Avia Collinder, Business Reporter
Hospitality outfit Leisure for Pleasure Holidays & Tours Limited has avoided closure by refocusing on the Jamaican market, with 90 per cent of income now generated from local business as opposed to 10 years ago.
It also now outsources accounts, information technology, graphics, guide services and uses sales agents on a part-time basis. "We're rebuilding again," says Managing Director Judith James, who has also relocated offices from a central Kingston address to Havendale, St Andrew.
James and her fellow directors are now concentrating on providing business to local hotels, going up against the competition, which includes other local travel agencies, online booking engines and direct bookings.
Leisure for Pleasure also offers three-day, five-day and seven-day local tour packages. Persons can either join pre-designed tours or create their own with their specific tour dates.
James said the vacation packages being offered incorporate all the main costs: hotel accommodation at various resorts around the island, breakfast and dinner, entrance fees to attractions, air-conditioned transportation, hotel taxes and service charges.
"Persons will only need to take money to purchase lunch, souvenirs and other items they see while on tour, as well as funds for emergency, thus allowing them a hassle-free vacation and vacation-planning experience," James told the Financial Gleaner.
Leisure for Pleasure, owned by James, was incorporated in May 1999. The company started experiencing monetary problems long before the financial crash of 2008, which led to a contracting travel market.
"The company underwent some very difficult times from 2005," James said. "With lack of sufficient capital, high interest rates with loan financing, exacerbated by high overheads and the seasonality and unpredictability of the industry, these affected the company adversely for a number of years," she recalled.
With the problems intensified by the financial crisis starting in 2008, the company's directors' response was to forego salaries and increase sweat equity.
Some of the strategies for survival, James said, included "not taking a salary, pumping everything into the business, working double time and at other jobs to supplement the company's income." She also switched offices, moving to "a manageable space with no fluff".
Financing was secured through soft loans from family members and friends, renegotiation of loans and payment terms with financial institutions. The company also developed new industry partners to contract some tasks and outsource some businesses, negotiated with suppliers for more competitive rates and payment terms, laid off staff/contract persons where necessary and reducing all operational expenses.
Before the recession and downturn in the economy, cruises and overseas tours constituted about 50 per cent of the business. But, in recent years, the company also experienced a downturn in cruise bookings, which was primarily supported by more mature clients.
James said, "The world recession has negatively affected the business, especially with the more mature clients needing to assist their children and grandchildren financially, both locally and overseas.
"The recession, along with the decline in interest rates on pension funds and savings, along with the high cost of living which leaves persons with less disposable income, has severely impacted on the growth in cruise sales, in addition to our overseas tour offerings," she said.
However, with an indomitable spirit to press on and "with the help of the Lord, the company survived those stormy and turbulent years," she added. Currently, bookings for local vacations represent about 90 per cent of the business.
James now has alliances with local hotels and attractions in addition to cruise lines to offer what she describes as "great rates" while remaining competitive "and at most times, offer real-time information to our clients."
The company is making use of the resources it has at hand. No capital investments have been made over the last 12 months and no loans sought.
The company's services continue to gain traction through support of the Jamaica Tourist Board's 'Experience Jamaica' trade shows, staged in various parishes and focused on meeting the people, offering advice and solutions on the best possible rates and payment terms available for vacations, honeymoons, anniversaries, retreats and conferences.
Leisure for Pleasure's principal competitors are Trafalgar Travel, Total Travel, Chin Yees Travel, Jetaway Travel, Unlimited Connections, Sunshine Adventures, Unique Travel, Island Destiny and Go Jamaica Travel.
James declined to share revenue and other data, but said that "our packages are competitively priced, and we seek to offer specials all year round. The most popular product among the locals are all inclusive hotel packages followed by fun days/hotel day passes and local tours."
James noted the company was continually seeking to diversifying its products, finding new markets, expanding the customer database and examining new ways to increase revenue and cut costs "so as to survive in these difficult economic times".
For returning residents, she said the most popular package is the all-inclusive hotel getaways. "They tend to arrange the day tours and fun days among themselves."
The company is still experiencing a downturn in the demand for cruises and overseas tours, which James attributed to the weak economy. "The majority of our business is currently from the local market, which includes the returned residents from overseas now living in Jamaica."