How have our cycling holidays in France evolved?
The birth of Breton Bikes has already been recounted, but over the last 26 years a few things have happened...
We first registered Breton Bikes as a French company in 1989, and our first season was 1990. As recounted earlier I was a schoolteacher, and a couple of colleagues brought school parties that year. In all 40 of our bookings were those school parties and we had 100 bookings besides - 140 bookings in our first year. At the end of it we thought it a decent start.
That year was entirely made up of cyclecampers, doing the same thing as we'd done ourselves in the past. But a few people had asked about hotels and we'd found a few in the area. So in 1991 we offered our first hotel routes. 1991 gave us 160 bookings, 1992 - 180, 1993 - 210 and so on. A pattern of gentle increase, just enough to keep us going.
The problem though was this... People who came on our holidays had a great time, and the increase each year was due to people returning, but how did we attract new business? With babies on the way it wasn't enough.
Then one day in 1997 I sat round the campfire at the end of one of our led trips and everyone there swapped email addresses. It seemed to me I was missing something.
The following year, despite huge scepticism from Kate (who is still suffering) we got our first internet bookings, but the following year something happened to swamp all my efforts. In 1998 I had a phone call from Kate Humble on the BBC. At first I thought it was a wind-up, but in the August of that year she came with her camerawoman and spend 4 days with us for her slot in the BBC's 'Holiday Programme'.
The show was broadcast in January 1999 - in three days the phone didn't stop ringing (that is no exaggeration) and we booked in 450 people, twice our normal summer. Below you'll see the link to the youtube of that very program.
Of course we had to prepare for the influx and so running the business from our house was no longer feasible and we moved base to a large 'barnam' type tent at our local campsite. It was a fantastic and exhausting year, but the following year we were up to 470 people. Some were from the BBC programme, but the others were from this website - the internet began to kick in.
Now we get over 550 people a year, all come from this site or from personal recommendations. We do no advertising whatsoever, the knock-on effect being that with a zero publicity budget we've managed to keep costs to our customers down.
The big change has been buying two houses in Gouarec to offer to our customers, a choice that has been especially popular with families. It also means that for the first time we're able to offer holidays all year round, something we'd always wanted to do (Brittany is gorgeous in Spring and Autumn) but that the seasonal closure of campsites and some hotels made impossible.