Travel Business: An Interview with Flash Pack

Flash Pack is a London-based business born out of the desire for a holiday. Back in 2012, 33-year-old Radha Vyas was desperate to take some time off. Although she’d made plenty of solo trips in the past, she wanted company. But when she looked up group travel tours, there was nothing that catered to her needs.

“I realised there was no travel company out there talking directly to solo travellers in their 30s and 40s. I saw a huge opportunity and it felt like that lightbulb moment,” she explains.

But one of the first times she shared her idea wasn’t at a business meeting – it was while on a date. The man in question was Lee Thompson, a photojournalist who travelled frequently for work, something Radha says appealed to her adventurous side.

“I shared my idea for the business with him, and he got it instantly. He had been looking for the exact same thing – adventures with like-minded people. We decided to make a go of it and our relationship really grew in tandem with the business idea.

“In fact, a lot of our initial dates after that were spent attending trade shows together; not a traditional approach to romance but it worked for us,” Radha says.

Despite, or perhaps because, of this unconventional courtship, the story has a happy ending – Radha and Lee are now happily married, and owners of a successful business, Flash Pack.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Starting a business from scratch is a challenge, especially in such a competitive market as the travel industry. When Flash Pack initially launched, in January 2014, they were off to a slow start.

“At the start, it was tough. We’d taken a big gamble in investing our savings into the launch of the business, and conviction alone was not enough to make it work. We needed proof of concept.

“One person did book to travel with us, but we had to cancel the trip as we got no other bookings. We were running out of cash, and yes, we were considering quitting,” Radha says.

The couple decided to take time out and consider their options. However, their luck changed when they heard that the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro was being repaired, which meant that it was possible to climb to the top.

“It was the run-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil at the time, and the authorities in Rio were getting a lot of bad press over their planning of it. We convinced them that we could turn this around with the world’s first selfie from the top of Christ the Redeemer,” Radha says.

Lee was given permission to capture the ‘First-Ever Selfie with Jesus’ – an image which quickly went viral.

“The image, coupled with a link back to the website, resulted in 1.4 million hits to flashpack.com in two days. This in turn boosted our Google ranking, as well as generating loads of interest in the brand, immediately spiking sales and leading to consistent revenue from then on,” he says.

The ‘First-Ever Selfie with Jesus’ exemplifies Flash Pack’s creative, risk-taking approach in the early days of their business.

“It was all about being reactive and adaptable; testing the waters of our product model, while spending as little money as possible. We made quick decisions and were forever open to trying new strategies. If it didn’t work out, we learned from it and quickly moved on,” Lee says.

These days, Flash Pack has its own in-house marketing team, but continues to adopt a similar approach and stays true to the brand’s core values. Although still maintaining a strong social media presence, Radha and Lee are experimenting with advertising in other media and are working on their first TV advert.

Flash Pack is going from strength to strength. Its first customers, in 2014, were six travellers who went to Vietnam. Fast forward to 2019, and group tours for thousands of travellers have been booked – “over 52,000 friendships on more than 70 different itineraries in over 50 countries,” according to Radha.

So what explains the brand’s success? Radha believes that an understanding of its audience has been key to its growth.

“We know our audience because we ARE our audience,” she says.

Then, there’s the trips themselves. The itineraries are varied, ranging from a four-day trip in Iceland, hiking across Sólheimajökull Glacier and bathing in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon, to eight blissful days spent surfing and doing yoga on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.

“We curate daring adventures all over the world, filled with moments designed to surprise and delight. Travellers who join us get to stretch their comfort zone with activities like zip-lining through the rainforests of Belize or abseiling down Table Mountain in Cape Town. But we also stay in boutique hotels where we can,” Lee says.

The trips are experiential, designed to allow travellers to scratch beneath the surface of a country, discovering the local culture and landmarks. They have a more upmarket element than backpacking, or group tours for younger age groups. When planning trips, Lee and Radha also make sure days aren’t over-scheduled and group sizes don’t exceed 14.

“There’s no pressure on our trips: travellers tend to be very independent, with lots of experience travelling, and we always factor in time to go off and do your own thing. Nevertheless, because they’re at a similar life stage, people who stay with us form deep, lasting friendships – it’s the thing they always rave about, and that sticks with them well beyond the adventure itself,” Lee explains.

To Lee, Flash Pack is all about making friends with likeminded travellers – something that is central to the brand’s success.

“Most Flash Pack adventures start with something that takes travellers out of their comfort zone. We do this to set a level playing field and force the group to trust and support one another.

“Whether it’s canyoning in Jordan, abseiling down Table Mountain or sumo wrestling in Japan, we believe adventure is an incredible social lubricant. We regularly see it turn a group of strangers into friends,” he explains.

Flashpackers may form strong bonds on their adventures, but Lee and Radha’s relationship has also been strengthened by running a business together.

“The great thing about working together is that it forces you to have a really clear understanding of each other’s strengths,” Radha says.

“In the beginning, we were both doing a little bit of everything, but now Lee and I also have very clear divisions on our roles, which helps us with growth: as CEO, I look after operational decisions while he looks after brand side of the business. We consult each other but we both have veto over decisions in own areas of responsibility.

“The other amazing thing is that you have a solid support system. You share the stresses of running a business and overcome obstacles together, whilst being able to celebrate the highs together.”

Both Lee and Radha are glad they took the plunge and started a business together. And they’re excited about the future too.

“We’re always dreaming up new, unexpected ways to explore a country or delight our customers, whether that’s a secret island campout in the Philippines or vineyard hopping in the Andean hills of Argentina. Stay tuned for some exciting plans,” Lee says.

We’re looking forward to seeing what Lee and Radha dream up next.