Exley’s Travel: Partnership delivering strong growth

Within just two years, Seaford, East Sussex-based Exley’s Travel was born, swiftly flourished and was named as a finalist in the Day Excursion Programme category at the 2020 British Coach Tourism Awards – all with a teenager running the operation.

Despite the spanner in the works that is coronavirus COVID-19, Thomas Exley (above), owner of Exley’s Travel, has stayed optimistic throughout. He says that it has given himself time to work solely on the business without distractions – even though he has had to postpone many scheduled trips.

He says: “I think what helps is being so personal with customers. When it’s all on a personal level and you’re all friends, they become a lot more understanding. That is the reason why we are a family company with family service.”

Thomas’ family helps him run every aspect of the company. His mother, Debbie, manages social media and PR, and his father, Mark, helps with the website and marketing.

His grandparents get involved too. Thomas says: “My right-hand woman is Margaret Exley. She is one of my senior excursion managers who does training and anything like that. She knows everything like the back of her hand.

“My other nan, Barbara Burrell, is what we call our Excursion Crew.

“But the other main lady that I haven’t mentioned is Joanne Spowage, my auntie. She is also taking up the reins as an excursion manager and doing a lot of day trips herself.”

Getting started at Exley’s Travel

After time spent as Young Mayor of Seaford from 2017-2018, Thomas got great publicity from his community coach trips. He built up a client base of around 500 people – all while he was just 16.

“They didn’t want the trips to stop,” he explains. “They would have to go to either Brighton or Eastbourne to go on a coach trip. So, we continued it and I then thought ‘I’ll keep on doing it.’ It’s grown a lot bigger ever since then.”

Exley's Travel
Exley’s Travel is a family business, with three generations involved in its operation

When asked how he balanced his education and a business, Thomas says he doesn’t know.

“I suppose that I maybe put the business first in a sense. People were telling me ‘you’re mad for doing this’, but I have never been an academic person that lives for exams,” he explains.

“I’m more of a ‘let’s earn money and make money’ person.”

While in his final year of A-Levels, studying business, politics and geography, the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has cut his education short. But he still has hopes of studying Business Management at university.

“At the moment that’s all on hold,” he says. “So now I’m just focusing on this. We are really busy with postponing trips and getting in contact with customers.”

Worthing Coaches and Exley’s Travel: A strong partnership

Thomas highlights that a strong partnership with Lucketts Group subsidiary Worthing Coaches has ensured the success of his business.

He says: “I am really quite picky with what I choose. I went through a lot of operators beforehand and finally concluded that Worthing Coaches, and Lucketts Group in particular, were the best I could find. They are both very good at what they do, and we are very particular.”

Exley’s Travel uses executive coaches for its day excursions. Worthing Coaches supplies the company with a range of vehicles, most commonly a Scania Interlink, a Scania OmniExpress and a Scania Irizar Century.

Exley's Travel
Exley’s Travel uses vehicles from Lucketts Group subsidiary Worthing Coaches

“Anything with a centre servery for us is crucial because the ones at the front are useless when we are trying to serve 50 cups of tea on a coach.”

Thomas conducts customer feedback surveys after each trip and passes on the feedback to the operator. He says that his customers tend to favour the Scania Irizar.

“I always write an email after every trip saying thank you very much,” he says.

“You can’t fault the staff and the drivers at Worthing Coaches. They are amazing. But if there is a problem with the coach then I will say, ‘if we have that same vehicle for the next trip, will you get it sorted?’ It is always done. Worthing Coaches is very customer responsive – the same as us.”

Working well with its operator partners

Thomas praises the customer service he has had from Worthing Coaches Sales and Private Hire Controller Julie Young. He says: “She was so helpful and from first speaking with her I knew Worthing Coaches was a company that I could trust to help represent my business.

“From then on Worthing has always been our coach hire supplier based on its amazing customer service from Julie, the professional attitude of its drivers and the good quality of its coaches.”

The partnership developed and strengthened as Exley’s Travel grew in demand. As a result, it is one of the tour companies which hasn’t cancelled bookings with the coach operator during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

He says: “I think at hard times like these the partnership can only grow stronger. We have not cancelled any of our coach contracts with Worthing. Instead, we have paid them in full and simply postponed them to a later date in the year which they are more than happy about.”

Julie adds: “We have been delighted to support Exley’s Travel in helping establish and grow its business.

“Thomas has exacting requirements and expects the highest standards. We have met these by providing the best coaches, the best drivers and the best service. We look forward to being part of Thomas’ ongoing successes.”

Exley’s expansion is on the horizon

Although Exley’s Travel is only a few years young, the entrepreneurial head of the company is already looking to the future and is starting the first part of a five-year plan for the operator.

Exley's Travel
Thomas Exley with Worthing Coaches driver Richie Toner on a day excursion

After establishing Exley’s Travel in coaching, the next stage of the growth plan is Exley’s Cruises.

Thomas had hoped to launch and start bookings for the first stage of the company’s expansion in March 2020, but it has been deferred until the global economic situation steadies.

Nevertheless, he is excited about the second part of his plans.

“At the beginning of next year, we’ll start looking at doing Exley’s Holidays in addition to Exley’s Travel and Exley’s Cruises. That is where we will be doing escorted package holidays abroad,” Thomas says.

“I’m looking personally to grow this business. I don’t mean growing big in the next 20 years. I mean growing big in the next two to five years with the backing that I’ve got. We’ve looked at it and it can be done, which I am really hopeful for at the moment.”

More coaches to be used?

But with such growth, Exley’s Travel has had to consider the need for more coaches to facilitate its expansion.

Thomas explains: “With Worthing Coaches growing we are sticking with it, but a potential issue is that it has only got a small fleet. If we grow bigger with our day excursions, then we are going to have to look at partnering with another operator.

“Currently we are starting a contact with Compass Travel, which provides us with additional capacity when Worthing Coaches is busy. Other than that, Worthing fills most of our requirements. We would most likely continue to use the other brands within Lucketts Group as and when required.”

Although Exley’s is new to the tour operator market, it is going from strength to strength and expanding quickly. With Thomas hungry to develop the business even further, even while continuing to balance his future university studies, there’s doesn’t seem to be anything able to stop him.