With much of the travel industry fighting for survival, now may not seem the best moment to launch a tour company, but Byway, a new British operator specialising in no-fly holidays, thinks it the perfect time.
Developed during the pandemic and launching this week, the startup offers tailormade journeys by train, boat and bike to hidden corners of the UK and France, with plans to expand across Europe once travel resumes.
Its founders are undeterred by the current dire state of the industry, which has seen the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the failure of even long-established businesses such as STA Travel, which ceased trading in August, and Flash Pack, a short-break operator heralded for modernising solo travel.
“I set Byway up the week we went into lockdown in March, so I got a lot of sceptical looks,” said founder and CEO Cat Jones, who left her job with an investment company to do so. “But I think this is the perfect time. Sustainability is really driving people’s decisions now, and travel needs to change.”
She believes companies that take a more sustainable approach to travel once restrictions are lifted might fare better, and is on a mission to take flight-free holidaying into the mainstream.
“People are looking for a different way to travel than they were pre-Covid,” said Jones. “Last year, when I decided to do this, I felt there would be a big education hump to get over. I knew people would love travelling this way but that I needed to persuade them.”
She now believes Covid has done that job for her, with more travellers wanting to avoid crowded airports, holiday closer to home, experience nature and support local businesses – all part of her ethos.