The road to success is rarely a smooth one, but Nory and Louise Hope of Heartland Travel in Stirling are living proof that running your own business really is worth the effort. We spoke to Nory about the couple’s thriving minibus tour business and learned more about what has earned them their incredible run of reviews from happy clients. Nory explains: ‘I’d been working with Coca-Cola as a Sales Executive for 20 years and was getting fed up of the corporate world. Then five years ago, my wife Louise took maternity leave from her management career with Standard Life in Edinburgh to have our first son, Harris. We were all set to put him into childcare and go back to work full time before realising we just didn’t want that. So I quit Coca-Cola to be at home until Harris started nursery. From that point we were trying to figure out what it was we wanted to do. On a visit to Doune Castle near Stirling we watched a ‘Rabbies’ tourbus pull in to the car park. Louise turned to me and said “That would be a great wee business for us” and that was it. We spoke to the driver, we did our research, and soon found that no one in Stirling was offering bus tours. We applied for an operator’s licence, having been told it would take just three months, and it took 11. We were in limbo – Louise had taken redundancy from Standard Life and I wasn’t working either. It was a tough time. By the time we secured our operator’s licence, Louise had had our second son Andrew, money was tight and the launch of Heartland Travel became a smaller event than we’d planned.’
Nory and Louise started Heartland Travel with Hamish, their (cherished) 16-seater bus originally owned by Rabbies, and began with tours of Stirling. But it soon became apparent that this offered only limited opportunities, so they created a stunning three-day tour of the Highlands, Skye and Loch Ness departing from Glasgow, Stirling, Dundee and St Andrews, with incredible results. In a short space of time, they’ve earned themselves 91 five-star reviews on Trip Advisor with glowing feedback from clients the world over. The couple also provide private tours for clients and minibus hire too, with Nory driving and Louise delivering the administration of the business. ‘She’s amazing with detail’ explains Nory, who confesses it’s not his strong point – he’d rather be out there, revealing Scotland bit by bit to his passengers. ‘Every 30 minutes, Scotland changes completely. Visitors have an idea of what Scotland will be like but it invariably delivers more. When we are still in the central belt, our passengers remark on how beautiful Scotland is. I say “you ain’t seen nothing yet!” then we get to the Trossachs and they are amazed. Again I say “you ain’t seen nothing yet” and so on through Glencoe, Kintail and finally into Skye.’
Because it’s a small, family-run business, Nory and Louise are able to offer some unforgettable experiences hard to find elsewhere, including scallop-fishing with local fisherman Neil Macrae on the Strome Slipway, and accommodation in what they describe as ‘the most beautiful hostel in Scotland’, Stationmaster’s House in Strome Ferry. They are also happy to go off-itinerary in pursuit of a magic moment, as they did recently for a Brazilian family who had never seen snow. Thanks to Nory making an unscheduled (but very deliberate) stop in the Cairngorm mountains, that family were able to enjoy their first ever snowball fight, returning to the bus 40 minutes later covered in snow, delighted, and with the memory of a lifetime.
But what are Nory and Louise most proud of? ‘Three years on we are still here. Sixty percent of new businesses fold in their first year, forty percent in their second. But we are still here. And still with an unbroken run of five-star reviews!’
For more information on Heartland Travel, or to book your own tour, see: http://www.heartlandtravel.co.uk/ All photos courtesy of Heartland Travel.