EXPLORA7ION

#2 MONARCH TOURS

WELCOME TO OUR SECOND EDITION OF EXPLORA7ION, SHOWCASING INTERVIEWS WITH SOME OF OUR DYNAMIC, CREATIVE AND ENTREPRENEURIAL CLIENTS.

In EXPLORA7ION #2, we’ve been under the bonnet of Monarch Tours speaking candidly with founder, Chris Pendleton. During our time together he reveals his Covid survival strategy and the impact on him both personally and as a business, topping it off with some great and bloody Scottish history.

READING TIME: 15 mins

EXPLORA7ION

#2 MONARCH TOURS

WELCOME TO OUR SECOND EDITION OF EXPLORA7ION, SHOWCASING INTERVIEWS WITH SOME OF OUR DYNAMIC, CREATIVE AND ENTREPRENEURIAL CLIENTS.

In EXPLORA7ION #2, we’ve been under the bonnet of Monarch Tours speaking candidly with founder, Chris Pendleton. During our time together he reveals his Covid survival strategy and the impact on him both personally and as a business, topping it off with some great and bloody Scottish history.

READING TIME: 15 mins

EXPLORA7ION

#2 MONARCH TOURS

WELCOME TO OUR SECOND EDITION OF EXPLORA7ION, SHOWCASING INTERVIEWS WITH SOME OF OUR DYNAMIC, CREATIVE AND ENTREPRENEURIAL CLIENTS.

In EXPLORA7ION #2, we’ve been under the bonnet of Monarch Tours speaking candidly with founder, Chris Pendleton. During our time together he reveals his Covid survival strategy and the impact on him both personally and as a business, topping it off with some great and bloody Scottish history.

READING TIME: 15 mins

“I wanted to build something for myself and have something that I could take full control of.”

CHRIS

JANE: Chris, Monarch Tours have been passionately showcasing the beauty of Scotland right up until the Spring of last year but before we talk more about the impacts of Covid, tell us a little more about why you created your touring company three years ago.

CHRIS: Well, it goes back a little further to when I was working in John Lewis selling cameras! My background has always been photography and I eventually became a freelance photographer and a teacher.

I met a colleague who was working for Nikon. He used to be a photographer over in Tokyo and had set up a company doing photography tours. For many reasons, he decided to come back to Scotland and set up tours in Edinburgh and eventually had to expand as he couldn’t handle all of the work. I stepped in and landed up doing the Edinburgh photography tours for a while.

Then people started saying that they had friends coming over and asked if we could do a different type of tour, one that didn’t include photography. And we thought why not and so it grew from there!

It got to a point, when my son was born – a little after about a year or so – I thought, I wanted to build something for myself and have something that I could take full control of. So that was the very beginning of Monarch Tours.

The plan was to walk away from the walking tours and introduce driving tours around Scotland. I broke down the market into segments and saw the larger coach tours and minibus tours. I wanted to apply the same principles but as more of a premium service.

JANE: I love the fact you are so bespoke. You see so many tourists crammed into buses and taken up to Glencoe for a day. Your work is so personal, with a max of six people.

Did you create that because you love the personal aspect of it rather than the big coach tours?

“My background has always been photography.”

CHRIS

CHRIS: Yes, I‘ve done a few larger coach tours in my days however, you feel more like a cattle herder. Getting people out of the bus, showing them the site quickly and then getting them back on the bus. There is no relationship building at all.

When you are doing it completely by yourself from start to finish, the initial contact means you are building a relationship and a rapport with them. My core tours are just the framework for my work. At the start of my conversation with them you can gauge what they are after and can adapt depending on their need. If they have a family connection that I can include in the tour, I can take them on a slight detour to show them that area of interest.

It is all about the spontaneity of it.

My tours are fluid. I want my clients to have a personalised and unique experience.

JAMES: Yeah that makes it far more memorable too doesn’t it.

CHRIS: Yeah absolutely, I’ve got clients that continually come back to me, even throughout Covid saying ‘How are things. Is there anything I can do to help out?’ So much so you feel that they are part of the business, not just a customer that you serve.

JANE: The more of a relational bond you can create between you and your customer the more value you get out of it. And the longer that relationship exists, the stronger the bond and the loyalty within it. Relationships are, at the end of the day, your greatest resource. The more you put into your relationships the more you get out.

