Running a start-up is one of the most exhilarating and nerve-wracking things I have done. It’s something that comes with a list of anxieties and pitfalls that are well documented, and with so many others having been through the process before there is plenty of advice at hand, both good and bad.
Just before our first birthday, coronavirus strengthened its grip, and the UK was plunged into lockdown and of all the things you plan for in your first year of trading, the biggest challenge will be this hurdle, one that is unforeseen, unprecedented and even now, unpredictable.
All of a sudden there is no road map, no tried and tested play book to go to, and whilst some industries will thrive as a result of Covid, the holiday industry is not one of them. It turns out that of all the anxieties we had as a start-up this one should have been at the top of the list.
In that wilderness we were left with one option; go back to one of the founding principles of Luxury Coastal and follow our moral compass. Our ambition has always been to be ‘famous for fairness’ and so as a team we started making decisions with this as our guiding principle.
Like many others we acted quickly to sure up our cost base and secure our finances as best we can to give us some stability. It is then we start asking questions such as, what is the right thing to do? What would I expect if I were in their shoes? Does that feel fair to everyone? How would I react if…?
Coupled with this, we communicated with our owners very frequently from the outset to understand their thoughts and concerns and ensure that our decisions supported them the best way possible. From a customer point of view the initial requests were simple; can I move my holiday or can I have a full refund.
We didn’t start Luxury Coastal to follow what the rest of the industry does, we have always wanted to chart our own course, yet the decisions of others hit hard early. Big affiliate partners made sweeping decisions early on that hit the industry hard. It was out of our hands, but morally it felt wrong and so our determination to use our moral compass redoubled.
As I have said, there isn’t a road map and we didn’t always get it right, though with our collective morals guiding us it was easy to see that certain decisions were not supporting our ambition to be famous for fairness. It was simple at that point, stop that course of action and change our approach. There are always very quick indicators that you have strayed from your path and we are big enough to say we made a mistake and rectify it.
As the initial rush slowed down there became a point when we had a little more time to reflect and it came as a huge disappointment to see that in many ways customers had been left feeling let down, leaving somewhat a black mark against the industry at a time when customers have had it toughest of all. Covid was always going to reshape consumer behaviour in our industry but there has also been a huge shift in trust between the customer and the seller.
The challenge is navigating our way out of the lockdown period, while building trust between our customers and us. This will require some big changes in our operating model and as we move forward, we are once again leaning on our moral compass to guide our decision making.
With guests expected to start arriving in holiday homes again shortly we find ourselves in a position of health. We are not expecting the journey out of this Covid period to be hassle free but are better prepared for whatever lies ahead as a result of our recent experiences.
If there is a moral to the story, it has to be surround yourself with like minded people who share the same values and when the way is uncertain, use your morals to guide you that way you will always be proud of, and at ease with the decision you make in toughest of times.