James Thompson of Marmot Tours

“If we hadn’t received the GetSet Somerset grant, we would not have had the money to invest in it yet – it has the potential to help increase our bookings substantially”…

Marmot Tours was founded in 2004 by James Thompson in the French Pyrenees. It specialises in fabulous, fully supported road cycling holidays in the mountains of Europe. The company originally offered cross country skiing, walking and mountain biking holidays and grew organically, with James at the helm. However, ten years on, James looked for ways to build the product portfolio.

In 2014 he moved back to the UK, which meant a wider pool of people to recruit guides from. He developed a training programme to improve the quality of the service provided to customers. The move also put him closer to family and friends and he continued investing any profit from holiday sales into the business for the following years.

A key point in the company’s evolution was when James took the decision to focus on road cycling holidays rather than offering a range of products. This was in response to the increase in demand for cycling holidays in locations featured in the key professional cycling tours such as the Tour de France, La Vuelta d’Espana and Giro d’Italia.

Currently there are seven people based in the office and a team of 20 guides, with James spendingtime developing new itineraries and training new staff.

The original format for Marmot Tours’ road cycling holidays remains hugely popular: high quality service from two experienced and supportive guides with fully kitted-out, bespoke support vehicles to carry clients’ baggage, snacks, water, equipment and to provide support with mechanical issues. Half-board accommodation in hotels (often family-run) and airport transfers are also included. Marmot Tours guides do not cycle with riders as customers prefer the flexibility and independence of cycling at their own pace.

The company divides its itineraries between flexible-pace holidays, where cyclists can choose how much to push themselves each day, Raids and set challenges. On the latter, riders cycle from point to point in the same vein as the key professional cycling races, often including the stage endings of the actual races. Other than the pedalling, Marmot Tours takes care of everything else!

The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on holiday bookings, with the company having to cancel holidays and refund all customers in 2020.  In 2021, tours were only possible from September due to restrictions in many European countries. However, the situation improved in 2022 as the pent-up demand for travel, as well as the continued growth of road cycling, meant that many customers took holidays planned for previous years.

2023 is looking more challenging as people return to family trips and overseas holidays at discounted rates designed to attract high volume bookings. James got in touch with GetSet Somerset after hearing about the programme from Yeovil Town Council when attending a networking session looking at the grant funding available in the area.

“I was forced to seek external funding to help with the survival of the business following the pandemic. I discovered GetSet Somerset and signed up to the programme and started to explore the grant funding they offered,”

James applied for a grant from GetSet Somerset to part fund the development of the integration of the Marmot Tours reservation system and website. This will provide a more user-friendly and improved booking process for customers. “The plan was to improve the experience for customers by creating a more bespoke service, which recognises their preferences and offers holidays to match their past choices, as well as making it quicker and easier to enquire about our road cycling holidays,” stated James

The system will also provide currency conversion for website users in the USA and Australia which are growing markets for Marmot Tours’ road cycling holidays in Europe. “It is key to capitalise on the increase in travel from the U.S and Southern Hemisphere, as holiday makers from these areas had been reluctant or not permitted to travel for longer than in the UK when travel restrictions were lifted after the pandemic,” he added.

“The new website is almost ready to launch and looks amazing,” James commented.

“If we hadn’t received the GetSet Somerset grant, we would not have had the money to invest in it yet – it has the potential to help increase our bookings substantially.”

James also received 1:1 coaching sessions with a Business Advisor from the GetSet Somerset programme which he said, “helped me to look at different aspects of running a business as I had no formal training”. He added that, “he found it reassuring in some ways and educational in others, such as interpretation of accounts”.

James is now putting Marmot Tours through the B Corp Certification process and is exploring funding options to use a consultant to help with this – we wish Marmot Tours and James luck!

For more information visit www.marmot-tours.co.uk or follow on Facebook, Twitter,Instagram or YouTube