Spotlight on: David Gardner, First Travel Solutions

Tell us a bit about your role and how it supports the business?

It is probably best to explain a little bit about First Travel Solutions (FTS) as this will put my role into context.  FTS has various areas of specialism – we look after diverse pieces of business from rail replacement services to transport consultancy for major events such as the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.  Within the business we also have First Education and School Travel (FEST), our in-house tour operator, and a private hire division that sources coach, minibus and taxis travel for our clients. My role is to expand FTS’s private hire work.  Recognising that educational travel represents a large demand for the services that we offer it has become a focus area.  I also work alongside Rick Smith who runs FEST, our educational tour operator, where we’re also trying to grow our market presence through wider promotion and the development of new products.  At the end of the day, we are both mandated to grow business.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
  • Never stop asking questions until you’re sure you understand
  • Treat others how you’d like to be treated yourself
What are the emerging trends within your sector?

I believe that both regulators and customers will demand more from coach and taxi services in future, especially in terms of emissions and the desire to use more eco-friendly vehicles.  Whether the industry can keep pace with the public’s aspirations will be a challenge, especially after the financial hardships of lock-down. Electric and hydrogen powered vehicles are also still in their infancy and will require significant infrastructure support.

What is coming up for your company in the next 12/18 months?

The business expansion of our private hire and FEST operations is really exciting. We will roll out inclusive day-trips for schools in a ground breaking partnership with train operators in 2021, offering day-excursions on their long-distance network at some fantastic prices. We will also be adapting our schools team-building programme for the corporate market in a desire to meet the post-Covid needs to create high-performance teams formed of colleagues who probably won’t know one another. Meanwhile the wider FTS business is focussed on winning the ground transport work associated with numerous major events cancelled from 2020 or planned for 2021/22. We are also optimistic about securing more rail replacement work from UK train operators.

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our industry, what is the one thing that you have learnt personally or professionally during this time?

The inter-dependency we have on one another and the strength that we have when we come together. If our customers are not travelling they need no vehicles, if our supplier base contracts it becomes increasingly challenging to meet a customer’s demand.  We’re all inter-linked, like it or not!  At such time the help, support and general understanding and empathy that trade associations such as BETA provide has been essential in keeping us sane.

As we head towards recovery what do you think the challenges and opportunities are for our sector?

I believe that recovery will be down to customer confidence, and that this will grow as the instances of Covid-19 cases falls and as the distribution of the vaccine becomes wider.  We can all do our own part too – maintaining high standards of cleanliness and talking up the UK as the destination of choice to potential clients. The tide will turn in our favour for sure. When it does I believe that the frustrations of 2020 will manifest themselves in a desire to get travelling again with a renewed vigour.

How do you think Covid-19 will change our industry (if at all)?

Let us by no means under estimate the impact of Covid-19.  Many have seen their World’s turned upside down by furlough, redundancy, business failure and, of course, personal loss. The fragility of some much has been lain bare, yet I’m confident that business will recover. The pent-up desire to travel, meet people and learn more about the world has to be a major positive for all of us.

Name three positives to come out of lockdown
  • Business support: industry sectors have leant heavily upon their respective industry bodies and rivals have worked in partnership for the greater good. An appreciation of our inter-reliance should be maintained – just think of what can be achieved when this is over
  • Appreciate what you have: don’t take anything for granted any more
  • Ship shape: the down-time has provided the opportunity to lay future plans and address that ‘to do’ list. The house looks (fairly) tidy, as does the garden and I’m making a point of ‘phoning my nearest and dearest on a more regular basis than before.

Find out more about BETA Member First Travel Solutions here  

Published 01 April 2021