Tributes have been paid to Worldchoice president Colin Heal, who passed away during the consortium’s annual overseas conference in Slovenia on Saturday.
Described as a travel legend, Heal, who turned 80 last year, collapsed in the foyer of the Golf Hotel in Lake Bled just before the conference sessions were due to start.
Paramedics were on the scene quickly to administer first aid but attempts to resuscitate him failed.
Heal was made lifetime president of the consortium that he was instrumental in establishing after he stepped down as chairman at the last overseas conference in Portaventura, Spain.
Simon Hargreaves, chairman of Worldchoice parent The Travel Network Group, said: “We are all deeply saddened today.
“Colin was a major part of our company and the industry at large and I know that he will be greatly missed by all his industry friends and colleagues. His contribution to the UK travel industry was immense – he was a true legend.”
Helen Burgess, Travel Network Group group membership director, said: “If any of us achieve in our careers half of what Colin did we would be doing really well.
“If he could have chosen a way of going out he would have chosen to have done so doing what he loved. He would also have wanted us to carry on.
“A lot of people are together here so this can be a celebration of his great life. It’s been a real shock for us all but we will be marking the ending of a truly remarkable life.”
John McEwan, former Abta chairman and Advantage chief executive said: "It was a very sad day last Saturday that I heard of the passing of Colin Heal, president of Worldchoice.
"I had known Colin for over twenty years. Whilst we were latterly competitors in the independent travel sector, we quickly built a mutual respect for each other and a friendship.
"Colin successfully worked to champion the cause of the independent travel agent and his passion for that cause shone through in all our dealings. His contribution to the industry was recognised by his Lifetime Achievement Award.
"I also personally believe he ensured that Worldchoice entered the 21st century in good shape. He was Mr Worldchoice!
"Colin was a gentleman and was always courteous and respectful in his dealings with other people. Colin's values are as relevant today and tomorrow, as they have ever been.
"Colin will be greatly missed but always remembered. All our thoughts are with his wife, Valerie and their family."
On Twitter Roger Allard, All Leisure Group chairman and a candidate to become the new Abta chairman, said: "Colin Heal was a doyen of the travel industry and made a significant contribution to our industry, he will be sadly missed."
Abta itself issued a joint statement over the weekend from chief executive Mark Tanzer and Sidney Perez, chairman of Abta Lifeline, which said:
“On behalf of Abta and Abta Lifeline, we wish to offer our condolences to Colin’s family at this sad time. Colin served as Vice Chairman and Trustee for Abta Lifeline for 16 years.
"He performed this role with passion and diligence, strongly believing in the importance of helping those in the industry who might have hit hard times.
"Colin also served as an Abta board member and, more recently, made valuable contributions to our work through Abta’s policy advisory group.
"Colin was an absolute gentleman and a true travel professional. He will be sorely missed.”
Heal, who was awarded the OBE for his service with the RAF during the Falklands War, was at the conference with his wife Valerie who was with him when he died.
The couple’s two daughters have been informed about the death. He is also survived by five grandchildren and one great grandchild born earlier this year.
Delegates were told Heal had had a fall before the conference started and that they would be updated when there was further news.
There was audible shock in the room when Hargreaves came on stage at the end of the opening sessions to deliver the sad news.
On the first night of the conference Heal was in good spirits, chatting to delegates at the welcome party and dancing with his wife.
He had played a central role in bringing this year’s conference to Lake Bled and worked to charter a special flight for some of the industry delegates from Stansted.
The event was the first major travel conference to be held in Slovenia.
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