Venatour is 10!
Today marks 10 years since we began our journey and we are proud of the unforgettable memories we have made along the way. Thank you to our clients for touring with us, we are honoured to call many of you friends. Here’s to the next 10!
We’ve asked the founding members of the team to run through their favourite memories during their time with Venatour.
What has been your favourite tour?
Alister Strahan: My favourite, I think, must be following Ireland to Chicago for their historic defeat of New Zealand in 2016. It was a truly extraordinary spectacle to see Ireland defeating the All Blacks for the first time ever – I’m not sure I’ve been at a more energised event! And to top it off we were in the city when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time 105 years. Over 4 million people turned out for their parade on the Friday, allegedly the 4th biggest gathering of humans in history!
Rob Langley: Rugby World Cup in Japan, 2019. I was fortunate enough to be out there for around a month and got to see so much of that amazing country. I would go back in a heartbeat. It also helped that England and Wales both made it to the final weekend which kept us all buzzing. Sadly, it was not meant to be for England that time but what a tour and what a place. The highlight though was the England’s Semi-Final win over New Zealand. Easily the best England performance I have seen, it’s just a shame it hasn’t appeared again since!
Hazel Cabena: It has to be our first Lions tour to Australia in 2013. We travelled with around 80 clients, many of whom have now become good friends. The Lions won and we shared 3 weeks touring Australia with plenty of laughs along the way and memories to last a lifetime.
Ian Barton: There are plenty of tours to choose from but I found great pleasure in organising my first ever Girl’s Cricket tour to the UK for a club from Newcastle in NSW, Australia. Seeing the growth of girl’s cricket in recent years has been wonderful to see and exciting for the future of cricket.
Where can you see yourself and Venatour in the next 10 years?
AS: One of the many reasons Gareth and I started the company was because we wanted to keep traditional touring alive: knowing your fellow tourists, making friends for life, and having great fun doing it. With both the school and supporter sides of the business coming through Covid, we will now be using that ethos and branching the business out to other events, destinations and tours. New destinations like Japan in 2019 and the USA getting the RWC in 2031 excite me. I’d like to think to think that in 10 years, while the company and its work force will have grown, we’ll still be able to provide that intimate, fun and personable touring experience for our brilliant clients.
RL: I’m proud of what we have built as a team and it puts Venatour in a very strong position going into our second decade. We have stuck by our principles of offering a uniquely personal service, where we get to know our clients and create that proper ‘touring togetherness’, so I’m looking forward to making memories with friends new and old. All being well, in 2031 we will be celebrating the end of our second decade in the USA watching Rugby World Cup, I hope that all of you will come and join us. We might have our pre-match Tavern a little earlier on those tours, as Cooch and Ali might need an afternoon nap by then!
HC: After the challenges that Covid threw at the travel industry, I’m looking forward to just get back to travelling on our staple Six Nations weekends again, as well as the RWC & Lions showpiece tours. It’s an exciting time to be at Venatour and expanding into new events and sports will be great fun.
IB: Handing over the baton to a new crew who will have learnt the ropes and will be in a good position to carry on the good work we will have done in creating a superb touring company!
What has been the hardest challenge to overcome?
AS: Covid. Hands down, no contest. Absolute horror show. But having loyal and hardworking staff we’ve managed to get through it and can look forward to a much stronger future.
RL: Delivering the news that Lions 2021 was not going to happen with supporters was gutting for us all. We are very lucky to have amazing, loyal clients who have stood by us, and we look forward to being on tour with all of them very soon.
HC: The lack of tea making from Langers! It really does add up over 10 years!
IB: Working remotely comes with its advantages, but I would say this has been a challenge as we have recovered from Covid. Having said that we are delighted to be re-opening our office in Teddington next month for the Schools and Clubs touring department and with the new team I am sure we will recover quickly and go from strength to strength!
What is the best thing about working at Venatour?
AS: The people and the touring. Getting these tours off the ground is no mean feat and takes months and years of bloody hard work to make them successful. To then see the fruition of that on tour and to meet the faces of the people you’ve been emailing and calling over the previous months is a pretty unbeatable feeling. It’s then extra special to see clients again on further tours. We are lucky to have a special team of people in the office as well. They have tons of experience, share the Venatour ethos, and love what they do. Each member brings a unique set of skills to the team that, when combined, makes for a wonderful touring experience. At least I think they do anyway!
