Family-run agency The Travel Village Group marked its 60th anniversary with an emotional bash celebrating the company’s history and the enduring camaraderie of staff past and present in its hometown of Blackpool.
The business – which operates The Cruise Village, The Holiday Village and Rivercruising.co.uk brands – welcomed around 500 guests from across the industry, as well as current and past employees and longstanding customers, to the town’s Tower Ballroom.
First opened as Bourne Travel in 1959 by Eric Bourne and his wife, Lena, the agency is currently under the leadership of their grandson, Phil Nuttall, whose own daughter, Jess, has now become the fourth generation of the family to be involved in its success.
Nuttall opened the night with a highly emotional speech recounting the company’s origins and its evolution over the years.
“To the travel industry – you are incredible supporters of our business and we will continue to work hard for you,” he said.
From its humble beginnings as a post office selling coach trips, Bourne gained an Abta licence and grew to become a significant force in the package holiday market.
“Eric gained a reputation as being the person you needed to know if you wanted to get away to the sun,” said Nuttall of his grandfather. “He was incredibly proud of his business and his family and he will always be Eric Bourne – Bourne Travel.”
A tourism boom to Blackpool during the 1970s “provided the perfect storm for Eric”, Nuttall recalled, as locals became richer. By the 1980s, it had become Thomson Holidays’ top-selling independent agent nationwide for its winter programme.
When the Gulf war hit the market in the early 90s, the company developed its coach tours business. “It was entrepreneurship at its best and thousands of new customers were ringing up,” Nuttall told the audience.
During the evening, a number of major contributors to the agency’s success were commended and celebrated. Nuttall recounted one such story in the lead-up to the failure of International Leisure Group in 1991, singling out industry veteran Trevor Davis, who was in attendance, for his efforts.
At the time Davis, Bourne’s account manager at ILG, advised Nuttall’s parents not to pay off their credit account with the company as he knew ILG was facing failure.
“To this day our family will be forever indebted to Trevor, who made the call on 7 March, 1991, and told mum: ‘don’t send the cheque, we are going to go’.
“Trevor, it gives me great pleasure to tell this story and thanks for looking after our business – you are a true gentleman.”
At the dawn of a new millennium, Nuttall opened Save and Sail, the UK’s first cruise-only specialist retail agency. “I realised my dream of having my own business, one that just sold cruises,” said Nuttall. “It was a risk, like grandad when he set the business up, but I knew there was a future in ships and I had a burning passion to work in this incredible industry.”
Moreover, Nuttall pre-empted the surging popularity of river cruise holidays, purchasing the rivercruising.co.uk domain from a private owner for £1,500. “I just knew it was going to be the next big thing,” he said.
Bringing his address to a close, Nuttall added: “As we move into a new decade, we as a travel industry haven’t lost everything Eric stood for: vision, passion, resilience, loyalty and an openness to new ideas and new trends.
“But most of all, Eric made sure his customers were the most important people in his business. Thank you all for supporting my business and my incredibly talented team.”