It’s been a fantastic few months for Absolute Escapes, with the cherry on the top being our nomination as Tour Operator of the Year in the 2017 AITO Awards – beating off fierce competition from over 100 of Britain’s best independent tour operators.
Far from being a superficial industry award where companies ‘pat each other on the back’ – the AITO awards are based on independent reviews of holidays by the people who have travelled on them, meaning that this award was bestowed upon us by our clients themselves.
For a company which strives to put exceptional customer service at the forefront of everything we do, nothing could make us happier.
From humble beginnings, Absolute Escapes are now proud to offer walking holidays on almost 50 long-distance trails in the UK & Ireland, as well as tailor-made travel throughout the whole of Scotland. So what’s our story? We’ll let co-founder Andy Gabe take it from here …
After spending seven years in the fun-filled but corporate world of hospitality, myself and Sheila Tulloch (partner and co-founder) decided to take a career break to do a spot of travelling. The plan for a ‘year out’ turned into 2 years and we returned to the UK in 2002.
We were fortunate enough to have many amazing experiences, with perhaps our highlight being the many happy hours spent tramping (Kiwi for hiking) the long-distance trails in New Zealand. This was where the seeds for a business idea were first sown.
On returning to the UK, I moved up to Scotland to join Sheila and we returned to our corporate jobs as we planned our next move.
During summer 2003 we completed the first stage of our plan by spending a fantastic week walking the West Highland Way – experiencing the common frustrations of trying to book accommodation and baggage transfers without being familiar with the route. We quickly saw the value that those with an in-depth, specialist knowledge of the trails could offer those who wanted to walk without the hassle of making the arrangements for themselves.
Since returning home we’d kept the travel bug alive but a little closer to home, as we escaped on road trips whenever we could, exploring the many wonderful landscapes that Scotland has to offer. Being a native to the Highlands, Sheila especially enjoyed showing off this amazing place to me and we discovered some fabulous accommodation and many hidden gems along the way.
2004 – We launched Absolute Escapes (with the original website being called www.escape2scotland.co.uk) offering self-guided walking holidays on just two trails – the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way. We combined this with offering a tailor-made travel service for Scotland, appealing to those who were keen to explore this wonderful country on a self-drive tour.
2008 – We expanded the number of walking trails we offered in Scotland to seven, but we were regularly being asked about trails in other parts of the UK. We quickly realised that this was a natural extension to the business, so we began offering packages on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast and Hadrian’s Wall Path in northern England. In recognition of this move across the border we re-launched our website as www.absoluteescapes.com.
2011 – Our first research trip to Ireland saw us add the beautiful Dingle Way and Kerry Way to our portfolio. We now had coverage for our walking packages in the whole of the UK and Ireland. This was the year we joined AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators) which was a proud moment for us as it felt we had truly ‘arrived’ as a tour operator.
2012 – Another big moment for us as we recruited our first members of staff and moved to our current base here in the centre of Edinburgh.
2014 – We became a corporate member of the John Muir Trust, a conservation charity dedicated to protecting and enhancing wild places in the UK. Our whole team have enjoyed many happy times in the great outdoors, so we’ve been delighted to support the trust’s work in some of the wilder places of the UK, benefiting the landscape, wildlife and people in those areas. We’ve even been able to join the trust on a tree planting day in the Scottish Borders.
2016 – Each year we’ve continued to explore parts of Scotland we hadn’t yet visited, adding to the ever-expanding itineraries on our website. Some of our favourite places in Scotland are the magical islands off the west and north coasts, so we were especially pleased to add self-drive itineraries to Coll & Tiree and Shetland & Orkney.
2018 – We have now received almost 400 reviews which feature on the AITO website, and we were delighted to win the Bronze Award at the 2017 AITO Tour Operator of the Year awards. We are very proud of the feedback that we receive from our wonderful clients.
As we continue to expand our range of holidays to the best new long-distance walks and most exciting tailor-made travel regions (look out for the launch of tailor-made England & Wales coming soon), you can be sure that our first-hand knowledge and exceptional customer service will remain at the centre of what we do.
After all, our reviews speak for themselves.
The Absolute Escapes Team