Interview: Busabout, HAGGIS & Shamrocker Adventures

In interviewing Katy from Busabout, HAGGIS & Shamrocker Adventures I learned more about why they are perfect for first time independent travellers.

Here is a brief history of the business from the beginning to now.

HAGGiS Backpackers began trading in June 1993 with two yellow 14-seat coaches, purchased ex-rental. The Campbell brothers also opened a small sales office on Glasgow’s Buchanan Street, from which one brother would ‘sell’ (with the help of family and friends) while the other two drove. The initial tour format was ‘Jump-on Jump-off’ in which backpackers were dropped at various hostels around the Scottish Highlands and Islands, with historical commentary and detailed information on local activities delivered by the Driver Guides on route. In the first year they carried 432 passengers. The next few years saw the introduction of ‘fixed itinerary’ tours of varying durations, new premises on Edinburgh’s High Street (Royal Mile), London departures, new (larger) Mercedes coaches, greater recruitment (in both Operations and Sales departments), promotion through major travel agencies (including STA Travel and Flight Centre), a bespoke booking system (Tour Management System or ‘TMS’), a new logo and a new website. 1996 was also the year the brothers claim to have celebrated their first pay-cheque since starting the business.

By 1999, HAGGiS was Europe’s largest independent traveller’s network, carrying around 14,000 passengers. The brothers also began operating tours of  Ireland from Dublin under the brand ‘Blarney Bus’ (now Shamrocker Adventures), and the collective trade brand Radical Travel Network was launched to encompass the different U.K. and Ireland operations. Two years later they sold their majority share in the company to The Travel Corporation, a multi-national travel company also responsible for the global ‘youth’ tour brand Contiki. Alastair continued within HAGGiS as Managing Director, and eventually relinquished his position in 2010. In the interim various tour itineraries were introduced or modified, several industry awards were claimed (see below), and further European brands were added to the collective (including Busabout). In 2006 the company name ‘HAGGiS Backpackers Ltd’ was changed to ‘Radical Travel Group Ltd’ when a new Scottish tour-brand Highland Explorer Tours was launched, and ‘HAGGiS Adventures’ became the new ‘Trading As’ brand along with the new brand. HAGGiS now carries around 20,000 travellers around the U.K. each year.

Upon Alastair’s departure in 2010, management of the business was handed to a former Guide and marketeer Graeme Ward.

1) How do you decide which countries will be a part of the Busabout route?

We looked at what our competitors were doing and places that we knew would appeal to our market.

2) Do you continually try and improve the concept of Haggis, Shamrocker and Busabout from one season to the next?

Yes always. We are a very forward thinking company and like to stay ahead of the competition. We have a fantastic ops team who know where the next top destination is as well as feedback from our customers and the word on the road. You will see from brochure to brochure we always have a couple of new products to shout about as well as tweaking our current product to be even better.

3) What makes Haggis, Shamrocker and Busabout different from other bus/tour companies that someone could take while traveling?

We’re a bunch of mates who really enjoy what we do. We share the same attitude and live to travel. By joining together we can offer our customers more choice and better value. We can guarantee if you’ve loved your Busabout Trip you will love your HAGGiS & Shamrocker one just as much if not more.

4) What is a typical day like for you?

No such thing, but my responsibilities mainly lie with the print side of marketing. I also get to travel a bit and help out at the various festivals we go to as well as Travel Expo’s, which I love as I get to talk about travel and what we do.

5) What advice would you give someone who has backpacked before but never gone the hop-on hop-off route?

For example, someone may have taken trains before to get to their end destinations but never considered taking the bus to get them to the same destination. What would you say to this?

I would advise them to give it a shot. It’s the best way to travel in my experience as it gives you choice, flexibility, value and independence. You decided how much time you spend in each city, what you do, where you eat, sleep and how much money you spend. You’ve got the support of the Guide on the bus and you even get dropped off at the hostel door. If you want to hang out with the rest of your bus-mates you can or you can go explore on your own, it’s up to you. It really is the best of both worlds in my opinion and perfect for first time independent travellers.

The best bit about Busabout Hop-on Hop-off is the flexibility. My first solo travel experience was with Busabout but I also did a bit of Inter Rail as well. One the best things about Busabout is you get to meet likeminded people who love to share their travel experiences and tips with you. You can also change your travel plans as much as you like. For example I was in Prague and get friendly with a group of Aussies who were heading to Cesky Krumlov the next day and I was supposed to be heading to Vienna. I cancelled off my bus and booked to go to Cesky with the Aussie guys. It was dead easy to do and cost me nothing. When I was Inter Railing I found it more difficult to meet people and you also don’t get a Guide. Our Guides are experts in their areas and love to tell you all about the cities you are travelling too. They are also there to help you and give you advice on where to travel to next.

Please click on links and check out what makes Busabout, HAGGIS and Shamrocker perfect for the independent traveler.