Roger Allard, chairman of failed travel company All Leisure Group, has said he is “very sorry” that his business has ceased trading but said he had done everything to minimise the inconvenience for customers, creditors, agents and staff.
Speaking exclusively to Travel Weekly just minutes after the CAA confirmed the company had gone bust, Allard said: “I am personally very sad and I apologise to everyone affected, but you can’t keep putting more and more money into a bottomless hole when it’s not working and you can’t control things that are thwarting your efforts.”
Allard explained that a “perfect storm” of geopolitical events had made it impossible to carry on, leaving All Leisure “between a rock and a hard place”.
Speaking about the two main cruise brands still in the group, he said: “Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery dealt in cruises for more mature guests to cultural and iconic destinations like the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Black Sea where there are lots of sights.
“But increasingly over the last few years, since the Arab Spring, it has been increasingly difficult to operate to these areas, either because of Foreign Office advice or a dampening of demand from consumers to travel to certain areas where we specialised.
“P&L-wise, it became an increasingly challenging environment. So we put Hebridean up for sale about 18 months ago. We didn’t get an acceptable offer so I went out to a number of industry colleagues to raise the money and sold it at the end of last year.
“We also put Travelsphere and Just You up for sale about 10 months ago. Everything has been done at arm’s length and has been voted for by other board members and legal advisors and the money has all gone to All Leisure.”
Allard confirmed this meant that unlike many other company failures, All Leisure has ceased trading with cash in the bank to pay creditors.
He continued: “It was difficult, but you hope things will get better. But then Brexit happened. The impact of that was on currency which was another blow. It was the exchange rate that became the issue for us.
“In September, we put the prices up for our tours (Travelsphere and Just You) which customers accepted, but we couldn’t do that for our cruise businesses. Furthermore, so much with cruise is paid for in foreign currency – leases, crew, fuel and some maintenance is all paid in dollars, while food, and port fees are often paid in Euros.
“In the last 18 months, the pound has dropped 20% against the dollar and 14% against the Euro, so it was a truly unfortunate perfect storm. There’s a limit to what you can do when all these world events are slowly chiselling away at you. What do you do?”
Allard said he decided to pull the plug now, rather than letting the company limp on until the summer so that the damage was limited. He said: “There are 7,000 people who can’t take their cruises, but there are 15,000 people who will still take their escorted tours.”
He said this meant about 200 jobs at the company’s Market Harborough head offices had been saved and estimated that between 20-30 jobs would be lost in the UK.
“The vast number of jobs have been saved,” he confirmed, explaining that part of the deal to sell Travelsphere and Just You to G Adventures was to retain the Market Harborough head office for a year.
He added that most of the management team, including chief executive Ian Smith and group sales director Colin Wilson, would transfer with the tours business under G Adventures.
Allard stressed that his management team had worked tirelessly to make sure the impact to all affected parties was minimised.
“Had we carried on until the middle of the summer, the impact to bond obligors, the CAA, creditors, customers and agents would have been much greater.
“But the last cruise finished this morning, the other one yesterday. Some passengers are already on their flights home, the others are about to travel. No-one has been left on the high seas. I’ve been in this industry for 45 years – half at Owners Abroad and First Choice and the last 20 at All Leisure as chairman. Customers come first and then it’s about limiting exposure to creditors,” he said. “The management team has done an amazing job reducing the exposure.”
He added that the timing of the failure meant that he hoped customers booked to cruise with Swan Hellenic or Voyages of Discovery would be able to rebook their holidays with other cruise companies, something the administrator would deal with.
He also explained that Travelphere and Just You had technically ‘failed’ for a few minutes and then been sold onto G Adventures by the administrator yesterday (Tuesday January 3). He said the tours business was profitable.
He said the administrators had several assets to now sell – including the freehold property in Market Harborough, Voyages of Discovery’s Voyager vessel, and other assets including brand names and databases.
Asked what Allard himself would do now, he said: “I am the chairman of Hebridean Island Cruises Ltd and have various other interests in leisure businesses both in and outside of travel. I have been looking to step back for a while – but ideally not in this way. I am personally extremely sad that this has happened.”
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