A spirit of adventure is very much part of outdoor life around Snowdonia in North Wales. It’s typified by a number of Zip World attractions, including the fastest zip line in the world, and the longest in Europe. Ambitious plans are being hatched to open Zip Wire attractions all over the world.
Sean Taylor spent 22 years jumping out of planes and throwing himself down zip lines as a Royal Marines commando. When he retired from Britain’s armed forces in 2004, a desk job was never going to be a satisfactory substitute. So, Taylor decided to replicate the thrill-seeking aspects of his career in a safe and fun environment for everyone to enjoy – from the ages of three to 99.
“I’d been all around the world going on zip lines,” he says. “I wanted to translate those experiences into something that everyone could do.
“The area around North Wales was known for its climbing and I wanted to do something that was more fun and mass market, places that would be recognised as world-class destinations.”
He set up Treetop Adventures in 2007 (now Zip World Fforest) and launched Zip World in 2013. Taylor and his co-founder Nick Moriarty now own three Zip World locations across North Wales and are set to open a fourth at Celtic Manor, Newport, this year – where they plan to run a zip line over the river Usk. “We are also looking at other sites in the UK and around the world,” he reveals. “We are geared up to expand because we have the skills in-house to go from design and planning to construction and maintenance. We want to create world-class attractions.”
Since 2013, Zip World has grown from just 8 staff to around 250 and during peak holiday periods the locations handle up to 3,500 visitors each day. The business is on course to report a turnover of £10m in the current year, with net profit of about £5.5m. Taylor says he had been impressed by the quality and commitment of the local workforce.
“We pay well and we have got fantastic ambassadors for our business,” he says. “Also, we don’t have a lot of people leaving us, so we save on training costs.”
Taylor, who was born and raised in the Conwy Valley, is immensely proud of the achievement and takes particular satisfaction from the jobs and opportunities he has created for the local economy. “It is made in Wales and we are doing it in Wales,” he points out. “We use Welsh suppliers and contractors.”
Was he attracted to North Wales as a place to open a business because he’s a local? “Yes, that and having the topography. We’ve had willing partners at Snowdonia National Park, Conwy Council and Gwynedd Council,” he says.
Taylor also praised the support Zip World has received from the Welsh Government. “We received Welsh Government grants for the first two sites. But we’ve also had help from the government with business plans,” says Taylor. “Welsh Government has been very easy and approachable – those guys have always been there for me. It tells me that I’m not in this by myself here. It’s pleasing to know that people do get it.” Taylor is convinced Wales’ small size can also be a huge advantage.
“It is a small country, so most people know who we are,” he says, including politicians. “Proportionally, we have become an important part of the local economy and our ambition is to have a positive impact for future generations.” Ultimately, the former Royal Marine takes pride from the difference his burgeoning business has made to the communities where it operates. He concludes: “People are proud to say, 'I live in Bethesda. We’ve got the fastest zip line in the world'.”