(THE BUSINESS TIMES) - After a holiday in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier in 1986, 22-year-old Andrew Dunn went home to England with fond memories - and a plan that would allow him to ski for free. Or so he hoped. It involved a £5,000 bank loan, roping in some friends and setting up a ski business named Ski Skint.
That particular acorn soon fell by the wayside, but from it a similar idea grew - one that has developed into luxury travel business Scott Dunn, with yearly revenues in the region of £100 million (S$180 million) and offices in London, San Diego and now Singapore. The company founded by Mr Dunn (his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all named Scott) is consistently ranked among the best specialist tour operators by the likes of Conde Naste Traveller and The Telegraph's Luxury Travel section.
"I set up a ski company without a great deal of thought," says Mr Dunn. "My very wise grandmother persuaded me to change the name to Scott Dunn and taught me that people are willing to pay for the best." He worked out of a basement flat in Hammersmith and, for the first nine years, offered a selection of European ski vacations. "We revolutionised the way people did holidays - we were young, ambitious and service-oriented."
The company has since moved into other parts of the world, including Africa and Latin America, and now offers about 3,000 properties in 90 countries. Many of its European destinations feature villas and chalets that are either owned or operated by Scott Dunn and staffed by its own employees, including managers and hosts, chefs and nannies, drivers and maintenance people.
Ultra-high-end, bespoke holidays are the company speciality and that personal touch is what gives the company an edge. "What we really like is complicated itineraries because we can add expertise to the mix," says Mr Dunn. "Every team is separate to each other within our specialist division."
With offices in different parts of the world, anyone who contacts the company is able to connect to an employee, no matter what time it is. The blanket time-zone coverage allows for a seamless operation. "In essence, we have 24-hour coverage and we absolutely insist on speaking to guests directly, not just rely on e-mail - you can't do that, not if you want to be supreme leader."
According to him, only about 10 per cent of its customer base now is outside Britain. "It's a really small base in this part of the world, but we expect growth to mirror the company's 20 per cent growth a year. Singular service is our strong point and nothing is too much trouble."
Not surprisingly, the company has had some interesting requests from its high-end clientele. "One gentleman wanted a pink Rolls-Royce and a band for New Year's Eve in Val d'Isere," says Mr Dunn. "There are numerous requests for things like a private dinner in the Taj Mahal or a masked ball in Venice."
"We do really good, well-organised holidays," says Scott Dunn's London-based chief marketing officer Graham Horner, adding that destinations such as the Cambodian or Myanmar coasts are less accessible and would benefit from a tour operator's expertise. "In that part of the world, there are no five-star resorts - but that's luxury to some people."
Traditional destinations can also be promoted in a different light, such as New Zealand as a gastronomic destination, rather than an adrenaline-based one, says Mr Horner.
He concedes that the Scott Dunn brand is not a familiar one here, but "we're very confident in our product - we just need to build that critical mass of people who have travelled and will talk or Instagram about it".
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