Tunnel vision

James Hurley on Young Guns, travel chaos and the advantages of a limited service on Eurostar

After a week of absolute travel chaos that has seen two British travel firms collapse, a fire in the Channel Tunnel and the prospect of Alitalia being grounded because it can’t afford to buy fuel, on Sunday afternoon I travelled on the Eurostar – just a day after the tunnel reopened a limited service for passengers, remember – and it was surprisingly empty.

I was expecting chaos in the departure lounge, but despite arriving late for my scheduled train (which, admittedly, had been cancelled), I sailed onto the next one in under ten minutes. The carriage I travelled in wasn’t even half full. Maybe I was just lucky. Or maybe people were scared off by the dire predictions on the Eurostar website of lengthy delays and extended journey times.

Either way, a member of staff told me that the trains on Sunday morning were even emptier. If, like me, you enjoy peace and quiet when you travel as well as the boon of being able to turn up late for your train and still swan on to the next one, your selfish gene might lead you to conclude that it’s an ideal situation.

Eurostar will be bracing itself for lengthy repair work and a long wait before it can resume full services, but the firm is unlikely to be as concerned about its long term prospects as airline carriers are. But there was some more bad news for the firm last week – Air France is planning a rival train service between London and Paris when Eurostar’s monopoly comes to an end in 2010.

While others in the industry rely on an expectation that fuel prices will come down  – as well as the old truism that customers will give up a lot before they give up their holiday –  it’s an admirable bit of diversification from the French air carrier, which promises that its trains will be significantly faster.

The best entrepreneurial firms, large or small, often respond to challenging times with nimbleness. An intriguing article on the continued success of Lastminute.com in The Observer reminded me that its survival through the lean years following the dotcom crash relied on the company’s willingness to update the brand, improve the technology, acquire rivals and expand beyond its natural territory. The firm’s chief executive, Ian McCraig, told The Observer that this period of growth was akin to an adolescent company getting ‘interested in going to university’.

Speaking of adolescence, we held our 2008 Young Guns lunch at the Kensington Roof Gardens on Friday. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until October 10, when the new issue of Growing Business arrives on your desks, to find out who made the list but I can promise some fabulous companies run by some inspiring entrepreneurs.

The winner was someone who’s managed to give their company something of an advanced education, with an impressive turnover, established profitability and a diversified product offering already delivered in under four years. It was an example of entrepreneurial leadership that was deserving of our ‘Top Gun’ accolade.

Thanks to all the entrepreneurs and Young Guns alumni who made it such an enjoyable day, and keep your eyes peeled for the October edition of the magazine when all will be revealed. And top marks for the ‘last entrepreneur standing’ at the after dinner drinks – you know who you are.

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