Méribel ski resort
As Highlife celebrates it’s 15th year organising ski and snowboarding holidays, Alan Moynihan recalls the inspiration for starting the exclusive business and the measured thinking behind its growth path.
As the phrase goes: ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and this was clearly the case 14 years ago when three friends – dissatisfied with the inconvenient travel and poor accommodation and service, saw a gap in the market for an exclusive ski holiday operator.
Simon Egan, David Hogan and Alan Moynihan decided to create a something different and take a fresh approach to ensure a unique experience for holidaymakers heading for the slopes. And so Highlife was established with the specific objective of ensuring guests had only happy memories from their ski holiday.
“Having worked away from home for a number of year’s in a variety of start-up and established businesses, I decided that whenever I returned to Ireland it would be with a view to setting something up for myself,” Alan Moynihan recalls. “I sat down with Simon and David at a very early stage and we had similar views and ambitions, and once that was established, it was easy to take the next steps.”
VISION AND DRIVE
With a clear vision, the trio set out to find good quality accommodation in world-class ski resorts – in places that they could guarantee guests would enjoy excellent food and wine, with an exceptional level of service, and most importantly, a great skiing experience.
In theory setting up a travel business such as Highlife sounds relatively straightforward, but despite their strong networks and connections, they did have to push hard to get word out that they were in this new line of business.
Another challenge for most businesses is funding – especially in the start-up phase. “We tapped in to a county enterprise board feasibility fund which gave us some well needed cash in our first year,” Moynihan says. “It wasn’t huge by any means, but it gave us some money to invest in our own technology, which has proved fundamental in terms of the success of our business.”
While the funding Highlife received was sufficient to get the business off the ground, Moynihan does think that more can be done to support and nurture early stage enterprises as they embark on new venture.
“The real potential for growth in the Irish economy is in the SME sector, and this needs to be fostered with further investment and support structures,” he says.
Given there are numerous operators in the space providing ski holiday packages, there must be a point of difference for Highlife to stand out from its competition.
“For us, it’s all about the service,” Moynihan points out. “Our guests initially book with us because they know they will go to world-class ski resorts and stay in comfortable chalets. But the reason they come back again-and-again is because they know they will deal with a team of enthusiastic, experienced people who are willing to go the extra mile to ensure they enjoy a great holiday both on and off the slopes.
FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
Since its establishment, Highlife has seen demand for its ski holiday’s increase year-on-year with short breaks proving particularly popular with guests who may not be able to take a full week away from work.
And because Highlife often schedules flights from Dublin, they can tailor itineraries, which has proved particularly attractive to a growing base of corporate clients.
… we have been able to maintain the personal touch and hands on service that has turned our guests into friends and has kept them returning
According to Moynihan growing the company has been very rewarding. “It is a bit of a balancing act because while there appears to be room to grow things further, we are always very mindful of keeping our service levels high. I’ve already stressed the importance of recruiting the right people to help ensure these levels are maintained, but developing reliable systems and processes are further challenges that need to be met to ensure we deliver our promise to our guests. By building our company slowly, expanding one chalet at a time, we have been able to maintain the personal touch and hands on service that has turned our guests into friends and has kept them returning year after year.”
The director’s also sets ambitious targets and high satisfaction ratios, with one of the co-director’s Simon spending a significant part of his time monitoring guest’s experiences when they return in order to establish if they’ve enjoyed the Highlife experience.
Given Highlife’s ethos of measuring and evaluating customer experience, how important is team to the success of the company? “The people who work with Highlife are everything – without them, we don’t have a business,” Moynihan insists. “We spend lots of time recruiting, inducting, and training our team to make sure they can deliver the range of services that we sell.”
LEADING THE WAY
When it comes to leadership and motivating the team Moynihan is a firm believer in leading by example. “I won’t ask somebody to do something that I’m not prepared to do myself,” he says. I also think it’s really important to show appreciation for what your team are doing. A job well done deserves praise and you should always take the time to thank your team.
With regard to the travel industry’s performance, Moynihan says he sees it as robust sector due to in the main to a nation of people who have an ingrained hunger to travel. “There was of course a notable drop in demand in 2008/09, but this only made us stronger as it forced us to revisit how we market our holidays to make sure that our guests could better understand where they were getting their value for money.”
The people who work with Highlife are everything – without them, we don’t have a business
And now that the economic conditions have improved, this has clearly translated into increased business Highlife. “The company is stronger now than it has ever been”, Moynihan “and its great to still be a part of an organisation that is hungry for positive change.”
So what next for the dynamic trio and their company? “We are always on the lookout for new opportunities and have a few ideas that are being considered but nothing specific that we’re ready to unveil … just yet,” he says cautiously. After building the company steadily over the last 15 years, it’s a case of watch this space to see what’s next for Highlife.
QUICK FIRE ROUND: Alan Moynihan How do you define success? What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date? What’s the best advice you’ve received? If you could step into the shoes of one person for the day, who would it be and why?
You know you are successful when you’ve found a balance between a good work life and time to relax. I think you also know that you have achieved something great when you have the confidence to stand over what you sell and we’re very proud to put ourselves personally behind our promise.
Setting a business up 15 years ago that is stronger now than it has ever been – yet still being part of an organisation that is hungry for positive change.
Rome wasn’t built in a day – take your time and build a foundation that you can grow something great from.
Leonardo DiCaprio. I know he wasn’t wearing shoes at the time, but I’d like to know what it’s like to sleep inside a horse.
QUICK FIRE ROUND: Alan Moynihan
How do you define success?
What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date?
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
If you could step into the shoes of one person for the day, who would it be and why?
Living the highlife
- Morzine – a charming chalet haven, lies at the heart of the Portes du Soleil, the largest ski area in the world with 650km of piste.
- Méribel – a wonderful ski resort in the world-renowned Three Valleys ski area with 600km of piste runs.
- Val d’Isère – offering visitors a combination of top-class skiing, lively après ski and upmarket boutiques.
HIGHLIFE: ski chalet specialist
Stay in one of Highlife’s 12 centrally located chalets in the world-class French resorts of Morzine, Méribel or Val d’Isère and enjoy great accommodation, an excellent level of service, delicious food and good wines throughout your holiday.
Each Highlife chalet offers a professionally trained chef so that guests can enjoy breakfast each morning, return for freshly baked treats each afternoon and savour three-course meals each evening. As well as packing you off to the slopes each morning with a packed lunch, Highlife also offer exclusive Ski Discovery Tours so that guests can enjoy some of the best runs in the area.
The Highlife season runs from November 29th 2015 to April 17th 2016. Short breaks in Morzine are also available for either three or four nights and prices for all packages include minibus transfers to and from your chalet.