I love my work!
Craig Bones, 54, left the Forces back in 1995 following just over 10 years’ service, which saw him specialise as a ground-to-air missile defence instructor in the RAF Regiment. Now self-employed and running his own specialist bespoke travel adventure business with his wife Heather, he tells Quest how his working life really took off post-RAF …
Craig Bones has been working in the travel industry in some form or other since 1999 and over that time has accumulated a wealth of experience. The idea for his current project, Love Travel Adventures (LTA), was hatched four years ago, while he and Heather were travelling around New Zealand on their honeymoon. Unfortunately, due to the recent constraints the Covid pandemic has placed on the travel sector in particular, it has taken longer than hoped for their initial idea to translate into reality, but good things come to those who wait and the business finally enjoyed its official launch in January.
Before we take a closer look at how things are shaping up with LTA, let’s rewind a bit and check out how Craig came to arrive at this particular destination …
Life in uniform and qualifications
Prior to embarking on a career in the travel sector, Craig served with the RAF Regiment in a range of locations, from Germany to the Falklands. And, while in uniform, he certainly kept himself busy with his studies too, racking up a host of qualifications (listed in the accompanying box, ‘Qualifications gained in uniform’).
He also spent time working in facilities management for Compass Group where again he amassed an array of qualifications and certifications, as well as Associate Membership of the then British Institute of Facilities Management (now renamed as the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management).
Qualifications gained in uniform …
- City & Guilds qualifications in Numeracy, Communication, Computer Application and Information Technology
- Driving licence, RAF St Athens
- Ground to Air Missile Rapier System Training, RAF West Raynham
- Motorcycle licence, RAF Wildenrath
- Assistant Rapier Instructor, RAF West Raynham
- FT1 promotion to Cpl at RAF Catterick
- RSA Certificate – CLAiT, Computer Literacy and Information Technology
… and out
- Craig also achieved the following impressive list of civilian qualifications while working in facilities management at senior level:
- Associate Member of British Institute of Facilities Management
- IOSH qualified
- Safety training coach
- Modern Apprenticeship in Hospitality Supervision
- Recruitment and selection training*
- Disciplinary and grievances training *
- Train the trainer training*
- Team-building and leadership training*
- Certificate in First Aid Awareness
- Certificate in Customer Service
- Recruitment training
- Qualified train the trainer
* While working with the Compass Group
Discharge, resettlement and ELC
Craig was medically discharged from the Forces in 1994 following an epileptic seizure. Leaving in May 1995, in the rank of Corporal, he had been in the process of being put through for a commission. Thinking back to his transition period, he singles out his EO for particular praise: ‘My Education Officer was extremely instrumental in supporting me while I was being medically discharged. She had supported me previously in preparation for commission and then with being discharged from the RAF. She just had a true understanding of what we had to do.’
Seeing the way the winds of work were blowing, and recognising that this ‘was going to be the future’, Craig realised that he needed to do some form of computer training prior to leaving. This led him to embark on a course with Red Rose Training in Stockport, having registered for his ELC while at RAF Leuchars. ‘I also went to local classes on camp to get my RSA Certificate in IT,’ he adds.
The course Craig undertook was, he says, ‘Really well run and informative’, however the world of IT moves fast and ‘Sadly for me,’ he says, ‘the training – although I passed it – became redundant a few years later as it was all about MS-DOS programming and of course everything was evolving extremely quickly.’
Asked what advice he has for other Service people registering for or using ELC, Craig replies, ‘Totally embrace what the Services have to offer! These courses cost money and with the support you are getting from the Armed Forces in your transition to civvy street, it’s a must-do to further enhance your transferable skill-set in preparation for the next part of your journey in life.’
In terms of other training and support Craig has benefited from since leaving, he says ‘X-Forces Enterprise have supported me through the whole process of setting up our new business. Thanks to them, I have been on several courses in connection with business start-up, covering aspects such as financial forecasting and budgeting, and marketing via social media. These really helped me to develop our business and grow in confidence, allowing me to be the driver behind our tourism start-up.’
Flying high: from RAF Regiment to bespoke adventure travel business owner, Craig is living the dream of running his own tourism business with wife Heather
On leaving the Forces, Craig first worked as an HR (human resources) officer for NHS Fife on a six-month contract. ‘I applied for the job,’ he says, ‘and they gave me the role even though I wasn’t qualified but had many skills that were transferable.’ Following a spell in facilities management, Craig has been working in the travel industry in some form or other since 1999 – and it is this that has given him the wealth of experience that he is now putting to good use.