RL: Seeing people on tour enjoying themselves and getting lost in the emotion that following your team brings. It is hard to beat being in a stadium in a big game when your team comes out on top.
HC: The people. We are a small but incredible team and we are lucky to have some amazing regular clients who have become firm friends.
IB: The family atmosphere and the general camaraderie. We take pride in putting the customer experience first ahead of anything else. We all understand how important touring is for youngsters and to see them at the airport full of excitement is really very rewarding!
What is left on your sporting bucket list?
AS: I am hugely excited about our cricket programme over the next few years. The sport is evolving rapidly but there is absolutely nothing like a Test Match in places like Sri Lanka or Australia. We had a very successful recent tour to the Caribbean and England are visiting New Zealand and South Africa next. Test Match touring is extra special and I can’t wait to see our cricket tours grow and grow.
RL: I have been hugely fortunate to see some amazing sporting events, but I still want to see The Masters at Augusta and I think the Rugby World Cup in the USA will be very special!
HC: Monaco Grand Prix, a sporting experience unlike anything else!
IB: I have been lucky enough to have covered a fair amount of the globe during my 32 years in the business, but bizarrely I still haven’t been to Barbados to watch cricket and I reckon a Test in India would be quite something! Likewise with events, I have “done” Lions, Rugby World Cups and Ashes – so I do feel very lucky. Perhaps the Ryder Cup and the Masters are next on my hit list!
Where do you still need to visit?
AS: I’ve always fancied Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Cooch has travelled to that part of the world extensively and raves about it. My only experience in South-East Asia was a two night stopover in Bangkok on the way to the Lions tour and I’m not sure our escapades are a true reflection of Thailand! I’m a huge fan of Greece and have barely scratched the surface of that country but also Sicily. Its where my wife’s family is from and as a nailed-on lover of the Med, I’ll be going there in the not-too-distant future. On top of that, South Africa is my favourite country and New York my favourite city and I fully expect to be heading to those two destinations a few times over the coming years!
RL: I didn’t make it to the Caribbean this time around, so to watch some cricket out there when England are next on tour is a must.
IB: Outside of sports, I’ve always fancied Iceland and the southern tip of South America. Back in the day I had my backpacking cut short when caught up in Tiananmen Square massacre and I’d definitely like to go back and complete my Chinese leg I missed out on. Similarly other political issues meant I couldn’t get to Nepal or Lhasa – so they too are there to be seen!
Funniest tour story?
AS: There are thousands but we have a social media sensation in our midst… A very good friend and tourist painted the word ‘Loins’ instead of ‘Lions’ on his forehead on the 2013 and 2017 British & Irish Lions tours (he says it was deliberate but I have my doubts about 2013)! On both occasions his picture went viral with millions of hits. In 2017, even Russell Crowe got on the band wagon and on both occasions caused near hysteria in the travelling support ranks. It was genius.
RL: Lions 2017, our new Tour Manager Matt Butlin had just arrived for his debut tour and he was incredibly excited. Things were going great, the Lions had just won in Wellington setting up a mouth-watering decider. During the midweek, we stopped off at Rotorua and Matt decided to take some of his group to the local luge track for some high adrenaline action. On his second run down the luge, trailing a 7-year-old girl, he decided to attempt an audacious overtaking manoeuvre to show her who’s boss! His downhill speed must have hit a staggering 7mph at the point he lost control of his cart and swerved off track, falling out and ending up on the grass bank. The rest of the tour was spent with his arm in a sling with dented pride and a fractured collarbone. His antics shut the luge for everyone else for the day whilst race investigations were ongoing!
HC: An end of tour party on a bendy bus in Sydney – I can’t say any more!
IB: Touring Paris in the RWC 2007 – travelling out on Eurostar and everyone bringing food and drink from the various countries participating in the World Cup, made for a truly remarkable start to the trip and despite being hammered by the Boks in the pool game. We had the best night around the Gare Du Nord singing every rugby song known to man!