Interview with Col Beardmore – Journey to the East

Journey to the East runs exclusive small group and private tours of Japan. The first Journey to the East website enabled owners Col Beardmore and Yuki Takano to build a highly successful tour business online. After five years, they were in a position to upgrade the website with a more sophisticated design to compete more strongly in their market niche. Journey to the East have been OM4 clients for 8 years.

Col, how did you come to be working with OM4?

We decided to start Journey to the East to fill a gap we saw in travel offerings to Japan. We concluded that one of the difficult things was going to be to market the product, and that the best mechanism we could use was the internet. We’re an internet only outlet; we don’t publish anywhere else. I went looking on the internet for an organisation that made websites for travel companies, and started to call them. That’s how we found OM4.

So what happened as a result of working with OM4?

It was excellent. The best part, I think, was that OM4 grasped almost immediately what we were trying to achieve with our first website. That was very very helpful. It was Glenn from OM4 who came up with the name for our business. I think he understood straight away that we needed a website that was incredibly flexible, because we didn’t really know what was going to work. We needed to be able to bend with the wind.

We also wanted to manage the website ourselves, not to keep going back to OM4 to get little things done, and we needed to be able to do it with ease and certainty. OM4 achieved that for us very well.

Why did you decide to upgrade the website?

When I first started working with Glenn, I actually said to him, “Look, I don’t want to build a Rolls-Royce, because I don’t know what the Rolls-Royce would even look like. What I really want is to build something that will last us three years or so. At the end of three years, we will have learnt enough to build another one that will last another three years.”

That’s exactly what has happened. At three years old, the first website had been beaten and bent and trampled on, and needed to be replaced to let us go forward to the next step. The OM4 team took it on, and that’s exactly what they did for us.

What was the overall outcome you were looking for specifically for this upgrade?

Our tour business has been growing at the rate of about 100% compound per annum. We started out as a little operator and didn’t really think the business would get anywhere near where it is, never mind where it’s going. We really needed to change the focus of the website so it looked more professional.

How well do you feel OM4 addressed your business objectives and translated those into the website upgrade?

Pretty good really. There were a couple of little places where we didn’t quite agree, but that’s fine. OM4 have a lot of knowledge about things that you can do using the technology and they’re not frightened to put those things in front of you. I think the important thing is that you need to understand whether the suggestions are valid for the current stage of your business. If you say, “Well, no, I don’t think so”, they’re OK with that, and ask “What else do you need?” So, that was really good.

What do you think is the key to a successful tour website?

The issue is there are hundreds, thousands of websites out there. I think our website has to demonstrate within seconds what it is that we’ve got to offer, and what’s different to the guy next door. If you can’t do that, then you’re going to struggle.

Do you feel you’ve been able to achieve that?

Oh, we have achieved it, there’s no doubt. Absolutely no doubt. The people who get on our website, generally speaking, know what they’re after. How do I know that? I think, because of the feedback. Have a look at the reviews from the clients themselves. I think if you’re getting the wrong clients, you wouldn’t get that level, or that style of feedback.

How important do you think images are for a tour website?

I think they’re important – very, very important. One of the things we wanted to do with this upgrade was actually upgrade the image level, and the experience. We try to use images as much as possible to communicate the message. We could have gone out and spent a million dollars on images. My fear is that if you’ve got the same images somebody else has it conveys messages like “Oh, you’re just the same as them, or you’re part of them.”

How important are search engines to a tour website?

Oh, absolutely essential. Probably that’s the area that mostly concerned me with the upgrade. We had some areas where we had to work a little harder. I was concerned that we mustn’t lose any ground, which is really difficult. If you’ve moved an inch forward with your positioning as a website, then you lose that inch, it takes a huge effort to get it back.

What do you think is OM4’s point of difference?

I think it’s being able to talk to them about what you want in order to have an effective business. They come back and say, “Okay, this is what we can do to help you.”

The other thing that’s really good about OM4 is they understand we’re a very small business. We’re not a big global tour operator. We have to do what we have to do, with quite a tight budget, realistically. OM4 is very clever in that area, very clever in that space. They don’t over-engineer and don’t under-engineer as well. They didn’t want us to spend megabucks on stuff that, for our size, wasn’t of value.

Would you recommend OM4 to other tour operators?

I’d like to say absolutely not, especially if they’re competing tour operators going to Japan! Seriously the truth is, if somebody asked me, of course, I would say use OM4.

How do you see OM4 best assisting you in the future?

That’s an easy one: same again! In three to four years’ time, they will need to do this job again,

I’ve no doubt at all, and I’m looking for that. In the interim, we’re growing fast, we’re nimble, we have to be able to keep out of the jaws of the big boys. The thing that I’ve always liked with OM4 is you can get on the blower and you can talk to the horse’s mouth and say, “Listen, this is where we are, what do you reckon?” They’ll give me some really good positive advice on what to do, or even say, “Hey, that’s ridiculous!” That’s just as good, just as good!