Spotlight on: David Gardner, First Travel Solutions







Sustainability will inevitably become more important to more clients and the use of coach services is a great way of keeping your carbon footprint low, especially if car travel is the alternative
Tell us a bit about your role and how it supports the business?

My role is to increase First Travel Solution’s business, i.e. handling more group travel business by coach and minibus in the UK market. Alongside our other sales channels, the educational travel market is very important to us and we take great pride in providing our clients with a quality service that won’t let them down. Furthermore, as we run our own schools tour operator – First Education and School Travel – we fully understand the requirements and challenges of the marketplace.

What has been your career highlight to date?

The boss would say working under his inspirational leadership, but secretly it was travelling with Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters from London to the Glastonbury Festival when they played the venue a few years ago. Everyone says it, but what a nice bloke that man is. FTS arranged the final leg of the journey from Bath by road, so I had an excuse to travel!

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

“Always treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself” – the sage wisdom of my grandmother, God rest her soul. I’d like to think that I’ve done my best in this respect, but I’m sure she’d also fine room for further improvement.

If you were not working in this sector what other industry would you have pursued a career in?

I don’t believe that anyone grew up wanting to head up a Sales operation in a transport business! Having been dealt the devastating news that I was slightly colour-blind I was presented with a depressingly long list of careers from which I was now barred. Bang went the idea of being an astronaut or a fighter pilot – I was even banned from being an electrician (can’t think why…). I think that eventually the right jobs find us!

What are the emerging trends within your sector and have these changed since Covid-19?

I think that the shape of the post-Pandemic market is shaping up to be pretty similar to the pre-Pandemic model. We’re seeing the same demand for the likes of airport transfers, day-excursions and longer tours, however….. Our major challenge is that our Supplier base has shrunk by about 30%, mainly due to the shortage of drivers (many retired or switched to lorry driving). Unfortunately, bus / coach driver is not seen as being a terrible attractive career path for today’s youth, but the industry is doing all that it can to recover from this current shortfall. Reduced availability and rising fuel costs have also pushed up prices (sorry!).

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

FTS has significant business expansion plans for the coming year and beyond. Sustainability will inevitably become more important to more clients and the use of coach services is a great way of keeping your carbon footprint low, especially if car travel is the alternative. However, we still need to extol the virtues of today’s modern diesel coaches. These are terrifically more environmentally friendly than their predecessors but the aspirations of clients to have hydrogen or electrically power vehicles is growing. Rest assured, we will supply these too, as soon as they become available.

Tell us one thing about your business that others might not already know.

FTS are the proud holders of 3 x ISO accreditations: for Quality, Environment and Health & Safety Management. These control the way that we run our business and the standards that we insist upon from our suppliers. This is great news for our clients since our diligence here substantially supports your own duty of care towards those for whom you are arranging travel.

As an association what one thing do you think we have done that has made a real difference to you as a business?

We have been working with BETA for a number of years as a key trade body in support of our own schools tour operator – FEST. A few years ago we wished to build our connections with other education travel providers, especially those lacking their own transport, and develop a new sales channel in terms of private hire. This has been very successful for us and I am delighted to say that we can now count on many fellow BETA members as our clients.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges, threats and opportunities for youth, student and educational travel in the next few years?

The immediate future, i.e. 2023 is a primary concern at present, owing to the shortfall of supply in the marketplace for coaches and minibuses. Many firms have failed during the pandemic, whilst unemployed drivers have moved on to new jobs or simply left the industry. This has created a global shortage of drivers, making coach availability a real issue at peak travel times. Surely the industry will recover given time, but it will take a while to fully recover. My best advice for anyone seeking coach hire in 2023 – let us know NOW. We can talk to operators now and start to ring-fence availability – leave it too late and that availability issue will become a problem yet again. You have better things to do with your time – let these problems be out problems!

Find out more about BETA Member First Travel Solutions here

Published 01 February 2023