After being nominated for the Small Exporter of the Year award in the HSBC Scottish Export Awards 2016 last month, Edinburgh-based Rabbie's Trail Burners is looking to continue growing over the next year as it expands its overseas presence. BQ caught up with the team to see how they look to make it happen...
What does your company do?
We operate a program of scheduled departure small group tours for independent travellers. Tours are from 1-17 days in length throughout the UK and Ireland.
We also arrange customised group tours and a range of other services for the international travel trade.
How long has the company been exporting?
In effect almost since we started operating as the bulk of our customers have always been from overseas. However as a planned approach to developing our markets and growing our customer base exporting has been part of our strategy since around the early 2000’s
What do you currently export, and where to?
We don’t export in the traditional way – our products are enjoyed by our customers while they are here in Scotland but are paid for in their home countries. It is in this way that we generate overseas income and in effect export earnings.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
As we expanded our product range to include longer tours we realised that we needed to target our customers in their home markets at the point where they were planning their trip to the Scotland. Unlike day trips, longer tours are planned and booked much further in advance so we could not wait for our customer’s to arrive here before trying to sell to them. We had to go out and reach them at home.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
Is there an easy part? Probably understanding the need for it. It’s very simple – without exporting we would not be able to compete and grow.
And the most challenging part?
Understanding and being understood in new markets.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Currency changes are one the external factors which can have a significant effect on our business. The relative strength of other currencies against the pound can make a big difference to affordability of holidays here and therefore booking patterns.
Our tours are designed for an international market and part of the philosophy behind what we do is to encourage cultural understanding amongst our guests as well as introducing them to the culture and people of Scotland. Small group tours are a great way of getting to know and understand fellow travellers from all over the world.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
Scottish Enterprise and SDI have provided advice and support at various stages in our exporting development. VisitScotland and VisitBritain also provided a lot of help with getting to know and work with the international travel trade. There are many sources of information and advice on trends and developments in international tourism and we work with a variety of local contacts abroad to help us understand those markets.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Go for it! Don’t feel its too risky and too complicated – in all the markets we deal with there are well established, professional customers with many years experience in their markets. Start with the big players as they can give you easiest access to the market with less risk. The margins might not be as good for you but the added security will be worth it.
Not at all – it’s the way to grow your business and certainly in tourism it’s the way to spread risk.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
China despite its problems is definitely one we are watching and India is looking likely to be an area of growth for us as well. South and Central America have potential but are very prone to currency ups and downs. And we are also looking much closer to home and developing our domestic market as travel patterns change.
In 5 years time the plan is to be bigger and better!