Andrew Latham of icelolly.com
icelolly.com CEO Andrew Latham is eyeing yet another year of solid growth for the holiday comparison site despite the holiday market being extremely volatile.
“I joined on an interim contract for three months and they couldn’t get rid of me!” joked Andrew Latham, when asked how he ended up at holiday comparison site icelolly.com.
And it’s clear to see why they wouldn’t want to get rid of him. After three years at the helm, Andrew has driven icelolly.com to year-on-year growth despite a series of major setbacks.
Not only have the terror attacks in Tunisia, France and Belgium deterred holidaymakers from wanting to travel abroad but the result of the EU Referendum has also made it financially beneficial for many to choose ‘staycation’ holidays at home in the UK.
Despite this, icelolly.com which focuses mainly on holidays overseas, has still managed to battle through the turmoil at a time when some of its competitors have fallen and the market has become smaller to record year-on-year growth.
“We have performed strongly year-on-year,” said Andrew. “We had a very strong year last year despite the second half of the year being quite challenging due to the terror attacks and the administration of companies such as LowCostHolidays.”
Sussex-born Andrew, who turned 54 on Monday, brought a wealth of experience with him when he joined Icelolly.com having been working since the age of 12 where he started off helping out in the family’s catering business.
He said: “My first job was aged 12, washing dishes in my family’s TV and film location catering business, Lewis & Clarke, and working in our family grocery and delicatessen businesses.
“It was a great learning curve and taught me the value of hard work and how to work with others, as well as being great fun – I was often found up to my elbows in hot water on the set of BBC shows such as Grange Hill and the like.
“Later I studied hotel and catering management at Brighton University, as it now is, before working in my last summer holiday for the The Royal Household at Balmoral. My first career job was to join the graduate training scheme with Grand Metropolitan.
“I then moved to a small start-up company running pubs, hotels and restaurants and subsequently worked in senior management and as a director for a variety of large-scale hospitality businesses. I completed a Masters Degree in Hospitality at Oxford Brooks University.
“I then went on to become chief executive of two public companies and have held a variety of non-executive directorships and consultancy roles for some not-for-profit organisations as well as commercial enterprises. I was asked to come and run icelolly.com as interim chief executive for a few months… and three years later I’m still here!”
Andrew believes joining the company with a background in hospitality was one of the key reasons why he was able to hit the ground running as the hospitality industry, like the tourism industry, is also very heavily focused on customer service.
“The hospitality industry is quite similar to the travel industry and Icelolly.com is a great business which focuses heavily on customer service,” he added. “There is a huge overlap between the quality of the service between the two.
“As a holiday comparison site, we’re not the travel agent but we do try to provide a platform where people can find their perfect holiday. What we’ve been very keen to do, and what we have done since I arrived, is to ensure the customer is at the heart of what we do.
“For example, we’ve added things like Live Chat to our site and have a very strict compliance and code of conduct that we operate. We work very hard to make sure that when customers come to our site they get a great experience in terms of the technical experience but they also get that when they talk to one of our travel agents.”
Andrew’s heavy focus on improving the customer experience has certainly paid off and the company has seen traffic, as well as sales and its headcount, grow year-on-year. This has also been aided by its brand-new website, something Andrew thought was vital to the company remaining competitive.
“The principle change which has drove the business forward has been our new website,” he said. “Previously we had a 2005 website that was hugely complex and had been added to by a variety of people over the years. Our chief technology officer described it as a game of Kaplunk – you pulled a straw out in one place and the ball dropped in another place you didn’t expect it to!
“We’ve since done a lot of work to make sure the system itself is robust and to make sure it doesn’t fall over. We’ve also increased the speed of transaction through new technologies so people can find their dream holiday as quick as possible.”
The launch of the new website didn’t come without its challenges however. As a company which previously engaged with its customers online but completed transactions over the phone, Andrew knew the company had to start changing the model so the whole process could be managed online.
As consumer patterns continue to change, Andrew and his team have seen a swift change in the number of users wanting to book holidays there and then via their tablets or mobiles. Traffic from mobile devices has risen from 40-50% in the last six months and the trend is showing no signs of slowing down.
This meant the new website would have to be mobile responsive and Andrew’s team would have to turn what was a complex desktop process into a system which could be squeezed onto a small site. Luckily, being based in Leeds, he and his team have been able to tap into the city’s rich talent pool of workers from its burgeoning digital economy.
He said: “We have a very experienced and high-quality team here in Leeds and those people with their combined skills together have made our business more successful. We have more customers coming to our site every year, that’s growing very strongly and that’s where the growth is coming from.
“Leeds is a very developing and vibrant city. It has a great night life, great university, great shopping, it’s an all-round great destination. We’ve recruited a couple of people recently who’ve either moved to Leeds for University and stayed here or who have left for the City and have come home. There’s so much potential here.”
Now, as Andrew and his team look to build on their success over the past three years, Andrew is confident of further growth ahead and believes the company si well-positioned to weather any potential headwinds coming its way.
He concluded: “Looking forward it’s about more growth and developing as the market changes, I’m hoping we’ll have another good solid year. We also want to develop a wider range of products and give unrivalled access to great holiday comparison opportunities to the public. We want to see more of the same and of course more growth!”