Ocean Holidays Wins Inaugural Travel for All Award at the Travel Weekly Annual Globe Awards

We were delighted to win the inaugural Travel for All Award at the Travel Weekly Globe Awards last night at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.

The award recognises and honours a travel company which has excelled in ensuring its product is truly inclusive and accessible. The judges selected us following rigorous testing of both our website and our dedicated accessibility hub, as well as conducting mystery calls to assess the knowledge and service of our sales team and their dedicated Accessibility Champions.

Our Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Harry Hastings, was on hand to pick up the award last night and said, “It feels fantastic to be recognised in this way and I’m so proud of the team. We’ve worked hard to embed a culture, and this is proof that the hard work is worth it. What makes it even sweeter is the fact it was our 20th-anniversary last year, which saw us undergo a brand refresh. Of course, good sales during peaks are a priority right now but equally to take a step back and be recognized for the work we are doing in striving to make holidays accessible for all helps put into context the importance of making really great holidays available to everyone.”

Our dedicated accessibility programme was launched in November 2022 and reported £8 million in sales in its first year. Spearheaded by Director of Product and Commercial Anna-Maria Janssen, the programme takes a holistic approach and considers both visible and hidden disabilities.

Janssen said of the award win, “I couldn’t be prouder of this award, and this is a testament to the hard work of the entire company in our mission to redefine all-inclusive and make holidays accessible for all. We pride ourselves on our service and we have spent a huge amount of time training our accessibility champions within the business, streamlining our processes and systems, ensuring we are able to provide the holiday of a lifetime for everyone. We are thrilled with the success of the programme so far and will continue to evolve and develop this.”

For more information about our accessible holidays, visit https://www.ocean-florida.co.uk/accessible-holidays/ to speak with an accessibility-trained agent or to make an enquiry today.

Love at first flight – get perfectly paired for a world first, all-inclusive first date to Florida

  • Ocean Florida is looking to send two singles on a once-in-a-lifetime first date where they get to test theme parks and beaches 
  • The chosen pair will be sent on an all-expenses paid trip to Florida, worth over £25,000 
  • The nine-day long trip has an extensive itinerary full of action-packed activities 

What if you could catch flights AND feelings? 

Ocean Florida and partners are putting two people to the ultimate test by offering a nine-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Florida…the catch? It will be their FIRST DATE! 

If chosen, YOU could be staying in a luxury villa, rating roller coasters, strolling down golden beaches and soaking up the scenic views from above in a romantic hot air balloon ride – all with your blind date while in the Sunshine State of Florida.  

The pair chosen to embark on this unique experience, worth over £25,000, will be selected by industry expert and globally accredited international matchmaker, Michelle Begy, the Managing Director and Founder of Ignite Dating, who will assess all submissions and pair the most compatible matches. 

So, if you’re a thrill-seeker hoping to find true love, what better way to put your relationship to the test than jetting off over Valentine’s week in 2024 for the experience of a lifetime? 

“Count me in! How do I apply?” 

  • First, you’ll need to fill out a simple first-stage application form on the Ocean Florida website here 
  • Entrants must be UK residents aged 25-60, hold a full UK driving licence, and of course – be single! (full t&c’s here
  • Entrants must be available to take the trip between the 12th – 21st of February 2024 
  • Ocean Florida is looking for two people who aren’t afraid to get stuck into adrenaline-packed activities, documenting their journey with a Go-Pro provided for the trip 

The selected couple will be notified on the 17th of January 2024 

“What can I expect from the trip?” 

The lucky couple will travel in style with Virgin Atlantic, leaving from London Heathrow Airport and heading straight to Orlando, where you’ll spend eight nights in luxury villas and hotels, with your own private rooms and ensuites. 

Trial all that the Sunshine State has to offer with this multi-centre trip across Orlando, Central Florida and Anna Maria Island. Whether that be testing your nerves high up on roller coasters or getting up close (but not too close) with Florida’s famous alligators while zooming down a zip wire at Gatorland USA

We’ll let you test your fear factor and discover your adrenaline junkie side at heights of 35 feet and speeds of 68 miles per hour on the Serengeti Flyer at Busch Gardens. You’ll also be encouraged to take it slow while admiring the scenic views of the Florida skyline during a serene hot air balloon ride with Central Florida. 

