The Lowestoft firm that books flights for Premier League football clubs
PUBLISHED: 06:39 20 April 2019 | UPDATED: 09:42 23 April 2019
It’s the business travel firm you’ve never heard. CAROLINE CULOT spoke to Adam Knights, MD at ATPI.
“I always say to friends: 'No I don't want to book your holiday',” Adam Knights the 48-year-old managing director of ATPI says with a smile.
He is the boss of the biggest travel firm you have never heard of – and they are based in Lowestoft.
ATPI is a travel agent for high-end business customers not for your cheap holiday in the sun. In just 20 years it has grown from a local firm with a £25m turnovr and about 30 employees to a huge world-wide enterprise with the whopping total travel turnover of more than £1bn and 1,800 on the payroll.
Lowestoft, which is the UK HQ, accounts for about £80-£90m of that turnover out of £229m across the UK with around 100 staff.
It looks after clients which include seven of the world's top, multi-million pound drilling companies as well as – can you believe it? – the people who work at Booking.com itself.
Yet, the business operates from an unassuming base on an industrial estate and few people have even heard of it.
Adam, whose official title is managing director for the UK, Belgium, Holland and France, said: “We are a brand no one knows, we move people, we do the tough logistical stuff quietly and well so you don't see our brand. We are behind the scenes, providing the 'theatre' and we don't want to be visible.
Adam has been with the company for 20 years, brought in originally as a sales manager to attract a different kind of business aside from the oil and gas customers which have been its backbone since inception and the reason for the firm's location.
Some people will remember the original business as independently-owned Seaforths Travel before it was bought out by a management team in 2004, which included Adam.
ATPI moves people around and doesn't just sort the actual tickets to travel but the management t too right down to monitoring a person's safe arrival for a client.
Adam explained: ”It's a managed travel service more than a travel agency where you go and buy a hotel and flight and think, have I got the best price? We only get involved when a customer recognises they need their travel managed because there is a price to pay for that in our fees and that's on top of the ticket price.
“If you are looking at our service and saying 'we could do it cheaper ourselves' then you don't need it,”
Adam was brought in to grow the business and he was the one who helped secure EU funding to allow the major relocation from Southtown Road in Yarmouth to the current premises on Mobbs Way. The grant was given provided the firm drew on local people and expanded and even though the oil and gas industry then was on its knees, Adam knew he could do it and it has become one of the biggest employers in the locality.
“We brought a lot of work in from Cambridge, took some of the pharmaceutical work, IT companies, and I won Debenhams, a £3m account, which we still hold today despite all their problems. We also won the FA, and had it for 12-13 years, serviced in Lowestoft. Although we have a London presence, when we get clients to Lowestoft and show the office, they see the passion of the staff and also the demographic here is a lot younger than our other offices and our competitors.”
In fact ATPI, which stands for Advanced Travel Partners International, has always trained young people from colleges in Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Norwich with a dedicated centre based in the office.
“My passion is the opportunities provided by this office, the career paths were quite limited for local people but we have taken up to six people a year from college and into full time jobs and when I bump into supervisors, managers, I know they came in at 16 years old on one of those schemes.
“I like to think of us as a 'domestic exporter', we are able to bring in money to this area and jobs which isn't taking off from other employers in the area.”
Adam, married with two children, aged 17 and 14, and who lives in Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich, himself came from a working class background. His dad was a plumber in Lowestoft but he saved up to send Adam to Norwich School to get a good education and that paved the way for him to go to university to do a travel and business degree.
“Academically I was not at the top of the class and I had to really work hard to get into that school, I admire my Dad as these kinds of schools weren't on the radar but he wanted to do better for me academically, at the time it was a stretch so I really am grateful for the sacrifice he made.”
So what's next for Adam? “My ambition is to continue to bring stability to our workforce because that's what the customer buys into and to move into different sectors - the sports business is going up significantly as well as media and the oil and gas business is coming back as oil prices increase, so it is about growth.
“The challenge? Everybody thinks they are a travel agent. So we have to consistently say to customers you have to buy into the management service we offer, because you will always get your travellers saying they can 'get it cheaper on Booking.com'