Taking up the top job at a burgeoning travel business would be no mean feat at the best of times. Throw in a global pandemic and a side-role as Abta chair and you’ve got a mammoth task on your hands.
Yet OTA Blue Bay Travel’s new group chief executive Alistair Rowland seems cool, calm and collected when he joins me on Zoom from his Stoke-based offices, resolute in his aim to double the size of the business by 2023 – in terms of both turnover and HQ headcount (to 200).
Many in the industry will know Rowland for his role as chief retail officer at Midcounties Co-operative (whose travel arm comprises high street agencies, the Co-op Travel Consortium and The Personal Travel Agents at Co-operative Travel), where he had been for nine years. But his role there spanned pharmacies, funeral care and nurseries too, and Rowland was ready to “just run a travel business exceptionally well”.
Blue Bay, which trades as Caribbean Warehouse, Tropical Warehouse and Xclusivity online, is Midcounties’ largest consortium member, and Rowland remains a non-executive advisor for the co-operative. His wife, Maxine, has “happily stepped down” as managing director at Blue Bay to spend more time with family, but remains a commercial advisor, while Blue Bay’s former chief executive Stuart Wilson has taken the role of group executive director.
“At Midcounties we took a business that was about £50 million [turnover] and, when I left, it was about £650million,” says Rowland. “I had a wide remit, but really my heart was in the travel business. So my move here is to run a travel business very well while still having a presence in Co-op.