Following a wonderful childhood in the remote highlands of Scotland, I have travelled to over 40 countries, lived in some of the biggest cities and am fluent in French and Spanish. Most recently I spent 3 fantastic years in New York working in FinTech where I took every opportunity to travel through the USA and have visited 25 states so far.I now own a Scottish luxury travel company called Away From The Ordinary.
THE O’HARA STORY —
During the first quarter of my life I lived in one of the most remote and beautiful parts of the Highlands of Scotland, even at a very young age I thought the place was spectacular. It was all enhanced by my father’s stories about Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Jacobite gold and Celtic legends. Then with my father’s job we started to move around to different countries and my world expanded. While at university in Glasgow I used to work summers on a private Scottish island looking after guests like Richard Branson and even then looking at how to exceed customer service expectations. After university I travelled round the world twice (once just wasn’t enough!) meeting people from all over the world and always thinking about what travel experiences I could take back to Scotland. Coming from a family of travel entrepreneurs and being passionate about promoting Scotland, it was always my dream to set up my own company showcasing the best that Scotland has to offer. So why didn’t I start sooner? Well I got a great job with a great US company that involved international travel and I became focussed on that. While doing the job I was the go to person for clients colleagues and friends who wanted to travel to Scotland and felt like a Scottish ambassador.
In 2016 my wife and I moved back to the UK from New York and I decided it was time to do what I was truly passionate about, so after a lot of planning I set up Away From The Ordinary. The idea being that we make tailor made luxury vacations to Scotland and will come up with ideas and solutions for anything you want to do. If you want to golf on Monday, fish on Tuesday, do private whisky tastings in a castle on Wednesday, helicopter in to a remote golf course on Thursday and eat in a Michelin starred restaurant on Friday we can sort all that out and in style too. If you want to have a private castle tour when it is closed to the public, an exclusive distillery tour where you taste whisky from privately owned casks or anything else you can imagine we will make it happen. We plan every trip from scratch with the sole goal of making sure our clients have a fantastic vacation and want to return to Scotland.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
To showcase Scotland in such a way that makes people fall in love with this country.
What makes Scotland a key choice for Americans to visit?
The obvious reasons are the history, heritage, scenery, whisky and it is of course the home of golf. What you might not know is that the food scene in Scotland is outstanding and our clients always rave about that and the warm welcome they receive all over the country.
Assess the 2019 tourism market for Scotland? Is it better, worse or about the same as in 2018?
With Brexit the pound has come down substantially in comparison to the dollar and other currencies so 2019 is a great time for people to visit. You also have the Solheim Cup in 2019.
There’s been plenty of news concerning the ongoing Brexit negotiations and what might happen. Has that situation impacted any bookings or interest for the year ahead?
Bookings have actually increased from North America because you are now getting at least a 20% discount on everything due to the currency fluctuations.
What’s the biggest mistake many tourists make when going to Scotland?
They try to see and do too much in a short space of time.
The most underappreciated aspect of Scotland is what?
Some of the less well known regions that are truly stunning but aren’t really visited by tourists. Regions like The Mull of Kintyre, Dumfries and Galloway and Ardnamurchan. Some have amazing links courses like Machrihanish and Southerness.
Scotland is the “home of golf” — how much of a percentage is there among the people using your services to have golf on the itinerary when visiting?
Just over 25% of bookings we take involve golf. The first ever vacation I planned was for an American family and the father and son had a great day playing a couple of Ayrshire links courses. So golf has been part of my business from the start.
Any particular golf locations of special note for visits?
I like golf locations that also work for any people in the group that do not play. So Royal Dornoch is great because the village of Dornoch itself is so beautiful and there are amazing, castles, beaches and distilleries close by. East Lothian and Ayrshire are fabulous locations as there are so many top golf courses within easy reach of each other.
So much of business today rests on the words “customer service.” Define the term and the approach you take?
Every vacation we plan starts with a conversation to find out what our clients like and what they want. Every trip starts with a blank piece of paper as we do not have a pre-conceived idea of what kind of vacation our client wants. Based on that conversation we then send a proposed itinerary to the client and tweak it until they are 100% happy. So customer service is really the key to what we do. Then we always add on some surprises for clients during their trip to exceed their expectations.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
‘This isn’t a dress rehearsal son, so you may as well go out there and live life to its fullest.’ From my father.
Photo Credit : Justin Scobie Photography
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