Asked what training or experience he gained during his Service career that he is now finding useful in civilian life, Craig is in no doubt: ‘Computer work, most definitely. It really has enabled me to embrace it and understand the fundamentals behind it. It has also meant that I am not afraid of change or challenges – so much so that, during the pandemic, I purchased video-editing software and a voiceover microphone, and proceeded to put together videos and voiceovers, which were used for businesses across the UK. I produced all the videos for our new business too, working closely with the tourism offices in our four chosen destinations.’
Thinking further about the similarities between his Service career and his current role, Craig muses, ‘Ironically, when you consider “ground-to-air missile system to travel owner”, you might think there isn’t any direct connection, however what I learned in the Forces was all about being able to communicate with everyone around you, giving clear instructions and guidance, ensuring that what you say is what you mean. That is something I have taken with me, and is a true testament to where we are today and how our website and business was put together – with the aim of making the customer journey as seamless as possible.’
Adventures in travel
Getting back to Craig and Heather’s new business, Love Travel Adventures, Craig says that while he brings to the table his operational expertise, acquired during his time in the travel industry, Heather complements this perfectly with her own travel experience, and knowledge and understanding of what the customer wants and needs. Building on this partnership, they have brought together some of their favourite itineraries in the hope that these will become their customers’ favourites too!
‘The project started off four years ago,’ says Craig, and although Covid restrictions created something of a hold-up (to say the least!), it seems that even that particularly dark cloud had a silver lining: ‘From the pandemic came something good: it gave us time to think, to put our ideas into motion and make our dreams a reality.
‘I know it sounds a bit corny,’ he continues, ‘but that was really how it all came about. It started with networking and Protected Trust Services [PTS, a leading solution for UK travel firms and travel businesses, giving them all the tools they need to run a successful travel business], and the rest just fell into place. Having support and backup from these organisations really did close the loop of the whole travel journey. From booking to going on their adventure, by having PTS on board for their financial protection, and by having partners on the ground in all our chosen destinations, our customers can be sure of a trouble-free experience.’ And, in these days of potential travel disruption, such guaranteed peace of mind is of course invaluable.
‘During the pandemic we worked to capitalise on our personal experience,’ Craig continues, ‘creating private and bespoke adventures, sharing our experiences, to open our customers’ eyes to the culture, landscape and people of our four chosen destinations: the stunning and exciting Botswana, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka.’ Based on these four locations, Craig and Heather have created itineraries that will allow their clients to immerse themselves in adventures that go beyond the bounds of conventional tourism. ‘We know these destinations inside out,’ says Craig, ‘and with either a well-planned route map or one of our high-quality private guides, our plan is to help our clients see the main attractions in a different light and introduce them to places others might miss.
‘And, while we love adventure, LTA as a business also endeavours to promote sustainability, with a promise to contribute to our chosen projects and charities within our four destinations for every customer that travels with us. We really want to make a difference and, with our chosen projects, we know we will.
‘For example, every booking on our Cape Town and Winelands Adventure will help towards creating ocean-based opportunities and providing environmental education for the youth of South Africa’s coastal communities. Then there’s our Garden Route adventure, which sees us partner with Kariega Game Reserve and the Kariega Foundation, which aspire to achieve a mutually beneficial balance and harmony between commercial success and stability, community collaboration and activation, along with sustainable wildlife management and conservation, including rhino protection, conservation and preservation. In New Zealand, we have partnered with Trees That Count whereby bookings on any of our New Zealand adventures will see a native tree planted.’
Having finally hit the launch button on 9 January 2022, LTA has already seen a significant increase in web and social traffic. ‘Although we have only just had our official launch,’ Craig continues, ‘we did have clients away over Christmas and New Year in Sri Lanka – one of whom was DIY SOS presenter and avid traveller Nick Knowles. Nick kindly wrote about our business on his Instagram and his words ended up in Hello! magazine. Not a bad way to start a business!’
Checking out the locals: Heather and Craig get up close and personal with some of the main attractions on their Cape Town & Garden South African Adventure
Continuing the theme of seeking to really make a difference in the lives of others, Craig is also an ambassador for military charity Care for Veterans, located in Worthing, West Sussex, helping to support the organisation in promoting events UK-wide, raising funds to support the charity and team in doing their excellent work. Concludes Craig, ‘It really is all about giving back and doing the right thing. That is also why we are working with small projects in our chosen destinations – it really is doing the right thing and making a real difference, as well as making memories!’
Special offer for Quest readers!
Craig’s company, Love Travel Adventures, is offering a discount to Quest readers. When you are working through the booking process enter the promo code ‘Quest250’ when prompted and this will reduce the cost of your adventure by £250.