Tell me more about the business and your passion for Scotland.

CHRIS: Scotland is beautiful. You walk out your door and drive for twenty minutes and you are in the countryside. We have something beautiful just on our doorstep, there is history everywhere.

To me, it’s the connection the world has with Scotland. We have 5.5million people in the country but 65million people across the world can trace their heritage directly back to us.

That’s why tourists travel from all over the world to come back and see a bit of their heritage. With that of course, you then have the history that falls into it all. It’s diverse, bloody at times. but it’s also empowering.

A small nation can have such a hugely impactful moment in modern history, like the reformation and then bring that forward to the enlightenment in Scotland. We have a claim to fame for a lot of things that have moulded this world we have now. That’s why I think Scotland is great and why I want to tour it. I want to show people the very best of it.

JANE: We are rather marvellous as a nation aren’t we but let’s not get into the politics of it all.

CHRIS: [Laughs] Even that though, without talking about present-day politics there are a lot of things that happened in Scotland in the last thousand years that are still repeating themselves today. So the names might change, the place might change but the format and the sentiment are the same.

“Relationships are, at the end of the day, your greatest resource.”

JANE

JANE: Chris, tell me the goriest story you know about Scotland.

CHRIS: Oh man… the massacre of Glencoe… British troops were sent to Glencoe because the MacDonalds didn’t sign their allegiance to the king. They were made an example of and they were all slaughtered.

So, the story itself is very bloody but it is the way they were slaughtered that is possibly the most shocking part of it. They were trusting these British troops that were coming into their land. The British troops told them that if they were allowed to take shelter in the villages and were given a bed, they wouldn’t have to pay taxes for the duration of their stay.

So, the MacDonalds invited them in ‘under a trust’. Now Scotland’s term ‘under the trust’ was the idea of Highland hospitality. It meant that if you had a bed or a corner that was warm or dry, – and the enemy came to your door seeking shelter, – you invited them in. You shared bread and whisky with them and made sure they were safe and protected so that they could continue on with the rest of their journey.

The MacDonalds did exactly that, then two days later they were all slaughtered. It was that idea of murder and trust which is possibly one of the most terrifying things to have happened in Scottish history.

Everyone knows about that massacre but for me, it’s the idea of the murder and trust which is the most shocking part.

[Everyone is silent for a moment]

JANE: James wait, you’re a Campbell?

JAMES: Yeah, I am a Campbell.

CHRIS: Never trust a Campbell.

JAMES: [Laughs]  Well, that’s what they say isn’t it!

“It was that idea of murder and trust which is possibly one of the most terrifying things to have happened in Scottish history.”

CHRIS

“People can learn a lot about Scottish history and how it involves understanding more of what is happening now.”

CHRIS

JANE: My knowledge of Scottish history is embarrassingly small, even though we are steeped in so much of it; the battle of Culloden for example and like you say, the Glencoe massacre. A lot of locals would never think about going on a Scottish tour but currently, due to Covid, we no longer have the luxury of going abroad. Our nation is slowly discovering the luxury of our homeland and all that it offers. Folk are finding places we never knew existed and the history behind them.

JAMES: I guess that’s what makes the bespoke tour so unique. It can relate to anyone. Not just to tourists but to people like us that simply don’t know enough.

CHRIS: Yeah, I’ve learnt a lot by doing this and it’s great because I’ve always been interested in Scottish history. I learnt my route in Edinburgh and the connections of, for example, the reformation and the integral part John Knox played in shaping the future of Scotland. His influence on King James and the creation of the King James Edition of the Bible, the cornerstone of modern Christianity. You go anywhere in the world where the British Empire went, that book came with us. The influence that it had on religion around the world. For good and bad, however, you want to look at it!

JANE: Ok so we’ve covered politics now we are on to religion!

CHRIS: [Laughs] Yes, cause and effect. What happened 500 years ago, still affects what we have now. Even with the idea of the union of Scotland and England in 1707 when parliament was taken out of Scotland and sent down to London, which then made sense because Scotland was so poor, and we needed help from our cousins down south to survive.

The downside was that a lot of our traditions and Scottish heritage was lost. That is why people don’t know Scottish history as deeply as they should because it was pushed to the side. Tartan is a great example of that. The manufacturing of kilts was outlawed and it’s a more recent tradition where we find people making and wearing kilts again. People can learn a lot about Scottish history and how it involves understanding more of what is happening now.