Test the water whilst jet skiing or taking a dolphin spotting cruise around Anna Maria Island and enjoy toes in the sand dining whilst watching one of the most romantic sunsets on the Gulf Coast. The fun doesn’t stop there, you’ll also receive a pair of basketball tickets, where you will be seated front-row at Jernigan’s to watch Orlando Magic play on Valentine’s night.   

And this isn’t all – the full itinerary has an array of other activities to occupy your trip and keep you busy! 

At the end of each day, wind down and get to know each other better over romantic dinners in a selection of amazing restaurants that Florida has to offer. Plus, all of your food and travel allowance is fully covered, so the only thing either of you will have to worry about is turning up! 

Explaining why activity-focused dates are so effective when looking for love, matchmaker and founder of Ignite Dating, Michelle Begy, states: “Everyone dreads awkward silences on a date, so it can help to have activities planned where you can really get to know somebody better. Sharing an experience gives you plenty to talk about and can help you relax because you are both doing something you enjoy.  

It can feel a lot more natural to break the ice with a shared activity rather than meeting solely face-to-face across the dinner table, politely trying to keep the conversation flowing. People tend to be themselves when they are in the moment, truly enjoying what they are doing, which can really help in getting to know somebody better and eliminate the nerves that can strike when you are dating.”  

One year on: Accessible holiday offering huge success for Ocean Florida

Romford-based holiday provider, Ocean Florida, celebrates one year of its accessible travel initiative, with 1,000 bespoke bookings driving £8m in sales. 

With data showing one in five are living with a disability in the UK¹, the villa holiday expert launched its accessible travel initiative in November 2022. One year on, it helped tailor 1,000 dream holidays to the sunshine state, generating over £8 million of sales for the Florida Specialist. 

As part of the launch, the holiday provider, which is part of the Ocean Holidays Group, ran a survey to reveal over half (51%) of respondents with a disability associate going on holiday with stress, while 36% associate travel with frustration.² 

To help reduce stress for disabled travellers, customers who book directly with the Orlando and Florida experts, as well as travel agents who use the service, now have access to uniquely-trained specialists, who work directly with the customer to tailor their trip to their individual needs.  

Considering hearing and visual impairments, as well as disabilities impacting mobility and cognitive function, customers can secure accommodation, travel and attraction itineraries best suited to them. For example, those with mobility needs can expect accommodation with widened doorways, hoist-entry pools and walk-in showers, as well as wheelchair accessible beaches, airline assistance and local transfers. Alternatively, there are options for autism-certified hotels and parks with low sensory areas with specially trained staff available for those with cognitive needs.  

Customer feedback conducted throughout the first year of the initiative however, shows booking the trip is only half the potential stress. To help tackle that challenge, customers can now expect to be assigned a dedicated accessibility coordinator, who will reach out 4-6 weeks prior to travel, to ensure a smooth journey. 

To celebrate one year of the initiative, Ocean Florida has partnered with Visit Florida and influencers Hannah and Becky Cheetham, who run Cheethams with dreams on Instagram, to further highlight the sunshine state as an accessible holiday destination.  

Hannah, who has cerebral palsy, her sister Becky, and their mum and dad will all embark on their own dream holiday this November, including access to the Kennedy Space Centre, Universal as well as heading to St. Pete Clearwater on Florida’s Gulf coast, for some family beach time.  

Not only do all customers have access to agents with unique accessibility training, the holiday provider has also invested in its website to provide a content hub of information, designed to help customers streamline their personal travel experience. 

Lindsey Brumby, Accessibility Co-ordinator at Ocean Florida comments: “As someone with a disability myself, I’m personally really proud of this initiative. Not only does it help all customers have the holiday of their dreams, it also puts the customer in complete control. This is particularly important because everyone’s experience with disability is different and unique to them, and everyone should be able to build a holiday specifically designed to them and their needs.” 

