Opinion: Where are travel’s heroes of today?

Opinion: Where are travel’s heroes of today?

The travel sector ought to become a bit less corporate and discover inspiring leaders who can galvanise the industry and energise the public, says Steve Dunne of PR consultanacy The Brighter Group

I happened to catch the US Democratic Party National Convention the other day. Most of it was the typical, dull, political rhetoric but there was one section that had me mesmerised. It was when former US president Bill Clinton addressed the delegates in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Whatever your politics, there is one thing you cannot deny. Clinton is a stunning speaker.

In his address, the ex-president explained, in simple terms, the complexities facing the average US citizen, the world economy and the international community. He was inspirational, and he made you believe in his proposal.

It was a masterclass in communication, vision, mission and passion – and it got me thinking.

Where are the heroes of the British travel sector? Now, when I say heroes, I don’t mean the resort rep who went above the call of duty for a guest, or the call-centre operative who went the extra mile for their client. The industry is blessed with many of those.

For the sake of this argument, I define heroes as the leaders that can move the issues facing this sector beyond the industry’s boundaries to engage with
non-travel people in the way Clinton did to the delegates and viewers of that convention.

With one or two notable exceptions – Willie Walsh, Richard Branson and maybe Stelios – where are the Clinton-style heroes of the travel sector?

I’ve been working in the travel sector for the best part of 25 years. When I first came into the sector, there were individuals such as Harry Goodman of ILG. Prior to that, there had been Freddie Laker, Billy Butlin, Fred Pontin and many others who became household names.

They were known and, more importantly, listened to, by the public. They were visionary, and passionate about travel and what it could do for the public. And they were able to make the public believe.

The industry has done well in getting Air Passenger Duty and aviation capacity in the southeast on to the agenda of the media, politicians and even, in parts, the man on the street. But would the heroes of the past have had more success in getting people talking about the industry’s issues?

It’s a moot point, of course, and one that, like football punditry, everyone will have a view on,

But it does highlight an issue. As a sector, we have become corporate. It’s a natural sign of the sector’s maturity. However, from the man in the street’s viewpoint, would they actually know the faces and names of the industry’s leaders?

Would they be interested in what they say? And would they feel convinced that the issues facing the sector impact their everyday lives?

Perhaps, as a sector, we should be looking for a few Clintons within our own ranks.


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