We talked to Simon Mawdsley of Grand Prix Grand Tours about tours and travel, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Simon Mawdsley: We’re doing well. My wife and I are lucky that we are both in good health and relatively young. We also have a young son, Max, who spends most of his time covered head-to-toe in mud, so I’m hopeful that his immune system is now bulletproof.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Grand Prix Grand Tours.
Simon Mawdsley: I spent 15 years working as a freelance technology consultant in the investment banking space, which is where I met my business partner, Jay. We were working on a project together and became friends, and then our wives became friends, and pretty soon we were all spending far too much time together having fun. Jay and I went on an organized tour to the Italian Grand Prix, and we just decided that it could be done better, with more ‘love,’ and more attention to detail. Jay and I both come from a project management background, and those principles can be applied to starting a company. In simple terms, write a list of things that are required, and for each item, set-out a plan of action needed to achieve them.
That’s the administration side of things taken care of, but what about the ‘love’? Jay and I are both motorsport fanatics, and we’ve both travelled extensively to various motorsport events. That means that when we pick up the phone to a client, we know the best events, where to sit at those events, who the drivers are, what the names of the corners are, and so forth. We also spent a long time building relationships with key suppliers (hotels, airlines, and onsite support staff), which means that the service delivered to our guests at the destination is first-rate.
How does Grand Prix Grand Tours innovate?
Simon Mawdsley: We rely as heavily as we can on technology. The majority of our marketing budget is digital, which means we can attribute exact send to exact return. We also use proprietary software to analyze the best deals available in the marketplace. That results in significant cost-savings that we can pass on to our customers and remain competitive.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Simon Mawdsley: The travel industry was hit very hard, and we were no exception. We had to cancel all our 2020 bookings and put a number of staff on furlough. Fortunately, we were offered a huge amount of contractual flexibility through the relationships that we had built with our suppliers, which allowed us to refund all our 2020 clients within the statutory 14-day window. This created a huge amount of goodwill with those clients, and over three-quarters have decided to re-book their holiday with us in 2021. We are now beginning to see a big uptick in bookings and are slowly beginning to bring staff back to the office.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Simon Mawdsley: Putting staff on furlough was very hard. Our staff relies on their salary and bonus to pay their bills, so it was not a decision we took lightly. Despite all the criticism levelled at the government (much of it fair), they have been in an impossible position but have also been very generous in terms of the support offered. Whether that’s bounce-back loans or subsidizing wages, it has been a real help. We’re yet to see what that will cost businesses like ours in the coming years, but I would rather have a business with a bigger tax liability next year than no business at all.
They say you learn nothing from your successes and everything from failure. I’m a big believer in that. This pandemic has taught us that we can operate with far greater efficiency, and that is something that manifests itself in many different ways. We now pay far more attention to marketing spend, and what delivers the greatest return on investment. We also give our sales team 2 days a week working from home, which means a cost-saving on premises. Finally, we were able to negotiate better terms with our suppliers, which gave us additional cost savings that we were able to pass on to our customers and remain competitive.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Grand Prix Grand Tours in the future?
Simon Mawdsley: Working from home has been hard for a lot of us, especially with a small one running around. I can’t say I come out as a shining example of someone who deals with stress too well, but I try to learn from it. Being at home means it’s also easy to just check what’s going on all the time, and being buried in my laptop at 1am while my wife is sleeping next to me is not conducive to a long and happy marriage! I’m now making a conscious effort to sign off by 7 pm, and the only work I do is if a client calls me. I’ve also encouraged our team to do the same. Finally, as there’s less time spent in the office, I was concerned that the great team spirit we had could be diminished, so we now have a group catch-up (virtually) at 4 pm every Friday (often with a drink in hand). There’s also a team bingo game every other Wednesday afternoon. It might sound cheesy, but it certainly helps cheer people up.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Simon Mawdsley: I won’t give too much detail about our competitors, as they’re easy enough to find with a simple google search. But they have also had a difficult time, so I wish them the best. But I also want the company I founded to be the foremost Tour Operator of global sports events. We stay in the game by being better than the next guy (or girl), offer a tighter price, and a better overall experience. Remember the ‘love’ I mentioned earlier; we put that into everything we offer.
Your final thoughts?
Simon Mawdsley: Fall in love with the process, not the goal, and you’ll achieve the latter. Every great sportsperson has achieved greatness not because they were desperate to win 7 World Drivers Titles or 6 NBA Championships, but because their passion for the discipline meant that the result was inevitable.