JANE: And of course, people can do that in an active way by booking on a Monarch Tour around Scotland and hear it all first hand with someone with such passion and knowledge.

“It’s been hard. April last year was a month of constant phone calls and emails of returned bookings.”

CHRIS

JANE: Tell me what’s Covid been like for you as a business?

CHRIS: It’s been hard. April last year was a month of constant phone calls and emails of returned bookings. I thought back then maybe this was just people being scared and overly cautious. That – fingers crossed- the refunds would come back for the summer. Of course, that didn’t happen. As a business it’s almost destroyed our sector as it currently stands.

We are all looking at finding ways of how we can stay relevant, still interesting and able to keep our businesses afloat in one form or another.

It’s not pretty, but at the moment it is a damage limitation for everything that is happening with our business because our entire sector is completely reliant on a foreign market.

About 97% of my bookings have been American, so until they start travelling again it’s going to have a knock-on effect for me. We had hoped the local market might pick up, but people are reluctant to get in a car with somebody they know and, can’t with lockdown anyway!

JANE: Yes, the lockdown restrictions at the end of December stopped any local market you might have been able to generate. And of course, you are not alone anyone in the hospitality and the tourism section, everyone is on their knees, getting as much help from the government as they can. At the end of the day, the help that you need is bums on seats.

JANE: How has it been for you personally?

CHRIS: [Pause] For me, equally as hard because I’ve got to protect the business and the income we generate from that and then my family on the other hand who are going through this as well.

As a family unit, we’ve tried to support each other. My wife is a wedding photographer, so her business has been decimated too. We are trying to help each other out as best we can and of course we are both trying to ensure we are both emotionally in a good position.

That’s all partly down to ensuring our son is as well protected both emotionally and physically. He’s five years old and he’s getting to a point where he is starting to understand what is going on. Back in April whilst he was watching TV and all that was going on, he turned round to me and asked ‘Daddy, why is everyone in the world dying?’.

[Pause]

That broke me. I realised then that we needed to make him as happy as we can but with a balance of him understanding what’s going on in the world.


As well as the added pressure of our son being a cardiac kid. We now have the added stress of wondering what is going to happen with our son. He has major heart complications and had two major heart surgeries by the time he was one-year-old, the first being eight hours and the second being twelve hours. What comes with that are respiratory issues too.

We have been so lucky in that his outcome went from being incredibly bleak to being incredibly good. He’s a healthy child who runs around faster than any kid you will meet, but he still has this underlying issue. So, at the start of Covid, our biggest question was what does this mean for our son if he was to get it.


As you can imagine, that on top of the business has been exceptionally stressful! To be honest, I’ve been on autopilot making sure everyone is safe, protected and in a good strong position whilst he also gets a balanced life which is as normal as possible. Playing with friends, getting to go back to school, despite always having that fear in the back of your head.

So yeah, it’s been hard.

JANE: For the last five years you’ve been living on a rollercoaster. Not only with your son but also with Covid hitting and the multiple impacts that has had on you, your family’s life and your businesses. It is so interesting when you get to see behind the doors of people’s lives and what is really going on. The fact that you are here, still smiling and remaining strong, it’s inspirational.

CHRIS: Thank you. It is nice to hear that. Thank you.

“I’ve been on autopilot making sure everyone is safe.”

CHRIS

“Covid has given us space to remember skills that we had and loved.”

JANE

JANE: My mind is going back to the murder and trust through the story you shared about the Glencoe massacre. You have been in partnerships throughout your career, how do you escape the ‘murder and trust’! Working with people in a business that you trust and then, out the blue, the murder comes. How have you escaped that?

CHRIS: I’ve been very lucky with people that I’ve been in business with. I accept people and hope nothing bad will happen. We did have a scenario when I was partnering with Iconic Tours and we were discussing business opportunities with another tour company and bizarrely, very quickly the conversation became incredibly sour so we walked away from it. So, I’ve seen the start of the murder and trust but managed to escape it.

I think with the people in this industry, it’s easy to gauge who you can and can’t work with and identify what they are like from the beginning. I have a great network of other independent tour guides and we all help each other out and pass work over if either of us don’t have the capacity. You find your friends quite quickly in this industry.

