Advantage chief executive John McEwan says he leaves an industry which is much more professional and higher quality than when he started his career 50 years ago.
Speaking to Travel Weekly today just after the announcement of his retirement went public, McEwan revealed he took the decision two weeks ago.
However, it has been something he had been considering for some time as his four-year tenure as Abta chairman neared its end and since he became a grandfather for the first time.
McEwan, who now has a second grandchild on the way, said he decided now was the right time to step aside.
“I am 66 and I cannot go on for ever,” he said.
McEwan, who began his career in a Thomas Cook store in Liverpool aged 16, will not attend next month’s Advantage conference in Spain, saying he did not want his retirement to overshadow the event.
Instead, an Advantage management team comprising Julia Lo Bue-Said, Colin O’Neill and Ken McLeod will take over the running of the consortium and fulfil his role at the conference.
McEwan said: “In making my decision I reflected on where I had taken Advantage to since I came in.
“Basically, I think not just me but the team have done a tremendous job in positioning Advantage as the undisputed leading travel group in the UK.
“We are very highly regarded in the industry. We have done well in increasing profits, and of course our members are our shareholders so they have all benefited.
“We have grown membership in both leisure and corporate travel and there is a great source of pride in getting the organisation to the point where we have good leadership in Julia, Colin and Ken.
“We felt very comfortable when I decided to step down that the company would be in great shape and it would continue to have that momentum.
“We have strategic plans in place so everyone knows the direction in which it is going. You get to the point where you have taken the company a long way and put in place a great management team.”
McEwan, who will officially step down on April 30, meaning he will also step down from Abta on that date, said he does not intend to walk away from the industry entirely.
He will attend this year’s Abta Travel Convention in Croatia as the outgoing chairman, and hopes to use his vast experience in non-executive roles.
“My plan is to use the experience and skills I have gained to help companies from a non-executive perspective,” he said.
“Over the years I have had approaches but not been able to take them because of conflicts of interest.”
Asked how he views the industry now in 2013 compared with when he began his career half a century ago, McEwan said: “In simple terms I think it’s a much more professional industry.
“The whole thing has moved on, the quality is better and the calibre of people in the industry has improved also. There is still a long way to go to convince more graduates to enter the industry but it’s moving it the right direction.”
And McEwan believes his four years at the helm of Abta has seen the industry come together much more and forge a consensus on many issues, despite recent disagreements about the Package Travel Directive.
“I know we have had a different perspective being put forward by the ATA (Association of Travel Agents), but that’s a single issue and I respect their point of view,” he added.
“I’m hoping we will start to see a draft directive this summer and I remain confident that Abta and the ATA will work together to find a solution that is in the interests of all members.”
Nominations for the Abta chairman role opened yesterday. Potential candidates must win the support of two board members by May 8.
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