Singing from the same hymn sheet

Galway-based operator proves that building a strong and solid team around you is what’s important

Imagine being located in the heart of one of the most famous touring routes in the world.

Imagination is not needed for operator Spirit of Ireland, which has set up shop in the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way.

Encompassing six distinct regions, the Wild Atlantic Way is the world’s longest defined coastal touring route. From Malin Head in County Donegal, the country’s most northerly point, to Mizen Head in County Cork, the most southerly point; nestled in the centre in Galway is Spirit of Ireland Executive Travel.

Founded in 2013 by two local business men, the firm has clearly established its roots in the executive travel market.

New opportunity

The original idea behind the business was to get into golf tours, private executive touring and private transfers, which is something the firm solely did for a year, until the Wild Atlantic Way was opened in 2014 as a tourism trail.

Damien Nunan, Operations Manager explains that the two founders saw an opportunity.

“They went and registered another company called Wild Atlantic Way Day Tours in order to capitalise on this new opportunity,” he says. “Now we do day tours from Galway up and down to places like Connemara and to Cliffs of Moher.”

Damien joined Spirit of Ireland in 2015 after working for another for a local operator in the area.

“I have a background in hospitality and sales and management. Day tours was something new to them and they wanted someone who knows how to do tours and has experience in sales and operations,” he says.

Welcome to the fleet

Spirit of Ireland has 12 vehicles comprising eight PCVs and four cars. In keeping with the firm’s executive standard, all the vehicles are to a high-specification.

The most recent addition to the business’ fleet is a new 29-seater Iveco minibus, which it took delivery of at the beginning of May.

Built by AutoCuby in Gdansk, Poland, the interior is finished to an “extremely high-standard” of comfort for both passengers and driver. 

As part of its five-year growth plan, Spirit of Ireland has also recently signed a dealership with AutoCuby.

“We are the sole dealer for AutoCuby vehicles in Ireland and the UK, as well as the suppliers for parts for the company,” Damien says.

“The new Iveco is the first one we have brought in and have got it through the process of registering it and getting it certified. We are now looking to sell those in the UK and Ireland.”

On tour

The new vehicle, which is the first Iveco to be added to the predominantly Mercedes-Benz fleet, will be used for executive touring and golf tours.

Golf tours are one of six services that Spirit of Ireland provides. Others include: Airport transfers, corporate executive vehicles, private coach hire, private tours and day tours.

Damien says that it’s currently the day tours that provide the main income for the business, and the success of those tours comes from the drivers.

When located in such a beautiful part of the world, it is not unreasonable for passengers to want and expect a commentary of the scenery and surroundings going past. And this is where Spirit of Ireland really excels, as its drivers are highly trained to act as guides as well.

“Our tours are the number one ranked tours in Galway on Trip Advisor,” he says.

“And a lot of that is down to the drivers; they are putting in a lot of the hard work. Me and the team in office sell the seats but once the vehicles leave Galway, it’s up to the drivers. They’re the ones who really sell the tours.”

All of the firm’s drivers are trained to a high standard, not just in terms of driving, Damien says, but how to give a good tour.

Each of its drivers are given guide notes with which they take out with them and learn. The course takes one evening a week, for around six weeks and then they do one-two days out on the road with one of the already-qualified driver-guides to see how it is done before they go out themselves.

“Getting drivers can be a problem but by running this course it helps,” he adds.

Driver shortage

There’s no denying that the industry has a driver shortage, and just like the UK, Ireland is also having its fair share of challenges when it comes to recruiting drivers.

For Spirit of Ireland, however, they have found a solution to the problem: Find a way that your drivers can fit into your downtime.

“We don’t have a driver shortage, but we could have. If we were to concentrate solely on any one aspect of our business then we would have a shortage,” Damien says.

“All of our drivers are multiskilled. The drivers are also the guides, so they do the talking and it’s not easy to get them in. So, it is very important that we hold onto them in the quieter months.

“Day tours are huge for us in the summer,” Damien says. “But in the winter, they are quiet, so we need to find a way to keep our full-time drivers going. We therefore take on school sports teams and do a lot of work in that area.

“There is a huge driver shortage in Ireland, and it’s harder for us because they need to act as the tour guide as well as the driver. So, the in-house course we run brings in people with the correct licences and teaches them the various aspects of the tours.”

Passenger attraction

Being in a prime location comes with its struggles, and competition is something Spirit of Ireland has had to adjust to.

“Competition is pretty severe, especially when it comes to day tours. We have a lot of competition coming to the market, but we have gotten over it now by deciding early on that we don’t want to carry everybody, we just want to carry a few,” Damien explains.

“We’ve come to a stage where we just wanted to fill the vehicles we have, we’re not going out to buy vehicles to fill them, we just want to fill the ones we have.”

And filling the vehicles doesn’t appear to be an issue for the operator, which says repeat custom is a regular occurrence.

“The one thing that we have is that everyone returns. We don’t have any issues of people being unhappy. The majority of our passengers are all here for a good time and we can supply that. And all of our drivers enjoy it, they enjoy going out meeting new people.”

‘Be the best’

When establishing yourself in this industry, it’s important to pick something you’re good at and be the best at it, Damien says.

“We started off doing executive driving, while it did very well in the summer months, when the colder months came, vehicles weren’t being used and drivers were laid off.

“I think the key thing is to find the one good thing you can be good at and be the best at it. And don’t feel that you have to be the cheapest, because once you’re providing a good service at a reasonable rate you can do well at it.

“The key thing is building up a solid team around us because our company is built around the people that work for us. Once you have a good team around you and they’re all singing from the same sheet, that’s the key thing. People are the most important asset to a business – hold on to them.”