and we organised a trip with me driving the coach. We had Zoom meetings to keep people in touch and update them on what we were doing. That’s how we kept afloat during the pandemic.”

Kathryn Shillito, HullBID Executive Director, said: “We keep hearing about local independent businesses which came up with innovative ideas to combat Covid but we hadn’t heard anything quite like this!

“It’s brilliant that Marion and Emma won an award for their efforts but the real benefit is undoubtedly that their commitment ensured they were able to look after their customers in the most difficult of times and look forward to a 30th anniversary next year.”