Obituary: Harry Goodman, ‘massive risk-taker with real vision’

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The travel tycoon who died this week aged 79, pioneered low-cost holidays in the 1970s and 80s. Amie Keeley looks back at his colourful life

An inspiring but to some a controversial figure in travel, Harry Goodman is credited with pioneering the low-cost package holiday model in the 1970s.

He built International Leisure Group (ILG) to become the UK’s second-largest operator behind Thomson Holidays in the 1980s, but saw his empire crumble in 1991 owing £500 million.

Those who knew Goodman say he lived life on the edge. His daughter Naomi Tolson described him as a “massive risk-taker” but someone with “real vision”.

“He came from nothing so he had nothing to lose,” she said.

Early life

Goodman was born in the East End of London in 1938 to a Latvian Jewish immigrant mother. He never knew his father and was adopted by his mother’s husband.

Aged 11, he was orphaned when his mother died of bowel cancer and his stepfather disappeared.

His two younger half-brothers were sent to an orphanage but Harry was considered too old and lived with family members.

Goodman’s first job was working at his neighbour’s travel agency in Bond Street. After completing National Service, he set up an employment agency but sold it two years later and bought three travel agencies.

First steps

Sunair was Goodman’s first tour operating venture. It sold cheap holidays, but got into financial trouble and was sold to Thomson.

He then set up Intasun, later renamed ILG. The business grew quickly, offering holidays at cheap prices and paying 12.5% commission compared with Thomson’s 10%.

When rival Court Line went bust in 1974, Intasun “cleaned up” the business it left behind.

Goodman had a wheeler-dealer image and was a risk-taker, but he was also shrewd and knew he needed the right people behind him to make the business work.

He employed former Global chief Sidney Perez to run Intasun’s tour operations. Goodman was quoted as saying: “I had a white suit and tousled hair; I was outrageous. We needed a wise old head and a trusted name in the industry.”

Intasun grew by acquisition, taking over regional package operators such as Cambrian, which ran flights out of Cardiff, and Airways, which flew out of Newcastle. Goodman then set up Air Europe, a forerunner to the modern low-cost airlines. At the time only Thomson and Cosmos had their own airlines. Intasun was floated on the stock exchange in 1981, valued at £44 million.

It was renamed ILG in 1985 and enjoyed phenomenal growth, snapping up Global, Club 18-30 and Lancaster. By the late 1980s it was taking more than two million people on holiday each year.

ILG collapse

However, in 1991 ILG collapsed in what was then travel’s biggest-ever failure. Goodman blamed the first Gulf war and downturn in tourism.
He went on to co-found TV Travel Shop with Dennis Strauss. He sold it to broadcaster USA Networks in 2002, reportedly pocketing £4.2 million.

His last major venture was as chief executive of the parent of cruise retailers 1st4cruising and Voyana, which went into liquidation in 2012.

Leicester-based Total Travel Leisure Holdings collapsed a year after Totally Travel, which previously owned 1st4cruising, entered administration.

Goodman was a mentor to the likes of former Tui and Thomas Cook bosses Peter Long and Manny Fontenla-Novoa, who worked for him during the ILG days when his “lavish, millionaire lifestyle” prompted tabloid headlines.

In recent years, Goodman had a series of health problems including heart and lung disease, as well as diabetes, and in 2007 he suffered a heart attack.

Goodman, who was married three times, died of a second heart attack on Monday while sitting by a pool on holiday with friends in Tenerife. He leaves behind his wife Yvonne and children Naomi, Debra and Jonathan.

MoreTributes paid to Harry Goodman

Comment: Harry Goodman’s legacy will live on

Harry Goodman’s career in brief

Born 12 November 1938
1962 founded Sunair Holidays
1970 founded Intasun
1985 Intasun renamed International Leisure Group
1991 ILG collapses
1998 launches TV Travel Shop
2002 sells TV Travel Shop
2005 sets up Totally Travel Total Travel Leisure Holdings acquires assets of Totally Travel
2007 suffers heart attack

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