Director of Product and Commercial at Ocean Florida, Anna-Maria Janssen adds: “We’re so proud of this initiative here at Ocean Florida, and are thrilled to say we’ve helped over 3,500 people with unique requirements to book their dream holiday in the first year. We truly believe everyone deserves to travel comfortably and without stress, no matter what. 

“It’s crucial for travel agents and holiday providers to not be fearful of accessible bookings, which is why we invested in training our accessibility champions, to ensure they have the skills necessary to give all customers the best experience possible. We’re thrilled with the success of this program so far, and will continue to learn and develop the initiative as we help more and more customers book their dream Florida holiday.” 

For more information on accessible holidays, visit: https://www.ocean-florida.co.uk/accessible-holidays/, or to speak with an accessibility trained agent, make an enquiry today. 

US government announces vaccine mandate dropped from 11th May

Harry Hastings Co-CEO and Co-Founder, Ocean Florida said “We are thrilled that the vaccine mandate for all UK travellers to the USA is being dropped from 11 May 2023. As the UK’s largest independent operator to Florida, we’ve witnessed 20% of our cancellations since borders opened attributed to members of the travelling party being unvaccinated. The continued vaccination requirement has led to widespread confusion with 10% of our bookings being terminated at the final confirmation stage due to a lack of clarity of the entry restrictions.” He continued “The USA is one of the last countries to drop the vaccination requirement. The lifting of these final restrictions is an extremely welcome move and marks a great day in what has been a turbulent few years for the travel industry.”

Ocean Holidays Group Celebrates 20th Anniversary With Prizes and Rebrand

A year of celebrations planned including giveaways, competitions and fresh new branding

A year of celebrations, giveaways, competitions, trade-facing incentives and a brand refresh are all on the horizon for Ocean Holidays Group, the UK’s fastest growing travel company post-pandemic according to ATOL statistics, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Speaking at an exclusive event at the US Embassy in London to kick off the celebrations, Harry Hastings Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Ocean Holidays said: “For the last 20 years, we have prided ourselves on being a people-first organisation. Without the support of our staff, customers and business partners we wouldn’t be where we are today. This is a great moment to reflect on where we have come from and where we are going – and, of course, take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been a part of the journey.”

The 20th anniversary celebrations will continue into next year, with chances for agents to win places on fam trips, and monthly prizes and incentives, as well as working with local community charity partners.

The rebrand, which primarily involves the Group’s Ocean brands – Ocean Florida, the largest direct-to-consumer Florida specialist in Europe; and Ocean Beds, the largest global provider of Florida holiday homes to the travel trade – is central to the celebratory activity for this milestone year. The Group also includes Winged Boots, a leader in personalised holidays.

At the heart of the brand refresh is Ocean Holidays’ mission ‘to make holidays the best they can be, every step of the way’ highlighting the group’s ethos. As the inaugural winner of Employer of the Year, the rebrand which launched internally earlier this year, introduces three new values to the business – Do the right thing; Strive to be the best; and Make it happen – imprinted through the entire business.

Hastings commented: “Whether you are an employee, partner or customer, your travel experience with us is personal. We understand that holiday purchases, now more so than ever, are a significant purchase, which is why we treat every holiday like it was our own.

“Each of our brands has the technology, ambition and commitment to do the right thing for our people and customers.”

Looking ahead, Hastings confirmed the group is looking to expand its destination portfolio, across the USA, and potentially to other worldwide destinations in time.

Hastings continued “Since we launched our trade programme in July 2020, we have focussed on delivering unrivalled service, value and flexibility to our trade partners and have seen huge growth in sales for Florida and the wider USA.”

Four Lessons I Would Have Taught My 18-Year Old Self

As the son of two self-employed playwrights, our Co-founder and Co-CEO Harry Hastings has always had the self-belief and creative vision required to persevere. However, as we approach our 20th anniversary, Harry discusses four lessons he would have taught his younger self sooner in the final story of our Founder Series.

