A Witney-based travel company has turned the concept of ‘a holiday of a lifetime’ into a burgeoning global business, with annual revenues of £150m.

This year has been a turning point for Audley Travel, after opening a new office in Boston in the US in March, another office in London in May, and winning Employer of the Year at the Oxfordshire Business Awards in June.

The key to its success is offering tailor-made travel itineraries for individual clients.

Chief executive Ian Simkins said: “I think you’d struggle to find someone to get the same in-depth knowledge and expertise.”

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Audley Travel has 360 employees, 250 of whom are based at its main office in Witney. The company hires people who are well-travelled and have particular expertise in a specific country, typically having lived or spent substantial time there.

“Our main role is for a country specialist,” said Mr Simkins, 47. “The way we differentiate ourselves is that we want people who talk about the regions within the region.”

Audley’s travel agents devise individualised itineraries with the client, based on their personal interests.

In 1996, Craig Burkinshaw established Audley Travel in a post office in Northampton.

John Brewer, the son of the woman who owned the post office, came in as his business partner.

“John’s more practical, Craig’s more your archetypal traveller,” said Mr Simkins.

The company moved to New Mill, on the northern outskirts of Witney, eight years ago, due its expanding size.

The two co-founders brought in Mr Simkins as chief executive three years ago after they decided to step back from day-to-day running of the business.

However, they remain involved in setting strategy as shareholders and board members.

Around the same time, European private equity firm Equistone came in as a shareholder.

Mr Simkins has spent his entire career in tourism and once ran British Airways’ air miles travel programme.

Audley Travel generates annual revenues of £150m with an average selling price range of £2,000 to £10,000 per person, he said.

About 90 per cent of its business still derives from UK-based holiday- makers and its target market is people who want to “get a deeper insight into their travel”.

“The majority of our clients are repeat or recommend,” Mr Simkins said.

Audley now arranges holidays in 83 countries, with South East Asia (especially India), Africa, Latin America and the US its main destinations.

The company decided to open an office in the US after realising that 20 per cent of its web traffic was originating from there. Boston was chosen because of its proximity on the east coast, and the pool of talent of young, passionate travellers, largely due to Harvard University.

Similarly, the company opened another office in London “to fish in a bigger pool” of potential employees.

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