Posted on Friday 24 January 2020 by Ulster Business
Edel Doherty’s grand ambitions for her business travel firm probably should come as no surprise to those who know her – it’s a sector which she has worked in her entire life.
A decade ago she founded Beyond Business Travel, a business with a £16m turnover and around 25 staff. Now, the aim is to grow that to £50m, which includes a new office in Dublin to expand its market reach right across Ireland.
“We are hoping to take that to £50m in the next four years and we have opened an office in Dublin,” she told Ulster Business.
“It’s an ambitious target, but we have grown year-on-year for the past nine years and have brought a lot of technology into the business and to our clients.”
The client list reads like a who’s who of the giants of Northern Ireland industry, including poultry processor Moy Park, Almac and Devenish Nutrition. The firm has also looked after those on the Game of Thrones crew.
“We have a strong track record of getting and maintaining good clients,” she says. “We are a new breed of travel management company. We want to make a difference in client businesses.
“People, the human capital, is what the business is and making sure they are looked after while they travel is a big thing for us – doing it effectively, making sure they have the support, 24/7.
“I’ve been in travel for more than 35 years and I’m passionate about it. It has changed dramatically, with the rise of the smartphone.”
That includes the development of booking tools for clients, but also looking ahead and building more advanced technology, incorporating artificial intelligence and being able to personalise the experience for each traveller.
Born in Belfast, Edel’s initial career trajectory looked set for university, but instead she wanted to go in to the world of work, and tackle the travel sector.
“I went straight into the industry and I’m a great believer in life-long learning. I want to be the best version of me and to reach my potential,” she says. That includes working across different areas of the travel industry. But Edel says business travel “was always my love”.
Edel is involved with the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Women in Business, as well as sitting on the CBI’s SME Council in London. She’s also just been named Businesswoman of the Year by Women in Business.
And like many company founders, Edel hit the ground running with her own business as the world entered its worst recession in a generation. She was previously a director with a company for 17 years, before deciding to make the move and go it alone.
“I made a business plan – I said to myself, I can do this, I know I can. I built a brilliant team around me, and almost 10 years later, here we are. It’s been hard work, but it’s enjoyable and I’m passionate about the Northern Ireland economy. I’m passionate about buying local.”
As for Brexit, Edel says setting up the Dublin office was one was in which the firm was mitigating against any business concerns arising from Brexit.
“It’s hard to plan when you don’t know. Business people are problem solvers,” she says. “Once we have a problem, we come up with a solution. But people are holding back on decisions. We did a complete analysis of our clients and they are down on last year. It completely filters down and there is a knock on effect and people are nervous.
“A lot of our clients are exporters. If they are affected, everything from export documents, to the movement of goods and people – that will (have an) impact.”
Looking to the future and Edel’s ambitious £50m turnover target she says leading the way in tech and being early adopters is helping to drive expansion.
“We are looking out at what’s coming – some clients won’t work without technology, and we have tech bedded in. It’s tried and tested.”