COACHMARQUE OPERATOR FOCUS

We speak to Jason Edwards, Commercial Director at member operator and Wales’ largest coach company, Edwards.

Jason Edwards with the Wales rugby union team coach.

Jason Edwards with the Wales rugby union team coach.

What is the history of Edwards Coaches?
It was started in 1925 by my great-great grandfather, George Edwards, when he retired and bought a charabanc. He began it as a hobby really, transporting local people to the races and the seaside. The company has always been based around Pontypridd in Wales and we moved to our current site in Llantwit Fadre about 30 years ago.

How has the company expanded since it began?
From one charabanc in the 1920s, the operation rose to a fleet of 18 at the beginning of the 21st century. But it is over the last decade that there has been an incredible expansion. When I joined the company in 2001, there were three staff in reservations – including me – and now there are 40, whilst we employ nearly 300 people altogether, including 45 drivers. Our fleet has grown to 170 vehicles including 32 executive coaches, which are used for group hire, and we have had to expand our operation into the neighbouring premises on our current site.

What sort of coach fleet do you offer?
Of the 32 executive coaches Edwards offers – the average age of which is four years old – we have two 53-seat vehicles, one 44-seat coach with four tables and one 36-seat coach with eight tables (these are also used as team coaches for the Welsh national rugby union team and Cardiff and Swansea football clubs), with the rest all 49-seat vehicles. Our team coaches can be used for group trips and are used as standard on our luxury Red Dragon tours; they both come with Sky TV, kitchens and extra legroom as added benefits.

What is your role in the business and background in the industry?
I am the Commercial Director and have been for six years but I was brought up in the business and my father is still Managing Director, whilst my brother Shaun is Operations Director and my two sisters, Kelly and Jess, work in accounts. It is very much a family affair with all the values that come with that. I was an aircraft engineer for British Airways for some 13 years and joined the business properly in 2001 – I felt I needed to pave my own way first before stepping into the family firm.

How much of the business is groups business at present?
We expect to turn over between £0.5 to £2 million worth of groups business this year – it has literally gone through the roof. This has been boosted by our acquisition of Diamond Holidays in February – meaning we now also have a base in Swansea, and another loyal set of GTOs to go with it.

What sort of areas and types of trip do you offer?
We have a dedicated coach holiday division – Edwards Coach Holidays – which offers breaks all over the UK and mainland Europe, whilst groups are also able to take advantage of private coach hire for day trips and we can tailor-make day itineraries and longer stays. I like to say we are a one-stop shop for all needs. As we have an Air Travel Organisers’ Licence (ATOL), we can arrange holidays by air (as far away as Canada); we also offer European river cruises and have just begun selling Royal Caribbean International ocean cruises too.

What sort of group benefits are available?
We have a dedicated groups department, which can cater for any needs and often by offering tremendous value on day trips, we can encourage new group organisers to try longer holidays. We have a yearly Edwards Coach Holidays brochure, which GTOs are given a sneak preview of, and this year’s has been so successful we used up our first 120,000 copies by March and have had to have a second edition printed! Groups are given half a free place in ten on all bookings and added financial discounts on brochure prices, and we welcome GTOs on site – in fact, we miss not seeing them!

How long have you been members of CoachMarque and why did you join?
Edwards Coaches has been a member of the Confederation of Passenger Transport’s (CPT) CoachMarque quality accreditation scheme for six years now. We decided to join because we thought it was a good opportunity to stop and look at our own performance and benchmark ourselves against the best in the industry. It set brilliant foundations for quality control and has helped our continual growth and success.

Are you confident in the future of the coaching industry?
I think it has a very good future – I’m a glass half full kind of person. I mean, is there a better way to travel? Coach transport offers travellers both value for money and high quality, so what more could you ask for. I’m heartened by the influx of new GTOs I see coming to us, who start off slowly with a trip to the theatre and then progress onto more and more trips. The difficulty is in getting more people to consider the coach as a mode of transport – once they try it, they are hooked! I have some customers who travel with us 20 times a year – it is a wonder they have any time at home at all!

COACHMARQUE