Andy Fletcher's travel vision

Andy Fletcher's travel vision

23/06/2022

It was the famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen who came up with the words ‘To travel is to live’ – a sentiment that PGA professional Andy Fletcher would certainly endorse.

Back in the first decade of this century Fletcher was quick to spot the potential in golf travel. The coaching professional at Lakeside Lodge in Cambridgeshire initially offered members the chance to get away from the dark and cold of the British midwinter and enjoy a bit of warm-weather golf. That first trip – to Turkey in 2008 – proved a big hit and helped Fletcher catch the travel bug. He has since taken parties of golfers to a long list of exotic locations, including Thailand, Hong Kong, Mauritius and South Africa. It has all become such a success story that about 40 per cent of the 47-year-old’s business is based around planning and delivering golf travel experiences.

In this interview Andy explains how the travelling life has provided him with an additional and enjoyable string to his bow.

What were the factors that led you to your original involvement with golf travel holidays?

Fifteen years ago I was working in the shop here at Lakeside Lodge, doing a bit of teaching. I wanted a change – wanted to do something a bit different. I’d always had a passion for travel and I could see there was an opportunity. There weren’t many pros doing golf travel at that time and I thought, ‘Well, why not?’ I spoke to a very good friend of mine who was in the travel industry and he sort of pushed me to do it. I thought it would be good for me – and it was a business opportunity, getting to know members and building relationships, which would help with lessons here in the future.

Where did you go on that first trip and were there many takers?

It was to Turkey for seven nights. I knew the area – Belek – was up and coming and I started by just putting a poster that I’d done myself on the noticeboard. Within a couple of weeks, I’d got 12 people signed up, then it went up to 18 and I thought, ‘this is too easy, where’s the catch!?’ They were all Lakeside members and off we went.

Has your offering changed much from that very first trip to Turkey?

The ambition was, ‘Right, it’s got to be a coaching trip’. That’s sort of changed as I’ve done more trips. What I’ve learnt is the coaching isn’t that important for the clients – it’s more the experience, the banter, the camaraderie. So the dynamic has changed from 14 years ago. The competition element has changed as well. I was saying, ‘We’ve got to do a Stableford’. But the feedback from the clients was they wanted to do team, rather than individual Stableford – they wanted am-am or Texas Scramble format.  

How did your business grow?

I did it originally on my own but when I was getting up to 24 people on a trip I needed some support. I can cope with 12 on my own but I want to make sure that clients get that full experience. So I actually do that with two other professionals if we get a trip of 20-plus.

How much planning has to be done?

There is some structure – there has to be, just to give people enough notice. I tend to kind of follow the sun, which people want. Our winters, people want to get away. So the start and end of the year are the popular ones and I get that; people want some warm weather. A long-haul – ten nights, more than five hours on a plane – I would plan probably eight months in advance. The European ones – a five or seven-night trip – is more six months to organise.

Talk about the nuts and bolts of how you build a trip…

For me – and I’m very lucky that I’ve got a good following – it’s ‘find a destination’. I will look at what’s trending; if I can I will then probably go and have a look first. That’s something I’ve done for the last half a dozen years, just so I know what to expect. If I like the resort, the area, the courses, I start to put the pieces together – get some prices, look at flights. Once I’ve done that, I advertise it, put it on social media. I’m fortunate I have quite a few regulars that want to come on all my trips, so I put it out and they help spread the word.

What sort of impact did the Covid-19 pandemic have on your business?

As we all know, travel was hit quite hard…2020, I had four trips cancelled. But I used that time to look at other destinations. I tried not to worry too much and I thought there was an opportunity with people desperate to get away; I wanted to use that pent-up demand and jump on that. In between lockdowns I still managed to get away – I took a group to Turkey. We found a gap in the calendar where it worked.

…And are the challenges of the pandemic still affecting your business?

Most countries are now starting to be more relaxed. There’s certain countries the vaccination issue is still there.

From all the trips you’ve done, what is the one that stands out most and why?

It’s probably the Masters in 2017. There were nine of us and we had Saturday, Sunday tickets – it still gives me goose-bumps talking about it! Then we went on to Myrtle Beach to play some golf. I’d say to any golfer, if you get an opportunity to go to the Masters, please do – it’s special.

Tell us which golf destinations are you still keen to visit for the first time?

Short-haul, I’ve recently come back from a trip to Ireland where I went for a little look. I was up in the north and some of the courses there are superb, so I’ll be putting together a trip. Further a-field, maybe Vietnam… golf there is growing and has been for the last 10 years. So that’s on the list and there are more trips to be done to the US.  

What are the best tips you can give your fellow PGA professionals who are considering golf travel trips as part of their business plans?

Don’t be scared to try it – you’ve got nothing to lose. Put a little trip together and see how well that goes at your club. Building relationships with your members is a massive gain and I think that will help your business long term. Do a small trip, see how that goes – I think you’ll be surprised.

INTERVIEW: Tony Rushmer

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