With a history that can be traced back to 1903, Shearings Holidays is not only one of the oldest tour operators in the UK, but one that boasts a surprisingly varied history.
The company started as a coach operator, taking tourists from Wigan to the coast and countryside for a few hours after church on Sunday (when many people would only have one afternoon per week of leisure time) and steadily built up a reputation that has given it one of the strongest repeat booking rates in the industry.
What started as a local operation, developed into offering coach tours to the continent – the company claims to be the first to take British tourists back into Europe after the Second World War – as well as long-haul holidays, its own hotels and river ships. It now has a fleet of about 130 coaches, 44 hotels and a number of exclusively chartered river vessels. The latter of which recently took an interesting turn.
“We have a repeat booking rate of 66 per cent, so it’s incumbent on us to introduce our customers to new product sets,” explains Jane Atkins, managing director of Shearings Holidays. “As the product grows, the company has grown its offering. The most recent manifestation of this is our partnership with A-Rosa, the German river cruise line.”
While the news that Shearings Holidays was to begin taking its passengers on A-Rosa ships took some people by surprise, few will argue that it doesn’t make sense.
Shearings Holidays customers will get the chance to either book themselves onto a dedicated sailing (such as the Dutch Delights and Charms of Flanders cruise), which will include transfer by air, rail or coach, door-to-door transfer and a dedicated tour manager; or an Escorted by Shearings Holidays cruise, where a group of 40-50 guests will sail on an A-Rosa itinerary, giving the sailing a more international feel. Another perk is that all drinks are included for guests on A-Rosa.
The A-Rosa ships have got spas, you can do yoga on board, take a bike ride – it opens it up to a wider market
“It’s a premium product for us,” says Michael Bowers, national sales manager. “We’ve got three and four star, so this is a chance for people to look at the portfolio and know that we’ve got something extra. The A-Rosa ships have got spas, you can do yoga on board, take a bike ride – it opens it up to a wider market. It will bring our average age down.”
Given the infrastructure that Shearings Holidays has in the UK – more than 800 pick-up locations and a home connect service – the partnership will benefit both companies. For Shearings it adds that premium product to its books, for A-Rosa it means they can increase their exposure through a brand with more than 100 years of history.
Shearings Holidays is planning on taking a number of travel agents to sample the A-Rosa product before sailings begin in 2018. There will also be TipTo events, Clia masterclasses and training by Shearings Holidays’ on the road sales team.
“It’s really important that travel agents touch and feel the product,” explains Atkins. “River cruise is very in vogue but unless you’ve felt it and experienced it, it can be a hard sell.”
Bowers agrees, adding: “It’s educating agents about what the brand stands for and engendering that trust to transition people to river cruise. Our brand is powerful. People see it and know what to expect.”