Hugh Morgan started life as a holiday rep on the Costa Brava - almost 50 years on, the Kent businessman has been honoured.
Hugh Morgan’s face was a pink as a stick of Brighton rock at the Globe Travel Awards.
He sat listening to the introduction of how the winner was born in 1947 and had started his career overseas.
Hugh thought ‘they’re the same age as me, they started out like me, that’s interesting’ and gradually the peseta began to drop.
Hugh, 66, from Tunbridge Wells, said: “I don’t usually blush but I was completely taken aback. It was a very pleasant surprise!”
The Globe award, presented by comedian James Corden, was so big that when Hugh carried it back on the train to his Bromley office, a woman stopped to ask what on earth he had won and took a photo.
“I couldn’t stop smiling,” said Hugh, whose sense of enthusiasm for the travel business is as fresh as when he fell into a rep’s job while holidaying on the Costa Brava.
Since then he worked his way through to director level at Intasun, Thomas Cook and Sunset Holidays. He joined Cosmos as overseas purchasing and operations director in 2002 and was appointed chairman of Monarch Travel Group last year.
Hugh has surfed on a wave of travel-business knocks and opportunities for decades; recessions, the Gulf Crisis, 9/11, the ash crisis – and is now seeing everything go full-circle with a renaissance in package tours.
He said: “Package holidays are not the same as in the 70s when you could only fly out on a seven-night or 14-night holiday.
“Now there is flexibility.
“You can fly out when you want, whether it’s for a long weekend or as long as you like, short or long haul, there so many choices. We have reps in some hotels and at others we have a virtual concierge for clients just like a point of contact if there is a problem.”
He has also realised that whenever there has been a global travel glitch, many people return to default destinations, particularly Spain.
Hugh, who is fluent in Spanish, said: “Majorca, my favourite destination, has got everything.
Whether it’s golf, walking, cycling, sea and sunshine - Spain still has so much to offer.
“The ash crisis was terrible for the industry but it also brought home the fact that tour operators like Cosmos and Monarch got their passengers home. Thousands were stranded because they had booked dynamic packages not covered by the Package Travel Directive.
“There were agents who had been ‘packaging’ Dynamic Product, hotels and flights with no transfers or reps on the ground, so as soon as there was a crisis nobody was taking responsibility.”
Hugh, an ABTA board member, has a clear view on Monarch’s business: “We put safety first, we offer exceptional value at quality hotels, we have family values and treat people like we want to be treated.
“It’s simple. Passengers vote with their feet.
“If I go to a restaurant and get a poor meal, I might not say anything but I will not return. I want value for money and when things go wrong I want an answer.
“We strive to do all of this and sometimes have to say ‘you are right, you did not get what we promised, here’s your money back’.”
The group made a loss in 2009 and the owners of the family-run parent group, Globus Travel, injected millions of pounds to shore up and restructure the business.
Hugh said: “We had an aviation division, an engineering division and tour operations all working pretty much separately – we now function as a group with a £1bn turnover.
In the last three years we have had growth in Croatia, Italy and Greece.
Globus sister company also owns Avalon Waterways and its river cruises are 89% booked for 2014, attracting UK, US and Australian guests.
Monarch Travel Group (MTG) has also spent heavily on rebranding and creating a strong digital presence, from advertising to social media. A new Travelbox digital booking system has also streamlined the reservations side of the business.
For Hugh, it’s long way from Viva Espana! in 1970s Lloret de Mar, where there were no phones.
He said: “If I needed to contact someone it was a 13-mile journey to the local exchange.
Even then you would have to book the call, return the next day and wait another hour and a half.
“If a plane was delayed I would have no idea what was happening so my main job was to keep the coach driver awake while we waited for passengers to arrive. Fog was a nightmare!”
It was a travel crisis that took Hugh’s career to another level. When Clarksons went bust in 1974, thousands of passengers were stranded.
Intasun boss Harry Goodman saw his opportunity and pounced. He told Hugh to ‘buy up beds’ in Majorca, so the young rep strolled into 500-bed hotels such as Pollensa Park and offered them 250 pesetas a night with the promise of filling the hotel.
Hugh said: “That was my introduction into buying. We did that everywhere and that’s how Harry worked. Intasun became one of the big names in travel, almost overnight.
“I returned to the UK as overseas director. These were heady days – Harry would drive about in a yellow Rolls-Royce convertible and he kept on buying - Club 18-30, Global Holidays...”
Hugh combined his ‘out-in-the-field’ knowledge with a business acumen acquired from the ‘bright stars’ at ILG, the parent company of Intasun and Air Europe.
He said: “At the board meetings I learned so much from everyone – Harry, Peter Long (now Tui travel chief), Peter Woodward, Hugh Parry and Roger Heap to name but a few.
“I headed up Global Holidays and loved every minute until the next crisis struck, the Gulf War in 1991. ILG was just one of the victims and went into receivership.”
Hugh, who is married to Ann and has two children Leigh and Esme, was devastated at the news of his redundancy. He said: “It was a shock, a real shock, to be called in to hear I was being ‘let go’. Intasun had been like a family. I had grown up with the firm.
“I got a pay-out and all of us from the ILG management arena were out there looking for a new life in the travel business - and we all found it.
Travel was in our blood. ILG was a breeding ground, almost a bear pit, for people who wanted to make travel big business.”
Travel may be in Hugh’s blood and like that stick of rock the letters MAJORCA probably run through him.
Hugh’s hot tips for 2014-15
Croatia, Italy and Greece
Flexible Dynamic Packaging
Launch of Avalon Poetry