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Published on Monday, October 12, 2020

Coach operator 'utterly heartbroken' after 42 years in industry

The boss of a specialist coach company that went into administration last week has spoken of her heartbreak at having to close after 42 years in the industry.

Shirley Winn, Owner and Managing Director of Isle of Wight Tours, said despite investing more than £100,000 of her own money into the business, the company 'hit a brick wall' and had no choice but to close.

"I'm heartbroken, utterly heartbroken. It's completely down to Covid. We've had a lovely journey, our customers, suppliers and staff have been amazing. But we hit a brick wall. We put in everything thinking surely it can't last that long. All we wanted was to trade through. But it's gone on too long."

Winn wound up operations at IOW Tours last Thursday (October 8) reassuring customers their money was protected and they would be entitled to a full refund.

IOW was a member of The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK and held a bond under the Bonded Coach Holidays scheme to protect customer prepayments. BCH appointed Protect Claims to manage and process refund claims.

Winn said despite owning properties outright and having bought her two coaches a year ago for £200,000 each, she'd be lucky to get even half of that amount back. And despite having had a profitable balance sheet in February, the company stopped trading a month later.

"By this time last September, we'd operated 115 tours; this year we've only operated five, and those haven't been profitably, we just wanted to instil confidence in our customers."

"We've had support from our bank but there's just no future in our industry for now without industry specific support to keep the industry going," she said.

Having spent 42 years in the travel industry, Winn said she was overwhelmed by the support of colleagues.

"We never made a huge profit, it was a family business. But seeing the amount of support on our company Facebook page is so heart-warming; it's like when someone dies."

Winn praised her 22 'amazing' staff, the majority of whom had been furloughed during lockdown with just Winn and three other staff members working during lockdown.

The core business of IOW Tours was set up in 1993 offering coach trips for social clubs, political party groups and working men's clubs, like the British Legion. When Winn joined in 1997, the company diversified into specialised touring groups offering tours for bowls clubs, ballroom dancing tours and petanque groups.

"We made a niche market for ourselves, but it's not conducive to Covid-19," she said.

Winn said she had been busy for weeks informing customers and trying to plan for the future. Now that the business had closed, she just felt 'completely empty and broken'.

"I haven't got a clue what happens now. I feel completely empty, broken. I've been working 70/80 hour weeks informing people, trying to plan for the future that's just not there."

"After this is all over, the support is there, people have been asking when are you coming back? But I'm not starting again, there's nothing there to start with. But one day, who knows?

"My customers are saying they don't want to go anywhere else. The loyalty is fantastic; I've never known such loyalty, but I'm telling them to sit back, stay safe and keep well."

"IOW Tours was my life, it was 24/7 and I would've laid my life down for it."

By Louise Longman, Contributing Editor (UK)

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