Jennie Carr interviewed Roger Allard in 2014.
What do the Queen and Roger have in common? This is not a trick question and I’ll come back to it later, with quite a surprising answer.
Roger Allard is undoubtedly one of the UK’s travel industry giants, quite gently spoken but don’t be fooled by that. With a career that really has spanned over 40 years, starting as a Saturday boy (cherubic no doubt) in a travel agents on Tottenham Court Road, and currently sitting as Executive Chairman of All Leisure Group PLC, which includes Voyages of Discovery, Page and Moy Travel Group, Swan Hellenic and Discover Egypt, Roger has built successful companies in most areas of the market. He’s also picked up awards on the way for contributions to the travel industry and served on the board of ABTA for several years.
Having been one of the founders of Owners Abroad PLC, currently First Choice/TUI, Roger was at the helm as Group Managing Director when, after 20 years, he left in 1993. It was during this time he was drafted in to head up the repatriation of stranded holidaymakers when ILG, the UK’s 2nd largest tour operator, failed. Something that was to be repeated at the CAA’s request in 2008 when XL collapsed, leaving 38,000 tourists stranded abroad. Roger applied his legendary common sense to the challenge and with judicious use of whiteboards, Post It notes and more than a few friends in aviation, the mission was rather successfully accomplished.
When I talked to him recently, it was no real surprise to discover that as a boy, Roger had wanted to be a pilot, although colour blindness ruled this option out. He later, after passing colour blindness tests, got both a private pilot’s and a helicopter pilot’s licence, put to good use I gather, on one or two personal rescue missions in deepest Sussex during terrible snow.
Roger is quick to point out the benefits of cruising for Silver Travellers, in that they are time rich and can, in the main, suit themselves. Cruising, he feels, has become more fun: twenty years ago it might rightly have been called stuffy, now it’s more relaxed, with greater added value to voyages (gratuities included for example) and more adventurous in style. Plus it is incredibly good value, safe and of course, perfect in that passengers have all the benefits of touring but only unpack their suitcases once. A pleasing 89% of those who cruise would do it again, so something must be going very well in this growing sector of the market. Popular voyages include spring and autumn breaks in the Mediterranean, and the Arctic, where the sights are more important than the weather. The spectacular Northern Lights this year must surely have boosted bookings.
So I ask, where does Roger enjoy holidays himself? He’s quick to answer that Myanmar, exciting and newly opened up once more, is fantastic he tells me, with incredible sights to be seen. He’s also very happy to visit Majorca time and again, saying that it’s easy, accessible and relaxing, with a wide range of accommodation and holiday choices. Of course, cruising from the UK is a favourite too, fairly instant with departure almost on the doorstep.
And finally to Roger’s favourite cruise ship, which is sophisticated and luxurious, it’s the same as the Queen’s, the Hebridean Princess. Indeed, it is such a favourite of the Queen’s, she has given it the Royal seal of approval with the Royal Warrant of appointment for the provision of cruise holidays. I know of no other cruise line that shares this accolade and by happy coincidence, Hebridean Island Cruises is owned by All Leisure Holidays. This is, without doubt, a 5* star ship, rather like a floating, exceptionally exclusive country house hotel, sleeping a maximum of 50 passengers in just 30 cabins, with 38 crew. It takes in the Inner and Outer Hebrides along with St Kilda, venturing further afield in August each year. Some hire the entire ship for exclusive use, a remarkable experience by all accounts.
For the future, Roger anticipates more hard work getting the right product to the customer and hopefully, lots of fun. Well done to ALG, they certainly seem to be creating a highly satisfactory cruise product for at least one very important person.