April 18, 2024

Q&A: Equinox Travel CEO

Following the launch of his new TMC dedicated to the music and entertainment industry, CEO Ian Patterson spoke to Bev Fearis, editor of The Business Travel Magazine

Ian Patterson and Glen Duckworth, the founders of ET Travel, which was sold to The Appointment Group (TAG) in 2014, have set up a new TMC dedicated to the music and entertainment sector.

Here, CEO Ian Patterson talks about the timing of the launch, recruitment, future plans, challenges and more.

Why launch now?

Glen and I have been working under some restricted covenants from our previous positions at TAG. We sold our shares in TAG and the terms were that we couldn’t set anything up for three-and-a-half years. This has now come to an end.

We had always intended to start something up again. We were quite pleased not to be involved in the business in the last 18 months because it’s been a horror show for the travel industry and particularly for TMCs in the music and entertainment sector because there haven’t been any gigs. It’s been a double hit. This last 18 months has put so much pressure and strain on these businesses and any TMC has really found it extremely difficult.

But we anticipated a year ago that this pandemic will eventually play out and we’re seeing signs already. Thanks to the roll out of the vaccine and the easing of the protocols, things are opening up. Football stadiums are full again and people are realising that life must go on and get back to some sort of normality. We are in an uncertain world and, yes, another pandemic could be around the corner. There’s always an element of risk but as more time goes on, people are more confident. Agents, promoters, managers and artists are now all anticipating next year being a full-on touring year. The green flag has been given.

Are you recruiting?

Yes, we’ve got a team on board – four or five now on the payroll – but we’re looking for more. There’s a big pool of people in the sector that have been made redundant. A lot of people have left and aren’t coming back to travel, which wasn’t the highest paid sector anyway. It’s like anything that’s been hit during the pandemic. Apparently nightclubs are now finding it difficult to get bouncers, who’ve left to do other jobs like scaffolding.

A lot of people in travel have decided to go elsewhere, to sectors that are less susceptible to pandemics and other outside influences. One of the best things for us is that we’re in a specialist market and it’s a bit different, more varied and a bit more sexy than working just in the corporate sector.

Have some of your team come from TAG?

No, we have no-one from TAG. We’re now allowed to talk to people but we’re trying to steer clear from our ties with TAG. We’re not going to war with anybody. There are plenty of good people around. We’d prefer not to recruit from TAG. We’ve had people reach out to us since we launched, including some from our previous company ET. We’re taking our time with recruitment.  We’re so high touch and keen on those high levels of service, our people are so important. It’s important to get that right.

Have you already secured clients?

Yes, we’ve already got a substantial amount of business going into 2022 and some big name bands with tours coming up, and we haven’t gone out with our sales blast yet.  In the next few weeks we’ll be going through our black book and reaching out to our old contacts in the music business. We already have some sports clients – high net worth individuals from the world of football, golf and cricket.

What are the challenges for the music and entertainment sector?

Covid insurance is very difficult. It’s not an issue of if a Government decides to close a border but more that if a band member gets Covid and can’t play, that’s a risk. You can’t get insurance for that. Of course, bands are creating their own bubbles in their tour buses but the venues don’t seem to have any consistency with regards to testing so there’s always a risk.  There’s also a backlog of tours that were cancelled, so there’s a worry about a shortage of tour buses.

Of course, there’s Brexit too. Covid took a lot of the attention away from that but going to Continential Europe is quite a different venture now, in terms of registering tour buses and visas. That’s still a big challenge. Some countries have come to some sort of arrangement over visas but Spain, Portugal and Greece, for example, still haven’t.

Why have you also launched a new charter business?

We’ve always done a lot of private jet chartering for our historical clients, like Kylie Minogue and Jamiroquai, and we would always go to a broker, which was effectively putting two people – us and the broker – between the charter company and the client. We want to stop that from happening by keeping the charter operation in house and make it more competitive for our clients and streamline the whole process.

What’s next?

We’ll be doing a big sales push in the next few weeks. We want to raise awareness of the brand. We want to build up the brand. We’ve already registered Equinox Event Management with Companies House. That’s not trading yet but probably that will be next year.

Why the name Equinox?

We wanted to keep some kind of connection with our old company name, ET, which is still dear to our hearts, and we wanted to choose something connected with the earth. It’s also a nod to our focus on sustainability.

What are you doing with regards to sustainability?

Of course, we realise that with private jets there are definitely greener ways to travel, but we’re making sure we use the newest, most efficient aircraft and we are really listening to our clients who are now asking for more sustainable options and best practice.

We’re going to be putting together a hotel plan with a choice of hotels and we’re going out to our hotel partners to ask them what they’re doing to be more responsible and sharing that information with our clients. We’re seeing flood after flood and at least there seems to be a really strong will to take action.