Business Spotlight: echo.bravo
Chris Donovan is echo.bravo’s founder who is looking to disrupt the travel industry through his human-led and focused approach to business travel. With their office based in Reigate, Surrey, Chris is a long distance away from his hometown of Caerphilly, however, his heart continues to sing when he crosses over the bridge back to his Welsh roots.
Echo.bravo joined GlobalWelsh’s Business membership programme in 2021. We caught up with Chris to learn more about why echo.bravo was founded and how they might be the future of business travel…
Can you tell me about you and the story of echo.bravo?
I’ve worked in travel my whole working life. Before taking the leap of faith by joining Travel Counsellors, a global travel franchise and creating echo.bravo in 2019, I had worked in business travel for over five years. My goal was to create a better travel booking experience for business travellers, with customers being central to everything we do. I chose the name echo.bravo because, as many know, the phonetic alphabet is used a lot in the travel industry and I wanted to create something that was both fitting, stood out and could enable us to expand our travel services.
The pandemic was a challenging time for us. We had no income for a while but knowing the industry, I had full faith in the business and took on other roles until things started to stabilise. This gave me the time and space to evaluate how I wanted the business to look post-Covid and how to counter the narrative of “this is the end of business travel”. We knew that in business there’s no replacement for in-person contact, especially in industries like manufacturing which need that in-person contact to test products and processes. During the pandemic we saw the disruption for customers; a lack of customer service, cancelled flights, understaffed planes and poor refund policies, this really helped me redefine what I had to do in my business to deliver for clients by adding value and building trust with customers.
"Covid also affected the sector as people left the industry in droves because there was no funding. This loss of knowledge has resulted in baggage pile-ups, long queues and brand damaging customer service. We’ve tried to combat these issues through investments in GPS trackers for our clients, so if their luggage was lost or left behind we knew exactly where it was and this reduces a large amount of stress for our clients."
How has the travel industry changed post-pandemic?
The travel industry wasn’t sure how it was going to survive and even now, while the demand is there, we’re still recovering. As an example, pre-Covid there was a large demand for flights from London to Australia and on average there were 10+ flights a day, whereas now, there are only 4 to 5 flights travelling the same route. This has created a bottleneck as this has increased the average price on these flights. A business flight to New York pre-Covid would have been around £2,000 but now it’s £5,000-£8,000 and this is a challenge for us to manage our clients’ budgets. Covid also affected the sector as people left the industry in droves because there was no funding. This loss of knowledge has resulted in baggage pile-ups, long queues and brand damaging customer service. We’ve tried to combat these issues through investments in GPS trackers for our clients, so if their luggage was lost or left behind we knew exactly where it was and this reduces a large amount of stress for our clients. It’s not all doom and gloom though, I think challenges like Covid are important as it keeps you on your toes and in the long run it will help your business evolve and adapt to the unknown.
Why would travellers choose echo.bravo, what do you do for them?
We’re human focussed. We don’t rely on chatbots or other technology because, ultimately, they won’t always get you the best deal, which is something we saw during Covid. Some of these AI technologies are not great for people in time-bound, stressful or more complicated travel situations so at echo.bravo all clients get a dedicated Account Manager who’s on hand across multiple channels from start to finish and who also prioritises aftercare. If your flight is delayed/cancelled we will get a notification 30 minutes before it hits the public domain so we can deal with it on behalf of clients before most travellers even find out there’s a problem. We also offer interest free credit so clients with large bookings can manage these more efficiently by settling in one go.
"To keep to our principles, we book electric hire cars and highlight properties that have been recognised for their sustainability efforts and we recommend flights to our customers based on the efficiency of the planes."
What environmentally friendly practices do you have in place?
The elephant in the room is that we do sell flights which contribute to carbon emissions so sustainability is a big focus for us. We know how crucial it is to be open about sustainability rather than ‘green wash’ and make false promises. One big step we’ve made is to partner with Ecologi, which means we can run carbon reports across all of the business and then look to offset these emissions through investing in carbon reduction projects. These initiatives are funded through our profits not by clients.
We strive to be as environmentally conscious as we can, so we incorporate sustainability into our entire business process. As a small business, if we need to change, we can do this in a relatively short period, unlike larger companies who have lengthy guidelines and a lot of red tape. To keep to our principles, we book electric hire cars and highlight properties that have been recognised for their sustainability efforts and we recommend flights to our customers based on the efficiency of the planes. While these might not always be the cheapest option for clients, we feel it’s responsible business practice for us to provide sustainable options.
How has GlobalWelsh helped you?
In the past few years, the Connect platform has benefitted both me personally and my business. GlobalWelsh has introduced me to possible conferences and the community function has bettered my network and introduced me to others in the travel industry. The standout benefit for me though has been the MyMentor programme where I was matched with my mentor Dale Lovell.
I applied for the programme during Covid when I was feeling quite alone in setting up a new business. As an entrepreneur himself he gave me sound advice and helped me tremendously in the early stages of setting up echo.bravo. He worked with me on the hiring process and as someone outside of the travel sector he challenged me to think outside the box and see the industry from a new perspective. The MyMentor programme is not something I would have found elsewhere. I know through other events that GlobalWelsh host such as Connect to London, I have a platform to make more wonderful Welsh business connections.
"I’d like to be able to offer our customers a loyalty scheme with echo.bravo outside of airline schemes so this is where I see the future for us and I am very excited about all of it!"
Where do you see the future of Echo Bravo?
World domination! In all honesty my focus now will be looking into AI and how we can integrate this without losing the human element and approach. It’s crucial that we don’t want to remove the human approach from the business as that’s part of what makes us different, but we can look to use AI to automate some elements of the process. Most companies are either team technology or team human, but I know you can have the best of both worlds.
The other thing I want to focus on is membership schemes. We’re attending the Smart Con conference in October 2023 to learn more about how NFT’s can work with membership schemes and how we can evolve the current offering. I’d like to be able to offer our customers a loyalty scheme with echo.bravo outside of airline schemes so this is where I see the future for us and I am very excited about all of it!
Connect with Chris and echo.bravo via Connect >>
Ymunwch â GlobalWelsh
Dewch yn rhan o dyfiant rhwydwaith ar-lein o bobl Gymeig sy’n cydweithio ar gyfer y gorau i Gymru gan gefnogi eraill, archwilio cyfleoedd busnes a rhannu gwybodaeth.Ymunwch â GlobalWelsh