At the tender age of 18, I didn’t know a lot about the world – and certainly didn’t know much about running a business. But that’s the age I was when I first caught the travel bug and realised I wanted to build a career around making travel the best it can be for as many people as possible. Almost 20 years on, I’ve learned some valuable lessons – here are four that I would’ve told my 18 year old self.

Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement

It was 2012, the year of the London Olympics and Oceans Holidays was on a gold medal winning streak doing £30m of bookings a year. We’d brought in a business partner – someone with experience who we entrusted with our financial affairs and who we believed wanted to join us in growing the company. But all was not as it seemed. One day, it came to light that some supplier payments had been missed and our business partner hadn’t turned up to work nor answered his phone. A handful of us worked through the night to unpick what had happened and realised this was the tip of the iceberg. All in our twenties, us four founders realised we were staring down the barrel of a £1.8m black hole, with our business partner nowhere to be seen. Despite advice from a trusted advisor to walk away, we owed it to our 85 employees to persevere. With fire in our belly and sheer determination to survive, we worked round the clock for a week to write a five year business plan which satisfied those we needed the support of and ultimately led to our survival. Learning this valuable lesson the hard way made us tough and instilled in us all an unwavering commitment to being rigorous in the detail, laser focused on our numbers and ferocious in our governance.

As founders we work for the company and the people in it, not the other way round

To some, it might seem counter-intuitive to say that as founders we work for our staff and not that they work for us. But it’s a philosophy that has stood us in good stead and has led to us weathering the storms that have rocked the travel industry over almost 20 years. During the pandemic, when others closed their customer service lines and put staff on furlough, our staff got on the phones and reassured customers that we’d safeguard their holidays and ride out the storm together. In 2021 right in the midst of the turmoil, our staff’s commitment to helping Ocean Holidays customers navigate the chaos helped us almost double the size of our business from £40m to £77m between January to December of that year. And what’s more, we managed to do that and retain 85% of our staff. Today, we face new challenges: rising energy prices, a cost of living crisis and a looming recession. Our number one priority remains making sure our staff are comfortable. It’s them first, and selling holidays second. Which is why we’re investing in our staff now more than ever before. We’ve introduced a profit share scheme, pay rises and we have opted to be a real Living Wage provider, which we’ve back paid to January 2021. As we near the 20th anniversary of Ocean Holidays, I couldn’t be prouder that we’re on course to being rated a world class employer by the Best Companies engagement survey – although I do sometimes wonder if I’d have hired 18 year old Harry Hastings.

A band of brothers will build a brilliant business

The Ox brothers and the Hastings brothers come from very different backgrounds. Their Dad was a Romford market trader. Our parents were both playwrights. Yet we all shared a passion for travel and all had the self-belief instilled in us by our self-employed parents that we could one day run our own business. Daniel Ox ran the tuck shop at school – that was his early, sticky-fingered education on supply and demand. South of the Thames in Brixton, I was a keen ice hockey player. The game teaches you resilience, teamwork and as the greatest player of all time Wayne Gretzky famously said ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ – a philosophy that has always resonated with me. The Hastings and Ox brothers have long since hung up the skates and closed the tuck shop – and we’ve all found our cornerstones within the business. I look after our people and business planning along with our profit and loss with our Finance Director. George is responsible for our flights and relationships with our airline partners, Dan looks after the innovation and technology part of the business, and David – one of the UK’s top travel managers for high-net-worth’s and SME’s – is responsible for our personalised travel management business, Winged Boots.

Doing the right thing is best for business and the world we live in

The pandemic was a strange time, and the entire travel sector was nervous. In the midst of the turmoil, our colleagues’ commitment to helping our customers navigate the chaos helped us to become the UK’s fastest growing travel company according to ATOL reports. I have learnt that doing the right thing, looking after your employees, your community and the world around you, as well as being truly inclusive is good for business. As an 18-year-old founder in my early years, I would have passed off such altruism as a distraction from growing the business – believing these were qualities only highly funded big brands could afford to indulge. As it turns out, thinking beyond short-term revenue goals and focusing instead on doing the right thing for the wider world we live in pays off.

