INTERVIEW: Robin Worsnop, Rabbie's Tours
‘I was told it wasn’t viable. They should take a trip’
It started with an old Leyland Daf minibus, ferrying visitors around Scotland, and a belief that something bigger may be around the corner.
Robin Worsnop was always filled with ambition but he didn’t expect his tour business to be as big as it to today.
That initial van has turned into a 60-strong fleet supporting a £9 million business spread across the UK.
Now he’s realising another dream. Rabbie’s Tours is getting into city-based trips and the first embarks this month from Edinburgh where the company is based.
Three vehicles, each costing around £100,000, have been built in Ireland and fitted with a specially-made convertible glass roof which took the Dutch designer four years to develop.
“I was taken out on a trip on the bus and it got everyone’s head turning. I knew it was just what I wanted,” he says.
The vehicles, which carry 16 passengers, will be nestling alongside the open-top buses, and Worsnop says he’s ready to take on the competition. “They have had their own way for a long time,” he says with a cheeky smile.
It is now based in a former wedding shop in Waterloo Place in the shadow of the Balmoral Hotel and benefits from the constant flow of tourists heading to and from Calton Hill. Until two years ago it operated from the Royal Mile.
“I got fed up seeing customers going into Starbucks next door, so we moved here and set up our own coffee bar,” he says.
Today the office is buzzing for the official launch of the new tours and a throng of people gathers around the first of the vehicles parked outside and bedecked in a bright red ribbon, ready to be cut by Gavin Barrie, convenor of the City Council’s economy committee.
“It’s a great start for us,” says Worsnop, posing for photos in the new vehicle and delighted that the sun has also obliged to make it one of the warmest days of the year.
Worsnop admits he left university with no idea what he wanted to do. “I did a bit of dishwashing and painting and decorating and I bought an old Leyland Daf to take people out on trips.”
He got off to a slow start and was knocked back for funding. “The Prince’s Trust said the business wasn’t viable. I’ll happily take them out on a trip.”
That was 23 years ago and he says he has surprised himself at the rate the company has grown. Turnover has rocketed by 25% a year for the past six years, fuelled, he says, by social media. The company employs 170 staff, 130 of them in Edinburgh, the others in Glasgow, Dublin and London.
“We’re on track to carry 100,000 people this year; that will be a record,” he says.
One setback came a few years ago when he and a partner launched a venture in Barcelona, but found the local bureaucracy too obstructive.
“I thought it would be a great place for us but I didn’t do enough customer research and we had to take on a state owned company which didn’t like the competition and threw all sorts of barriers in our way.”
After three years he pulled out, wounded but wiser for the experience.
“You make mistakes and you learn from them. It will make me open my eyes, but it won’t put me off. When people say I can’t do something it just makes me more determined to do it.”
Birthplace: Cyprus (Scottish mother, English father)
Educated: Glenalmond School, Edinburgh University
Career highlights: Dishwasher; painter and decorater; owner Rabbie’s Tours
Does anything make you angry?
Would you have done anything differently?
No.I didn’t think the business would be as big as it is today. I have faced challenges and got through them.
Photos by Terry Murden