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NEWS INTERVIEW


I


’ve never been political”, grins [arguably] travel’s most vocal political pundit. Giles Hawke’s Twitter followers would likely beg to differ. As his “pro Europe, not unicorns” emoji-filled Twitter handle suggests, Hawke is not a fan of the B-word. We’re sat on a sunny terrace near


London’s South Bank. It’s mid summer. Boris Johnson has not yet shocked the UK with his decision to suspend parliament but the Cosmos and Avalon Waterways chief executive believes Brexit – deal or no deal – is one of the greatest threats facing the travel industry. Hawke has a personal reason for his support of


the EU. “I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had without that freedom of movement; that freedom of being able to work somewhere else,” he says simply. “I’ve lived and worked in France for a big chunk of my career, I worked in Austria, I even studied in France for part of my degree.” I can’t help but ask if this (as Nigel Farage


and co might suggest) is a classic case of the EU benefiting the metropolitan elite. Hawke laughs. “I grew up on an estate in an ex-council house, single-parent family on free school meals. “I wasn’t born into any kind of privilege but I had an opportunity through education, which anyone can get, to apply for a European Study Grant to study in another country.” It was this that ultimately shaped Hawke’s


career. His time in France led to a love of travel, and the day after he completed his final exam for his French and business studies degree at Lancashire polytechnic, Hawke jumped on a plane to Chamonix where he spent the following five months working as a night porter. “I had no idea what I wanted to do, I just wanted to do something practical,” he explains.


SLOPING OFF He returned to France a year later on a family skiing holiday – only his second time skiing – where, after watching a ski rep, he decided “that looks like fun”. “I reckoned I could do a better job than him,” he


says. Hawke applied for a job and interviewed at Crystal Ski, where he laughingly admits to telling a whopper. “I lied and said I’d done 10 weeks’ skiing. I thought: ‘Sure, I can get down a hill’.” Luckily for Hawke, his fib worked. He was


offered a placement as a resort rep at Les Deux Alpes. “I thought: ‘I’ll do a fun season, and then I’ll work out what I want to do with my life’.” Instead, Hawke fell in love with the seasonal life and ended up working ski seasons in France for eight winters (the summers were spent in Austria as a lakes and mountains resort rep and later,


“I stand by discounting. It was the right thing to do in that business, at that time”


ABOVE: Hawke worked in Chamonix after he finished his degree


back in the UK, in recruitment for Crystal). Hawke continued to climb the career ladder, eventually becoming the operator’s general manager for France and Switzerland. During this time he also met his now wife,


after interviewing her for a rep role when he was contracts manager. They have been married for 17 years. “I think everyone should interview their partner,” he grins.


CRUISE BOOM In 2001, Hawke returned to the UK and joined tour operator High Life Breaks – later bought by Super Break – where he stayed for a year before being approached about a job as head of sales at P&O Cruises, Princess and Ocean Village. “I’d never cruised before – I don’t think I’d ever even seen a cruise ship let alone been on one,” he says. At the time, most British consumers felt the same. But unbeknownst to Hawke, cruising was about to experience a boom. “I wasn’t aware of the scale of growth that was to come,” he admits. “I just thought the job looked appealing.” Hawke looks back on his 11 years in the role with fondness. Ocean Village was gearing up to launch – “the strapline was ‘the cruise for people that don’t do cruises’ – and agents loved it” says Hawke, “as did everyone who worked in the business”. Alas, Ocean Village faced competition from its new sister line Carnival Cruise Line (Carnival bought P&O Cruises, Princess and Ocean Village within six months of Hawke joining) and despite its success the decision was taken that more money could be made elsewhere. The brand was closed in 2008. “I was sad,” Hawke reflects. “Everyone who


worked on the line was. We had invested a huge amount of time, energy and passion in it. But it was a business decision.” Instead, Hawke focused on the three core brands of P&O, Princess and Cunard, which continued to grow as Brits’ appetite for cruising increased. Something else was also growing in parallel to this, though – discounting. “I know what you’re going to ask,” Hawke cuts in with a wry smile. “And I stand by it. It was the right thing to do in that business, at that time.” He is talking of the now infamous commission cuts of 2011, which saw Carnival hit back against “the big boys” that used their commission to undercut smaller competing agents. Hawke introduced swingeing cuts, slashing commission on P&O, Princess and Cunard cruises to 5% – a move that sent shockwaves through the industry, and prompted several other lines to follow suit. “The big boys were just giving their commission


away. We kept hearing from smaller agents they couldn’t afford to sell P&O as they couldn’t


09.09.2019 TRAVEL TRADE GAZETTE 25


Photography: BillyPix


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