Icelandic volcano becomes draw for Notts travel firm19 May 2010
Iceland's volcanic ash cloud might be choking airline budgets but it's brought a rise in inquiries for a fledgling travel firm.
Magnetic North specialises in "geo-tourism" to the wilds of Northern Europe, organising packaged or tailored trips for the adventurous.
While the ash cloud has grounded conventional tourism, Magnetic North has received many inquiries from people keen to find out more about visiting the volcanic island they have seen on TV news bulletins.
The business is based at the enterprise hub at the University of Nottingham's Innovation park, and is run by graduate Laura Greenman.
She has secured five-figure backing from two senior Midlands-based financial services executives to develop a business which is already arranging breaks for people in autumn 2011.
"The inspiration came from a couple of places," said Laura, who has previously worked for East Midlands Tourism. "One of our investors knows Scandinavia very well and he has been looking to invest in a travel business which takes people deep into a really inspirational environment.
"I had set up a not-for-profit company promoting eco travel in the UK and Ireland. I put together a business plan to sell package holidays further afield and realised that, by starting a new for-profit company, I would be able to find the investment I needed to get going."
Ms Greenman says Magnetic North offers a mix of "physical days with comfortable nights" taking people into wild environments in Scotland, Ireland, Iceland and Scandinavia.
"We take people into natural settings and use local guides to help them appreciate the landscape, the environment and the way that local people live, all the way through to foraging for food.
"Someone like Ray Mears is an excellent example of what we're about because he goes out and finds out how people exist in their environments.
"It will be adventurous, but people won't be roughing it on our holidays. They will stay in very comfortable cabins or locally-owned hotels."
Magnetic North offers either tailored trips or organised group tours. Customers so far have been a mix of adventurous older couples or families looking for a break with a difference.
The company got under way around Christmas, and Laura expects most of its business this year to be from people looking for breaks later this year or into next year - including some asking about Iceland
She told the Nottingham Post: "The ash cloud has worked both ways. It has made people think about whether they should go there, but it's also made people more interested in the wider landscape beyond the volcano. We have had more people contacting us as a result and asking how they can get there - and you can get there by boat!"
Laura says that while there are other companies who offer similar services, Magnetic North is a small business able to deal more easily with individual requests and queries.
"Other companies tend to pick your accommodation and you can't change it," she said. "We have a menu, a personal touch, and that makes people come to us.
"The idea behind the business was very important to the investors and, in me, they were looking for someone with the relevant expertise who was committed to growing market share. They want a return on their investment, but they also want to grow something which is close to their hearts.
"My background is in sustainable tourism and the values of that are embedded in this business."