Dnata Travel Europe chief executive John Bevan charts his journey from French hoteliers, through the dotcom landscape to taking the helm at one of Europe’s largest travel companies
An advert that came across my dad’s desk ended up leading to my first job. I was at business school in France and wanted to go into the hotel and catering industry. He showed me an advert for a UK sales rep at French hotel chain Campanile and I got it. I met with coach operators and tour operators in the UK telling them why they should stop off at our hotels. I was with the company for 11 years and my role expanded globally.
I decided to move from hotels into tour operating. I moved back to the UK and got a job with DrivelineEurope, which sold self- drive holidays to France. I was there for about a year before I set up an online business with a friend called bookthat.com, which aggregated villas for rental.
The dotcom bubble burst and we struggled to get funding for the business. We tried to sell it to publisher Emap, where I started working instead. Three months in they decided to exit and asked me to sell the travel websites including bargainholidays.com. I ended up selling them to Online Travel Corporation (OTC) – a white-labelling site that powered the likes of The Guardian and one of the first to do dynamic packaging. OTC acquired a few other businesses such as allhotels.com and was then acquired by lastminute.com, where I became managing director.
I like working with a team. I left lastminute.com in 2008 and did a year of consulting, but I didn’t like working on my own. A guy looking to set up Voyage Prive approached me and the flash-sale model was new to me, so I thought I’d give it a go. I built up the business over the course of three years and, when I left, it had 1.2 million members and turned over £17 million.
Going to Spafinder Wellness was the bravest career decision I made. It was an unknown company started by an entrepreneur in fields I knew little about – gift cards and spa. Looking back, though, I didn’t think twice about it – I liked the interview process and the people. I had a hunch it was something I should do.
Moving into the B2B side of travel really excited me. At lastminute.com you always heard about the “end of the travel agent”, but I was watching the offline world and saw that while some of the bigger players were struggling, the smaller independent agencies were doing really well. So I was really excited in my first few months to get out and meet them. Dnata is the most exciting role I’ve had because of the outlook of the company, the fact it’s ever changing, the range of businesses it incorporates and the people I’ve met so far.
Honesty and fairness are so important. Now that I’m in a situation where there is rebuilding and restructuring to do, I have to do it as pragmatically as possible and it has to be fair.
Meet your suppliers in their own environment. It’s a piece of advice one of my first marketing directors gave me when I was looking for a printer. At the time there were a lot of subcontractors and I asked the one I was speaking to if I could go to see the printing press for myself. He ended up admitting that he was, in fact, a middle man. I’ve used that advice quite a bit when dealing with suppliers. It’s important to get a feel for what the people you are working with are actually like.
My wife is my work/life balance referee. If it wasn’t for her I’d probably end up working 24/7. She’s understanding if I have to catch up on a few bits on holiday for example, but she’ll say: “Come on – you’ve got to take a step away from it now.”
I never worry about the future. I lost my first wife in a car accident when I was 30. Since then I’ve rationalised things by thinking that you can’t worry about what the future holds, but make the best of every day.
My big dream was becoming a fighter pilot. I had to wear glasses quite young, though, and I was probably too lazy at school. I did get into motorbikes about the age of 30 – that’s probably the nearest I got. That and drift diving.