JANE: Murder and Trust. An interesting phrase and filter to use when seeking out business partnerships. What good creativity has come out of Covid for you?

“I thought, let’s bottle some air from the highest point in the country and put it up on the website for a bit of fun.”

CHRIS

CHRIS: Photography and video. I now have the time to be able to get back to what I love and use it to educate people. I set up a YouTube channel to showcase my work and keep myself relevant and at the forefront of people’s minds. That has been my creative outlet, creating image content and help build up my social channels.

When the second round of restrictions came in, I was hoping to do some video work, and now from seeing my new assets online, some people have approached me to do a video for them which is great.

JANE: Covid has given us space to remember skills that we had and loved and its great you’ve used that space and time to build that up again which will also help diversify your business.

Talking about space! Tell me about the jars of air that you sell!

CHRIS: [Laughs] A couple of years back I did a tour for a couple from New York, and we were touring Balquhidder looking at Rob Roy’s grave and we want a walk up to the glen. He took a huge breath and said I wish I could bottle that and take it home. So, I thought, let’s bottle some air from the highest point in the country up at Braemar and put it up on the website for a bit of fun. I never actually thought that anybody would ever buy it, but someone did!

JAMES: Where did it go?

CHRIS: It went over to the States. It was for somebody that was buying something for their husband, who has everything.

JANE: How did you find Engine710 originally?

CHRIS: I was down in Port Edgar having lunch when I found you. It was the Defenders sitting outside of the garage. I just spent ages looking over them, thinking how I needed one of them in my life. And I remember that car that you had, I think it was a Defender 90 with a V8 in it. What I love about ENGINE710 is they have the best customer service that I’ve ever found in a garage.

JAMES: I remember when you came down for the first time and dropped off your Discovery with us. While moving it into the workshop, I was like ‘What on earth is this?’ because it had scaffolding all around it and then we realised it was a camera mount. After a quick Google search, we realised exactly what you did. We’ve been following you for as long as you’ve been following us!

CHRIS: Yes, I remember coming in for the first time. It was the beginning of me producing videos, right at the very start of the evolutionary process of Monarch Tours.

JAMES: Yes, and your dog, Frankie the French bulldog. She constantly runs mentally around our reception whenever she’s in, the team love her.

JANE: Sounds like Doug!

“What I love about ENGINE710 is they have the best customer service that I’ve ever found in a garage.”

CHRIS

JANE: Chris before we finish, what’s your aspiration for 2021. When you get to celebrating at the end of it, what do you want to look back on having achieved?

CHRIS: I’d love to say great things here, but I am going to be realistic. To me, it’s about keeping things afloat. I am trying to be as optimistic as I can about it all. What I see is certainly a foreign market coming back into Scotland, probably at the start of the year, so this is about building the foundation. Keeping myself relevant by growing on social media and using this challenging time for creative projects that will help expand the growth of the company both digitally and physically.

2020 was going to be a fairly big year for me, I was planning on expanding the fleet and building the team. Thankfully I hadn’t committed yet and it was all put on hold, leaving myself with time to prepare a plan to pick up from where I left off. I’ll be ready for 2022.

It’s all about keeping myself afloat, right through to the end of the year. And then, from then on, it’s all go.

Yeah, my main aim, keeping myself and my family safe, keep my business afloat and expanding my video offering.

I’d love to say some profound words of wisdom, but to be brutally honest, it is what it is.

JANE: Realism and the authentic nature of you will help a lot of people. There are people out there promoting their business saying their world is amazing when, in reality a lot of people’s worlds have been turned upside down with this. It’s all about looking at creative ways of getting a strong foundation for a springboard to ensure 2021 and 2022 can be the best for you.

CHRIS: Yes, that’s the entire way I am looking at the world right now, just keep it going.

JANE: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Chris and speaking your truth which will undoubtedly help people knowing they are not alone in their struggles against Covid.

CHRIS: It’s been very cathartic talking about this actually, it’s helped ground me and helped me realise that I have something still here. Now I can start to focus on how I keep that going.

Monarch Tours will be open for business as soon as government legislation allows.

Discover more about Scotland by booking a personalised tour: monarchtours.co.uk

“I’d love to say some profound words of wisdom, but to be brutally honest, it is what it is.”

CHRIS

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