How Ocean Holidays Harnesses Technology to Enhance Human Connection

In the third of our Founders Series, Daniel Ox, Managing Director of Ocean Holidays, discusses how the latest technology has always been integral to our innovation and how emerging AI can be a tool for improving human interaction instead of a threat.

How Last Year’s Travel Chaos Can Create a Better Holiday Industry

In the second of our Founders Series, George Hastings, Managing Director of Ocean Holidays, discusses how we can learn from last year’s travel chaos to create a better holiday industry.

There’s no denying it has been a difficult couple of years for the travel industry. As travel restrictions began to ease post-pandemic, the industry faced a new set of challenges, from staff shortages to flight cancellations.

And yet the travel industry remains incredibly resilient. At Ocean Holidays, our sales were up 50% compared to January 2020, showing the green shoots that we have all been waiting for. As winter starts to draw to a close and families look ahead to planning well-deserved summer holidays, here are a few things I’ve learnt that will stand any travel business in good stead to overcome hurdles and work together to support customers as we move forward towards a brighter future.

Open and honest dialogue is key

I had my own experience of last year’s ‘travel chaos’ when I was caught up in a major outage issue on my return from Geneva. As a result, my flight and luggage were delayed turning what should have been a 1hr 30-minute flight into 15 hours from door to door. Unfortunately, my story wasn’t unique.

At Ocean Holidays we pride ourselves on putting humans in touch with humans. And this includes our suppliers and partners.

For example, being in regular communication with airlines last summer allowed us to stay one step ahead of any flight disruptions and let our customers know to book them onto other flights. Doing this kept the stress out of booking holidays for our customers and reduced complaints directly going to airlines.

As we look ahead to this summer, we’ll be continuing to have open and honest conversations with both customers and suppliers alike. Issues will arise, but we know it’s how we handle these situations with our customers that will determine if we’re successful or not.

The right deal is important, but so is a robust guarantee

Last year’s uncertainty cemented the need for a strong guarantee in the minds of consumers. Whilst price is important, consumers are also looking for reassurance from travel companies that they can support them should things go wrong.

As customers navigate the current cost of living crisis, holidays, more so than ever before, are considered purchases. Offering reassurance and guarantees on holidays will be key to encouraging consumers to part with their cash.

Be agile to respond to changing consumer needs

It’s no surprise that the way consumers book holidays has changed over the past year, so it’s vital that travel companies remain agile and respond to evolving consumer demand.

For example, we have seen a shift in when people book their holidays with the vast majority of travellers now booking seven months in advance, compared to nine months to a year that we saw before. As a result, we need to ensure we are constantly refining our deals and services to cater to this.

During the last few years, we have also seen major airline partners change their routes to accommodate those visiting friends and family abroad, however, we are reaching capacity in market growth for this type of travel as consumers return to traditional leisure destinations.

Three Trends the Luxury Travel Industry Should Keep Front of Mind to Prepare for Success

In the first of our Founders Series, David Ox, Managing Director of luxury holiday company Winged Boots, discusses three trends of the travel industry you should keep in mind for success…

There’s no escaping the fact that the world is in a cost-of-living crisis, as challenging headwinds continue to affect many industries. The luxury travel sector has so far proven itself to be resilient; we’ve seen steady demand, but it’s important to be prepared for what comes next, especially after the unexpected events of the last few years.

With this in mind, it is more important than ever to understand and get ahead of the trends influencing the luxury travel market and consumers. Doing so will stand any luxury business in good stead to ride out potential challenges. Here are my predictions for three luxury travel trends businesses should be mindful of, to prepare for success over the Easter and summer months.

