Ragnhild Button has always had a passion for travel. From realising how travel builds understanding amongst people, and how travel experiences enrich and broadens people’s horizons, she developed a desire to show South Africans that there are so many options open to them and that they really don’t have to take a standard tour with an agent that just wants to sell. So Ragnhild started her company International Travel & Tours 20 years ago, and has never looked back.
“With the help of a specialist tour operator like us, travelers can design their own holiday experience,” she explains. “We focus our efforts on a limited geographical area so that we can do extensive research, get to know what makes this region special and in that way give clients who want to travel there excellent, solid advice.”
ITT’s speciality regions are North Africa (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco), the Middle East (Dubai, Jordan, Israel, Syria & Lebanon), the Mediterranean (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus & Malta), and Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden & Finland). “We can arrange anything from scuba diving in the Red Sea and island hopping in Greece, to fjord-cruising in Norway and dog-sledding in Sweden,” says Ragnhild. “In addition to this we also have a separate department dealing with holidays in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Vic Falls and Mozambique.”
Growing from just one (Ragnhild) to a whopping 28 staff, ITT is certainly benefiting the community. “We have a definite policy of upskilling and empowering our staff. For example, both our receptionist and accounts clerk started work as a messenger. By identifying their talents, and by providing training courses, they are now invaluable members of the team.”
ITT also has a stated policy of responsible Tourism and has been the only South African company to be allowed to display the official “World Travel Market Responsible Tourism” logo during the 2007-2009 travel fairs in London. “This is because we have spearheaded our own campaign in identifying those businesses that operate according to Responsible Tourism practices – where they do something definite to support Social, Economical and Environmental progress,” explains Ragnhild.
The secret behind ITT’s success lies in the fact that they chose to niche at a time when their competitors were selling A-Z. “I believed that there was value in becoming an expert rather than a mere order-taker,” explains Ragnhild.
Challenges ITT faces include working on very low margins and being influenced by world affairs such as wars and unrest – which results in the fact that people stop travelling. But when happy clients claim that their holiday was even better than they had imagined, it’s all worth it. “Being able to prepare a unique travel itinerary to match our clients’ interests is rewarding,” says Ragnhild.
When it comes to advice, Ragnhild has plenty. “Be prepared to constantly work hard and never give up, and always be aware of the fact that that the most precious asset a business has is its reputation and employees. Also, don’t forget to be passionate and don’t look at it as a job – it has to be a way of life,” she says.
By being the most ardent ambassadors of South Africa whenever they travel abroad to meet clients or to exhibit at travel shows, and by trying to spread the benefit of tourism in South Africa to people and communities who normally would not be involved in mainline tourism, ITT is without doubt proudly South African!