Chief executive tells Ian Taylor the operator was unable to secure financial aid

Fleetway Travel folded last week after failing to secure a loan through the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), and private equity and other investors declined to help.

The luxury tour operator, which sold direct through flash-sale sites Travelzoo, Voyage Privé and Secret Escapes, was run by former Monarch holidays chief Stuart Jackson.

He told Travel Weekly: “We had a good business proposition. We offered exclusive products in a limited booking window with vast discounts on mainly five-star product. Our customers were generally 55-plus, taking multiple holidays and there is growth in that market.”

Jackson joined Fleetway in 2016 after it was acquired by private equity firm Synova Capital and the company grew through to 2018. But he said it “faced a lot of headwinds” in 2019 as “Thomas Cook went bust, multiple airline problems hit our cash reserves and Brexit slowed demand”.

“The opportunity arose to merge with DH Enterprises [operating as Great Value Vacations] in the US. It had a similar model, fitted culturally and there were synergies in global contracting, marketing and technology.”

The deal was concluded on February 14 and Jackson said: “The first full meeting was on February 24 when the announcement came that northern Italy was closed. We never had an opportunity to realise the benefits. Both businesses went into crisis management with no sales and no likelihood of sales.

“We mothballed the business and looked at ways to inject cash through a CBILS loan or funds from shareholders or other investors. We were unsuccessful in our CBILS application and our options started to narrow.”

Going into July, he said: “We required a loan from the shareholders which was not forthcoming.”

He downplayed the impact of UK quarantine restrictions introduced from June 8, saying: “The timing was purely to do with fiduciary [legal] duty. Once the doors close to funding, you have to make a decision. As a director, your responsibility shifts to creditors. We had to decide.”

Jackson insisted: “Coming out [of lockdown] was always going to be difficult. We knew short-haul would open up. We were working with key hoteliers and felt the hotel side would be fixed.

“There was concern about the holiday experience, as not everything would be open, and about travel insurance, but we weren’t too vexed about the product.”
Overall, he said: “We foresaw a short, V-shaped recovery then [business] flatlining.”

Jackson said: “No one wanted it to come to this. Sixty staff lost their jobs in very difficult circumstances.

“We had good hotel relationships and it affects the hotels. We had 6,500 bookings and a lot of loyal customers.”

Jackson hopes to return to travel, but plans to do nothing for a period, saying: “My life has been in the industry, but it has been an exceptionally tiring and stressful four months. I plan to take a breather.”