1) Accepting there will be unexpected changes and having the capacity to pivot quickly will be key:

There have been a number of hurdles for the travel industry, whether that be the travel chaos we saw last summer, climate disasters impacting holiday destinations or the cost-of-living crisis, just to name a few. It would be unrealistic to think it will be entirely smooth sailing – travel, and the luxury sector in particular, is an exciting industry to be in and unexpected challenges certainly keep you on your toes. But the key to being able to successfully navigate these hurdles is the ability to pivot quickly as a business. For example, the travel chaos we saw during the summer months last year led to an increased demand for long-haul travel.

At Winged Boots, we spotted this trend early and pivoted our portfolio quickly in order to meet this growing demand. As airports struggled with resources and capacity, we provided complimentary Fast Track to all Winged Boots clients for both existing and new bookings to ensure their holiday remained as seamless as possible. Similarly, following the pandemic, we spotted an increased desire for privacy and adapted our offering to meet this need. It is through accepting there will be changes and being able to pivot that luxury businesses will be able to weather the cost-of-living crisis.

2) The demand for wellness and mindfulness holidays will increase:

With the growing demands of everyday life and increased focus on mental health, holidaymakers increasingly want to switch off whilst abroad. This couldn’t be more relevant for the luxury travel sector, and this is a trend we will see continue to grow. Luxury clients will be increasingly interested in mindful holidays, whether that be yoga breaks or silent retreats and luxury travel businesses should look at how they can adapt their offerings to meet this growing demand.

3) The rise of the personal travel manager:

Taking a personal approach and maintaining trust with clients has always been critical in the luxury travel sector. At Winged Boots, we grew thanks to word of mouth and recommendations, and it is that bespoke, personal approach that helped maintain the business’ success. But with the constant challenges the industry and consumers have faced, the one-to-one approach with clients that personal travel managers provide is more important now than ever before and will continue to be. Luxury travel businesses need to be all the more conscious to take a bespoke, personal approach to each and every booking.

Ocean Holidays Win Big at The Travel Weekly Annual Globe Awards

We are honoured to be the inaugural winners of ‘Employer of the Year’ at the Travel Weekly UK Globe Awards. This award is particularly special as this is our very first Globe Award.

When choosing Ocean Holidays as the winner of the award, Travel Weekly said, “The winner’s submission particularly impressed with an authentic approach to people, sustainability, D.E.I., and community. Judges felt this approach was underpinned by a strong commitment to honest and transparent communication which allowed staff at all levels to feel involved. They were also impressed by the way the company’s values flowed through to every decision taken, with an ongoing drive to ensure all employees were engaged and constantly encouraged and supported to do… and be… their best. And they commended the engagement of senior management, with a specialist team member driving company culture and working impressively with the chief executive to implement its strategy. Finally, the judges were impressed by our winners’ commitment to fair wages, with plans to increase starting salaries from next year to better attract and support staff.

Our Co-Founders Daniel Ox and George Hastings were on hand to pick up the award, where George said “It’s such a surprise to have won and this the first Globe Award we’ve received so it’s exciting. We have done a lot of work in the last two years finding out what our staff want and need and then worked to implement all of that so to have that recognised is amazing. He went on to say, “This award will be front and centre at our town hall next week and the staff is going to be buzzing – at the end of the day, this award is all about them.”

When told about the award, Ross Swallow, Trade Sales Consultant said, “It may have only been 6 months since I’ve been with the company, but it really makes me proud to see Ocean Holidays winning this especially as I wholeheartedly agree with it!”

This prestigious award would not have been received without Ocean Holidays’ Head of People, Karen Sheehan, who has played a crucial role in implementing several new initiatives to improve the lives of our colleagues in both the workplace and personally.

Co-Founder & Co-CEO Harry Hastings said, “I couldn’t be prouder of Karen Sheehan and the entire team at Ocean Holidays for winning the special award for Employer of the Year by Travel Weekly UK Globe Awards last night. We know we have so much more work to do to continue to improve the lives of our colleagues at Ocean Holidays.”

Our employees have always been at the heart of everything we do, and we attribute our success as the UK’s fastest-growing travel company in the last two years to this people-first approach. Whatever the future holds, it’s vital to us that we continue to listen and act on what our employees need to make them not only productive but happy too.