A FAMILY-run Irish golf holiday company is proving that the current pandemic doesn’t have to be disastrous for business by using a personal touch to make them even stronger when travel restrictions are finally lifted.
County Wexford-based Club Choice Ireland managing director Tiernan Byrne said: “The lockdown was announced in mid March over here right when our season was about to start and we would have had golfing groups travelling with us all the way through until October.
“Our first priority was to contact all the groups that were due to travel in the immediate days and weeks to make sure that they knew we were on top of things and that we were here to help. We made the decision from day one that our groups could have a full refund if that’s what they wanted. We understood that people had enough to be concerned about with the virus so we didn’t want them to be worrying about whether they were going to get their money back or not.
“We needed our partner clubs and hotels to be on board with this and they have been excellent throughout the whole ordeal. They appreciate the relationship we have developed with our groups and understand that it’s about the long term.
“Our customers have certainly appreciated this. In fact we’ve received a lot of calls and indeed some bookings from new clients and groups who previously would have booked their tours elsewhere but have heard of how we looked after a friend or colleague. This is great to see and means a lot to us. Our referral business is a massive part of our growth and we really appreciate the word of mouth promotion that our existing clients do for us.”
Tiernan, who is accompanied in the business by his dad Larry, added: “We always try to provide a very flexible and personal service and this bought us a lot of goodwill. I would say we’ve probably rescheduled about 70% of the bookings out to 2021 with another 20% postponed until such time as we know more about the easing of travel restrictions. Even the remaining cancelled trips have all said they will be back at some point but they just needed their money back for whatever reasons.
“The fact that we carry Payment Protection insurance is a big comfort to our group organisers. We appreciate that they are taking on responsibility when they organise a trip and collect money from their friends and so having this insurance in place just gives them that additional piece of mind. We need to make it as easy and hassle free for the group organiser. This is where the personal service really shines.
“We’ve been growing the business year on year for the last eight years and 2020 was due to be our biggest on record with larger groups travelling and three sold out events. We’ve also been working closely with Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland on some exciting projects which have now been put on hold until we get back out to market. Plus, Mount Juliet was due to host the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which is in our region in the South East of Ireland so we would have been heavily involved in pushing the promotion around that and the publicity bounce post event. I was really looking forward to seeing the event at Mount Juliet as it’s a super venue. It was going to be a real showpiece for the South East of Ireland, which doesn’t normally get this type of exposure when it comes to international golf events.
“That would have been last weekend when you couldn’t have asked for better conditions. It’s such a shame. It has been postponed so it’s now just a matter of waiting for an announcement from the European Tour on the new date, but at least it is something to look forward to.”
Tiernan continued to work hard during lockdown. “Not having any groups on the ground has freed up some time for things I’ve always wanted to do but would never have had the time,” he explained.
“We’ve recently created a new online video feature called ‘Club Choice Chats’ where we spend 10 – 15mins chatting to the golf professional or manager at one of our partner golf courses about their venue and whats on offer to visitors. It’s only a short video but it’s already proving very popular. You never know, we will hopefully reach a new audience too. It’s about being proactive.
“It was crucial that we kept communication channels open. We understand that people aren’t thinking about travelling right now, but they will be again at some point.
“We have an amazing product here that shouldn’t be forgotten about. The world won’t be the same for a while but once restrictions are lifted further and people are confident to travel then we hope that a golf trip to Ireland might seem appealing. Additional domestic golfers over here in Ireland are coming to us because their golf trips to Spain, Portugal etc won’t be going ahead this summer, so that has provided a boost for business in the short term.
“We had 15 sponsored golf days in North West England and Wales booked in for 2020 but the first seven have had to be postponed due to the pandemic. We will have to wait and see if any of the others can go ahead. We also had sales trips to USA and Germany planned but they’ll have to wait until its safe to travel again.
“It’s going to be a difficult year but you have to stay positive. There is light at the end of the tunnel and once it’s safe, we’re looking forward to getting back out into our markets and seeing our clients and friends. In the mean time we just want people to know that when the time comes to book your next golf break, “We’ll be ready when you are.”