Midcounties specialist businesses chief Alistair Rowland is to leave the co-operative at the end of August to join Blue Bay Travel as its new group chief executive.
Rowland, who has been at Midcounties Co-op for nine years and has worked for various co-operatives for the past 30, joins the online travel agent on September 1 with a remit to drive significant growth.
He will continue to serve as Abta chairman in his new role and will remain involved with Midcounties, supporting the co-operative as a non-executive advisor.
Blue Bay Travel’s current chief executive, Stuart Wilson, will take the role of group executive director and will lead on product development and strengthening the business’ deals strategy.
Rowland’s wife, Maxine Rowland, will step down from her position of managing director at Blue Bay after a period of handover and will stay in the business.
Acknowledging that his switch to Blue Bay might be viewed as a “surprise move”, Alistair Rowland said he was keen to return to a role focusing purely on travel.
As Midcounties’ chief retail officer of specialist businesses, his remit covers funerals, pharmacies and childcare as well as travel.
He said the opportunity to develop Blue Bay Travel, which is a member of the Midcounties’ consortium, was a real draw.
“Blue Bay Travel is an exceptional business and one I’ve admired for a long time because of its commitment to personal service, technology and its entrepreneurial leadership,” he said.
“Businesses across the world are facing significant challenges currently, but Blue Bay Travel’s ongoing investment in its products and relationships means it is well-placed to respond to future market demand. I look forward to working with the team to deliver against its growth plans in coming months.”
Private equity investor LDC backed Blue Bay Travel in 2017. The operator has since experienced a period of accelerated growth which has seen turnover more than double, following new product launches and investment in its technology, and online booking capabilities.
Blue Bay Travel’s Wilson added: “To have someone with Alistair’s experience brings a new dimension to our business as Blue Bay Travel looks to the future.
“Alistair is the ideal person to drive the company through its next phase of expansion.
“The track record he brings of scaling business and his deep expertise of the travel industry is second-to-none.
“I look forward to working with him, our colleagues and investors to achieve our growth ambitions.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved in recent years and I’d like to wholeheartedly thank Maxine and the team for steering us through this growth.”
During his tenure at Midcounties, Rowland was responsible for spearheading the rapid expansion of the Co-op travel business, within the independently owned Midcounties Co-operative Society, following the merger of Thomas Cook’s retail operation and Co-operative Travel in 2011.
In this time, the travel business has grown from 35 retail branches and £60 million turnover to 70 shops, 170 independent agents – including Blue Bay Travel as its largest consortium member – and 170 homeworkers with revenues now exceeding £600 million, making it one of the UK’s largest travel retailers.
Phil Ponsonby, Midcounties Co-operative chief executive, said: “I would like to express my deepest thanks to Alistair for his support and contribution over many years.
“He has played a crucial role in the growth of our travel business, which is now the leading travel co-operative in the UK, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with him as he joins one of our key travel consortium partners.”
The Midcounties Co-operative has announced it has recruited Alison Bain as chief marketing officer and Neil Hardy as head of omni-channel development.
Bain is the society’s first ever chief marketing officer and has previously held senior roles at Gallagher Insurance and American Express.
Hardy re-joins the Co-operative Travel after previously leading its ecommerce team for two years before spending the last seven years in director-level digital roles at Icelolly.com and Shearings Holidays.