Trade pays tribute to industry stalwart Roger Heape

The trade has paid tribute to travel industry stalwart and sustainable tourism champion Roger Heape, who has died aged 75.

Heape, chairman of the Travel Foundation from 2008 to 2009, has been described as a ‘great ambassador for travel’ and a ‘huge asset to the industry for several decades’ by those who knew him.

He spent more than 30 years in the tour operating and airline leisure industry in a variety of high-profile roles including as British Airways Holidays managing director, Thomson Holidays commercial director and Intasun Holidays managing director.

Heape studied geography at Cambridge University and his  first job in travel was as a graduate trainee for British European Airways (BEA) in the 1960s before he moved across to jobs at tour operators including Inghams and Thomson Holidays in 1972.

Heape also played a leading role in green initiatives from his days at BA Holidays, where he worked from 1991 until retirement in 2000.

This included work with the Tour Operators’ Study Group – later the Federation of Tour Operators, which developed awards for sustainable tourism – and involvement in BA Holidays’ environmental impact assessments in St Lucia and the Seychelles and discussions about the need for an industry-backed sustainable tourism body. This led to the creation of The Travel Foundation, which he helped set up and became a trustee of.

In 2000, Heape won the coveted Institute of Travel and Tourism Odyssey Award for 1999 following his work in promoting environmental issues and fighting taxes on the industry. He was also awarded the Observer’s award in recognition of his contribution to sustainable tourism in 1998.

In an interview in 2008, after he was appointed chairman of the Travel Foundation, he told Travel Weekly: “There is a danger that tourism can destroy the very things people go to see….Ultimately, success would mean there would be no need for the Travel Foundation. In the shorter term, we need more of the industry to put sustainability at the core of its practice.”

Abta chairman Noel Josephides recalled: “He was larger than life in every way apart from the fact that he towered over everyone else. I watched him as chair [of the Travel Foundation] and learned a great deal.

“He was always firm, got on with the job and always took time to make sure I was well informed when I was to take over the role. I last saw him about 15 years ago looking very relaxed in a cafe in St Paul de Venice in the south of France where he lived and that’s how I remember him. There are not many with that stature left now.”

Described as a ‘gentle giant’ – he was over 6ft tall – he was also remembered for his sense of humour, wearing colourful, odd socks, and for being a ‘great boss’ and ‘real gentleman’ by those who knew and worked for him in the trade.

Sally Balcombe, chief executive, VisitBritain, said: “He was a very special man and much loved by all who worked for him, including me.

“I have never had a better boss, but more importantly he was someone who inspired everyone he came in contact with. Everyone at BA Holidays has such great memories of him, with his great sense of humour, his passions including the environment so ahead of his time, his complete disinterest in convention and authority but his commitment to people and getting to the right answer. The travel industry today is very much formed by his drive and enthusiasms.”

Dermot Blastland, former Tui UK managing director, remembered Heape as a “lovely person, a great boss and friend”.

He said: “He was a member of the pioneering Thomson Holidays Board in the 1970s which was developing and creating the industry that we take for granted today. He was a strategic thinker but as a boss he didn’t micromanage but left you to get on with it . On a personal level he was very engaging and spoke to everyone and was great company outside of work . He leaves behind a lot of people in travel who loved him for being a decent , supportive well-meaning and great individual.”

Blastland also recalled some light-hearted tales from Roger’s time at Thomson Holidays. He said: “Two stories of his days at Thomson make me smile . Firstly, he took his family on a Greek Island Wanderer holiday but didn’t understand you had to pre-book accommodation and thus on the first night his family had to sleep on a beach whilst the local team sorted out accommodation for him . Secondly, he was going to a senior director’s black-tie dinner but couldn’t find his shoes and as he was in a rush turned up wearing his gardening boots!”

Philippa Harris, chair of the Family Holiday Association, who worked with Heape at Thomson and Intasun, said: “I loved working for him. He was the nicest man, always easy to discuss things with and good at getting you thinking of alternative approaches.

“He was so kind – on the day ILG [Intasun parent International Leisure Group] failed he gave me some money to take the staff to the pub – and he had a sense of humour, always sporting a great range of fluorescent socks!”

John de Vial, who recently moved to a role focused on strategy at Abta, worked with Heape at Thomson Holidays, Intasun and on the board of the Travel Foundation.

He said: “Roger was always polite and courteous to all, but could be firm and decisive in a crisis. He was a true leader and mentor, with a genuine interest in the industry’s wider good – both through The Tourism Society and the Travel Foundation.  He felt the same about society more widely and was politically active as well.”

He added: “Roger’s inability to match socks into pairs was legendary – we would often notice he had put on two obviously completely different colours and wondered how he could not notice. A great loss of a very decent man, who will be missed.”

Former Thomas Cook managing director John McEwan said: “I always had high admiration for Roger. He was great company and well respected.”

Heape died on May 4. He was diagnosed with Alzeimher’s three years ago and had recently suffered complications from a bowel operation which led to his death. He leaves wife Jenny, children Suzy and James, daugher-in-law Cate, son-in-law Richard and grandsons Ryan and Luther.

In a joint statement, James, who works as head of sales and partnerships, Australasia, for the travel payments company Conferma Pay, and sister Suzy said : “Our dad was a true gentleman, a gentle giant with a big heart to match. He was thoughtful, caring, daring and fun, a wonderful husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather and someone who always took a genuine interest in others.

“He dedicated his career to travel and tourism and made significant contributions to the advancement of sustainability within the sector, through his work with the Travel Foundation. He was widely regarded as one of the ‘nicest  guys’ in the industry and the breadth and depth of his friendships from within travel are testament to this.

“A lasting memory for us, over the years of travelling as a family together, was that whatever the airport, even in the most remote places across the globe, there would always be a familiar greeting of ‘Hi Roger!’ He stood out from the crowd and seemed to know people wherever we went.”

A charitable donation page has been set up by the funeral directors on the family’s wishes for those who wish to make a donation here


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