Margarita Gruber was able to leverage her international background when she spied a gap in Dublin’s hospitality market. Providing multilingual tourist excursions made her a finalist in the National Enterprise Awards, writes Trish Dromey
Spanish speaker Margarita Gruber spied a business opportunity in Dublin when she saw that Spanish tourists here couldn’t get day tours in their native language. Now she runs a specialist tour company for Spaniards and is aiming to develop a franchise.
A finalist in this year’s National Enterprise Awards, her company, En Espanol, provided tours to 17,000 tourists this year. It runs daily tours in the summer and on weekends in the winter, employs four full-time and three part-time staff, and has five buses on the road.
About to purchase two more buses and diversifyinto Italian, Ms Gruber has also entered a partnership deal with a company that offers a similar service to Spanish visitors to Croatia. She is also developing the company model with a view to starting a franchise in Krakow, Poland.
En Espanol, trading as Irlanda en Espanol, was set up in 2009 as a tiny operation marketed with hand-delivered flyers.
“When we started, there were no tours in Spanish,” said Ms Gruber. “Spanish tourists had to take tours in English or go on week-long guided tours with a Spanish guide.”
Ms Gruber — a German who grew up in Spain but who has lived in Ireland since the late 1990s — came to Ireland to pursue a romance with an Irishman but says she fell in love with the country. Qualifying as a tour guide, she initially found work conducting tours for Germans and Spaniards and, in the boom years, also began working for multinationals.
In 2008, when recession hit, and the multinationals weren’t hiring, she began focusing on Spanish tourists as a business possibility. Her research showed many didn’t want to come on an all-inclusive package. “They wanted flexibility to create their own Irish experience, and they wanted day tours,” she said.
While Ireland receives fewer Spanish tourists than Northern Europeans, she says Spaniards are less likely to speak English or to take tours in English.
“There are 250,000 Spanish-speaking visitors to Ireland and 102,000 come for holidays and 91% come independently,” she said
She found many felt the services offered here were poor. “They come to Ireland for a variety of reasons. Some come to visit children who are studying here. Many wanted to stay in Dublin.”
Joined by Javier Esteras, a Spaniard who had also worked for the multinationals, Ms Gruber launched En Espanol’s first tours in summer 2009. Supported by Dublin City Enterprise Board, she had completed a start-your-own-business course, held a feasibility study, and set up a website.
“Our first year, we hired coaches from a local company and did two tours. On even days we went to Wicklow, and on odd days we went to Howth and Malahide. It went well in the summer, but the winter was hard.”
The following summer, the company scaled up a by buying two buses and hiring two Spanish-speaking driver guides. It put on tours to the Cliffs of Moher, Belfast, and Derry, although it found that most clients wanted to stay in Dublin.
In the summer of 2011 the numbers increased again and En Espanol took on two extra drivers. It began offering Dublin tours at weekends to tourists on weekend breaks.
“Now we have five buses, including a double-decker for the city tour, and we had 17,000 visitors,” said Ms Gruber, adding that the recession in Spain meant that growth hasn’t been as high as she hoped for.
Because Italians started coming on Spanish tours when they couldn’t get Italian tours, she’s going to launch Irlanda in Italiano, adding two buses and hiring two Italian-speaking guide drivers for April.
Ms Gruber has also entered a partnership arrangement with a Croatian tour operator, who is offering a similar tour service for Spaniards trading as Croacia en Espanol, and has plans for Cracovia en Espanol in Kracow.
She believes that she has developed a business model which she can sell.
“We are looking into other markets. But we are not ready to start a franchise yet — we want to get the model working perfectly and sell it properly,” she says.
Meanwhile, the company is making plans for next summer. The aim is to have seven full-time staff and six part-time ones and to raise tourist numbers by 20%.
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