Not Just Travel celebrated its 20th anniversary this month, having launched in the same week as the September 11 terror attacks.

Co-Founder Steve Witt (pictured, left, with business partner Paul Harrison) looks back.

“Before setting up Not Just Travel, I had sold another company, then invested in overseas property, where I met Paul Harrison. The company went bust. Paul and I then joined forces to create the travel business that we have today.

“We signed the agreement the day before 9/11 and, over the next couple of days we did a lot of soul-searching. We agreed that we like a challenge and we’d make a go of it.

“Our first offices were in an old warehouse – it was all we could afford. We were huddled in the corner round a little fan heater. In winter we were sat there with our coats on, wiping condensation off our computer screens.

“We advertised on Teletext and started building relationships. Word spread and people started turning up on our doorstep. We realised it didn’t look good for people to be turning up at the warehouse, so we moved to a retail site. Back then we got so many compliments and thank-you cards, so we knew we were doing something right.

“Twelve years ago we decided that we would grow through franchising and we started to build the model that we have today.”

Do what you love

“I had an internet business but I wasn’t enjoying it, so I went into the travel business. Originally I thought it would be easy. I had been on holiday to Lanzarote, therefore I thought I was a travel expert. So, back then, if people rang up for a holiday, they were going to Lanzarote. Our tagline is: It’s not just travel, it’s a way of life. We live and breathe it.”

Learn and adapt

“It wasn’t about our travel knowledge and experience, it was our entrepreneurship. We were not naive enough to think that we could do it without training. No-one told us that we wouldn’t get paid until people went on holiday – and all our customers weren’t going on holiday until the following year. So we moved into selling ski. After that, it was the Maldives – a year-round destination and a higher price tag.”

Travel is resilient

“Travel is the most resilient industry in the world. There has been a huge amount of change, be it political, environmental, terrorism or pandemic, that has had huge knock-on effect for industry. But the Great British public loves a holiday and nothing will stop them. Their habits may change, such as wanting all-inclusive or UK holidays, but travel’s future is looking great.”

Peak periods will change

“We won’t see the big peak booking seasons anymore, but, as much as we are seeing a lot of last-minute bookings right now, we are also seeing forward bookings. We’re seeing interest in 2024 at the moment. Things are better now for the customer – they are booking early, paying low deposits and are benefiting from more flexible terms.”

Experience is not essential, but passion is

“We’ve proven that our model works, with 900+ travel consultants. There’s a common misconception that it is easy to get started. It’s simple but it is not easy. Our franchisees have to go through a huge amount of training, but they get a huge amount of support. People who join our business have huge passion for what they do. The majority of people have join us have not been in travel, have not worked for themselves and have not run a business.”

9/11 v COVID

“There are a lot of similarities, in terms of the effect on travel, but I would say that 9/11 was worse in some ways because, back then, no-one wanted to get on a plane because they were scared. Today everyone is desperate to get on a plane. I think the rebuild will be quicker.”  

Recent trends

“Last month (August) we saw more bookings and bigger spend, with average prices up around £1,000. We’re seeing more couples and singles booking travel. They seem more confident about travelling and also, what COVID has proved is that you can work from anywhere – including working from a hotel.”