FORTY years ago, in June 1972, Terry Murphy, the current Chairman of Terra Travel Ltd, was a member of the teaching profession.
As was then, and still is customary, teachers were required to assume additional duties and responsibilities over and above their normal teaching load.
Terry had for some years been in charge of school travel.
He recalled: “I well remember our first one-day outing from St Paul’s Junior High in Lurgan to Newcastle, County Down – packed lunches in Tollymore Forest Park, a walk along one of the nature trails, finishing with a couple of hours on what was then miles of golden sand on Newcastle’s beach. You could almost say, ‘The rest is history’.”
Further trips followed to Dublin, Edinburgh, Isle of Man, London, Paris, Belgium, Holland, Majorca, and mainland Spain.
School travel was still in its infancy, and Terry hit on the idea of using the expertise he had accumulated to organize travel for other schools. And so Terra Travel was born, the name being a play on his own name as well as being the Latin word for earth or land.
The first brochure, consisting of two A4 size sheets, printed on both sides and stapled together, was mailed to every school in Northern Ireland.
Terry operated the business working from home on a part-time basis, but as the level of bookings increased, he rented a third floor room in Market Street, Lurgan and took on Terra Travel’s first employee, Denise McAlinden.
Terry continued: “Our biggest seller by far in those days was weekend school groups to Old Trafford for Manchester United matches. Frequently we had up to six coach loads at matches, out on Friday night on the Belfast/Liverpool ferry, morning coach tour of Liverpool taking in the two cathedrals, Beatle country, the Grand National course at Aintree, then up to Manchester for a tour of the trophy room and shop, before queuing at the Stretford end turnstiles. No pre-booked tickets in those days! And later, back on the Liverpool/Belfast ferry. My non-Manchester United supporter friends still tell me I have a lot to answer for!”
Terra Travel’s first full retail office was opened in William Street in Lurgan several years later, followed by Rushmere Shopping Centre and finally Portadown. As the Lurgan office expanded rapidly, a move was made to rented premises in Church Place (currently occupied by Subway), and finally, nine years ago, Terra Travel purchased their current premises in Church Place.
In the early eighties Terry took the bold decision to resign from the teaching profession to go full time into the travel business.
“At that time, teaching was regarded as a job for life,” reminisced Terry.
“You just didn’t leave it. But I had always wanted to do my own thing, the only obstacle being a big mortgage and four relatively young children.”
However, after some heart-searching discussions, his wife Ann gave her full backing to his idea, and that was all that was needed.
Terra Travel is still very much a family run company. Apart from Terry, who is Chairman of the company, the other directors are his wife Ann (regarded by all as the backbone of the company, behind the scenes), son Damian, Managing Director and Manager of the Portadown office, son Terence, Marketing Director and Manager of the Rushmere Shopping Centre office, and daughter Marie, Sales Director and Manager of the Lurgan office.
Asked about Terra Travel’s main strengths, Damian commented: “Without any doubt, our biggest asset is our staff. Many of them have been with us more than 20 years, and their dedication, hard work, expertise and loyalty are irreplaceable.
“Without them, we would never have achieved the success and status we have today.”
Marie, when asked about business in Lurgan generally, was very impressed by the strides being taken to enhance the appearance and appeal of the town to potential shoppers:
“One can’t disregard the number of empty business premises in the town and the number of ‘For Sale’ and ‘To Let’ signs can be discouraging, but a lot of people are putting hard work and ideas into seeking a better business future for Lurgan and I feel this is slowly but surely beginning to show some signs of fruition,” she said.
The Rushmere Shopping Centre has a huge footfall, and according to Terence Murphy, their office there is always busy.
“We would attract a lot more passing trade than our other two offices, but this is counterbalanced by horrendously high overheads, mostly rent, rates and service charges,” he said.
“We have successfully increased our customer base through Facebook and use of our own website at www.terratravel.co.uk. Here you will find the most comprehensive list of various types of holiday, particularly late offers.”