Travel specialist appoints first COO following record growth

Mark O'Donoghue

Mark O’Donoghue, former chief executive of digital learning solutions provider AVADO Learning, has joined Manchester-based independent travel company Travel Counsellors as chief operating officer.

Mark’s appointment comes as Travel Counsellors celebrates its 25th year of operation and more than 17 consecutive years of double-digit growth.

In the period beginning November 2018-2019, the company saw a record high of £650m in sales and welcomed more than 300 new business owners to use its bespoke technology platform to grow their corporate and leisure travel businesses.

With more than 20 years’ experience leading disruptive digital platform businesses, Mark’s appointment will focus on enabling the continued success of the company’s ‘Travel Counsellor’ business owners, having transformed his previous company into the UK’s leading platform provider of online learning, increasing sales fourfold over a five-year period.

Growth at AVADO Learning was further boosted under Mark’s leadership by a focus on talent development, digital marketing and data science through forging new partnerships and bespoke-built solutions with the CIPD, Google and Tableau.

Founded in Manchester in 1994, Travel Counsellors operates a franchise business model with more than 1,900 self-employed travel professionals working from home or shared offices in seven countries across the globe.

The company’s community of business owners use Travel Counsellors’ bespoke-built technology platform to provide highly-personalised leisure and corporate travel and booking experiences to 600,000 customers a year.

In 2019 the company invested up to £7m in technology enhancements, including the continuous development of ‘my TC’, the company’s dedicated app which supports Travel Counsellors’ business owners to nurture close relationships with their customers through being instantly contactable at the tap of a button.

This investment in technology is also enhancing the company’s in-house booking platform, Phenix, with further development directed towards a ‘TC recommendation engine’, enabling the company’s Travel Counsellors to search through thousands of travel suppliers to tailor-make bespoke itineraries tuned to their customers’ preferences, as recommended by previous customers’ experiences and fellow Travel Counsellors.

Steve Byrne, chief executive at Travel Counsellors, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Mark to Travel Counsellors to continue the growth and success of an innovative, digital community platform that supports and empowers entrepreneurial business owners to provide outstanding booking and travel experiences for their customers, with a focus on the human touch.

“Mark’s previous experience in leading the growth of digital learning and technology-focused businesses, and passion for empowering talented people with the latest innovations in technology, offers the perfect blend as we continue to support travel professionals to re-define what personal service means in the travel industry, by showing the greatest levels of care to their customers every day.”

The new appointment also follows Travel Counsellors’ secondary management buyout from private equity company Vitruvian Partners, in 2018.

Mark O’Donoghue said: “Travel Counsellors has developed a highly innovative and successful business model, built on the company’s passion for putting people first. The potential for adding to the brilliant human engagement that lies at the heart of the Travel Counsellors model with a wider set of digital platform functions, is incredibly exciting.

“I’m looking forward to working with the driven, ambitious support and tech teams to enable our Travel Counsellor business owners to be the very best they can be, through the continued development and improvement of the company’s technology platform, including the application of data science and enhanced customer insights to further support the growth of their businesses.”