Rewarding excellence: Part IV

Date Posted: 08/11/2010

We talk to Zekiye Yucel, managing director of The Discovery Collection, for the finale of our series focusing on the 2010 Excellence Award finalists.

Name: Zekiye Yucel
Company: The Discovery Collection
No. of years working in group travel: 7 years
Favourite destination: Puglia, Italy

The Excellence Award recognises the commitment and dedication of an individual within the supplier sector, highlighting those who truly go the extra mile to provide an outstanding service. Nominations and votes are cast by group travel organisers, before the winner is announced at the annual Group Leisure Awards.

Group Leisure: Hi Zekiye, how did you first become involved in group travel?
Zekiye: I used to work for British Airways/Go the low-cost airline, and I used to look after all the group tour operators so I knew quite a lot of people, and I understood their needs with groups. When easyJet took over Go, I took my share options and left the company, and with that money I founded The Discovery Collection as my own business in 2003.

Group Leisure: That must have been quite an undertaking, starting the business from scratch?
Zekiye: It was a big venture for me really, going from a big company to found my own company, with virtually no office, no staff, no customers. Walking in on the 1st October was very daunting, but soon everything started falling into place and we had a very successful year from day one.

Group Leisure: Can you describe the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Zekiye: We’ve had many challenges; air strikes, airline failures, this year we’ve had them all! They’re not easy to deal with but I think people are very accommodating with us because we are very accommodating with our customers.

I had a group going away on the 1st November. She’s a lovely lady, and their flights were booked on an airline that’s no longer operating. I could see that was happening before they announced it and I re-booked them on another flight which cost an extra £30 per person. I didn’t charge anything extra to the client. I said to her, “I don’t think these flights will operate, we should change the group to another airline. Would you agree?” Now they’re flying with another airline, it didn’t cost them anything extra, she’s quite happy, and my prediction came right. The airline did fail, and the flights were really expensive afterwards.

It’s a matter of trying to think if something goes wrong, who do I have on board, and who does this affect? It is very important to follow a structured approach to any problem to be able to solve it. My priority is my customer.

Group Leisure: How do you think the group travel industry has changed in your experience?
Zekiye: We’re doing more themed and walking holidays, as well as special interest holidays - more history and culture depending on the interests of the group. Because of the problems with air traffic or flying in recent years, there’s probably more demand for coach travel, although the majority of our clients still wouldn’t sit on a coach for over 24 hours.

Group Leisure: Could you highlight any destinations which you have found to be particularly popular with groups?
Zekiye: North Cyprus is our most popular one. It’s exceptionally good value for money. We can do a full tour, half-board holiday for a week for £600 - that’s unheard of in Europe at the moment with the current euro situation. The second most popular area for groups is Malta and Italy, because they’ve both got a huge amount of history, religious references, and all of that. With Italy, we’ve found that Puglia is our most popular destination. We probably know Puglia better than any other tour operator - we can offer our extensive knowledge and we only work with high-level quality hotels, so when we do provide a holiday there it will be very well done.

Group Leisure: Could you name any up and coming destinations which you would recommend for groups over the next few years?
Zekiye: We’re actually thinking of introducing various different destinations, although it’s too early to talk about it just yet. But it will always be the unknown parts of these countries rather than the mass market area. So in a few years we’ll have more destinations coming up to support our groups as well as our individual business.

Group Leisure: Do you see any cross over between the group side and individual side of the business, in terms of destination, accommodation, etc?
Zekiye: Where we offer high quality hotels for our individual holidays, it complements our group holidays. We get good rates from the four-star hotels because of our individual business, so groups benefit from this. The majority of the group companies tend to stick to two and three-star hotels across Europe, but to be honest in my opinion that’s not good enough. Group travel doesn’t equal a bunch of people travelling around, staying in two-star hotels from one place to another. That should not be the description of group travel in Europe. They should still be able to have the nice hotels like individuals would, and depending on the reputation of the company, they will benefit from buying power and everything else.

Group Leisure: Have you ever had any unusual or peculiar requests from a group organiser?
Zekiye: All our holidays are tailor-made and we don’t have a template, so I suppose we wouldn’t really look at it as unusual! I did a private tour for a very famous guy in the UK last year, for 23 days, and he was very peculiar. He didn’t want to give his name and wanted to keep it very quiet. He’s a designer, and of course it’s not easy for a high-profile person to be on holiday. We did it all at a fraction of the money he would have paid to the big guys. He rung me two months later when he came back, and he said, Zekiye, you did everything so well, you fulfilled the itinerary the way I wanted to do it, and nothing was wrong. For 23 days, everything was just spot on.

The kind of itinerary he had could easily be transformed into a group travel idea. It just shows that whether it’s one person or 50 people travelling, we put enough energy and effort into making it suitable for them.

Group Leisure: Were you surprised to be nominated for the Excellence Award?
Zekiye: I wasn’t surprised but I wasn’t expecting it! When I received the e-mail from Rob (Yandell, Group Leisure editor) I thought it was for The Discovery Collection, not just myself, as the year before we were nominated for the British Travel Awards by one of our group leaders.

Group Leisure: Is there anything you would like to say to all the organisers who voted for you in The Excellence Award?
Zekiye: I want to say thank you! There were quite a few disappointed organisers who e-mailed me saying, oh never mind, you’re a star in our eyes! So that was nice. We get a lot of letters from our clients thanking us for the wonderful work that we do, very rarely do we get complaints I’m very pleased to say. I’d like to say thank you to anyone who voted for me. It’s nice to be recognised and to be seen as caring, and that’s what I aim to do so I’m glad I am fulfilling that!

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