News

Your Stories: Barrhead Travel’s Roddie MacPhee looks back at his six decades in travel

Sixty years and counting and no plans yet to retire! Barrhead Travel senior manager Roddie MacPhee shares his memories of an industry that has given him a ‘wonderful career’ with Samantha Mayling

Q. How did you get into travel?
A. I wanted to be a professional footballer and our school team was good. We played Barcelona’s youth team in the Nou Camp – and got a draw. But I caught paratyphoid and was in isolation for six weeks. I didn’t play football for a year, so that career came to a crashing end. But I liked geography at school and had a taste of Spain and travel. Aged 17, I saw a job ad and went for it – it was at Scott’s Travel, in Rutherglen, in 1961. I was there for three years and my boss gave me excellent guidance.

I liked geography at school and had a taste of Spain and travel. Aged 17, I saw a job ad and went for it – it was at Scott’s Travel

Q. How did your career develop?
A. I worked for British European Airways (BEA) in Glasgow for 10 years, working on reservations and managing BEA’s Silver Wing Holidays. I travelled lots as I paid 10% of the fare. I could fly to Paris or Berlin for a weekend. The full fare would be £100, which was very expensive in the 1960s. I met AT Mays’ general manager on a Caribbean trip and we got on well, so I moved back to retail with them. I rose from regional manager to marketing director as the chain expanded from about 20 to 400 stores. I worked at Jetset with John Bond for six years, as group head of marketing, and found long-haul tour operating to be fascinating. I also worked for Stewart Travel. Then, 10 years ago, I moved to Barrhead Travel as I’d known [founder] Bill Munro since he started the business.

I rose from regional manager to marketing director as the chain expanded from about 20 to 400 stores

Q. What is your role at Barrhead?
A. The company was expanding quickly and I was busy with store openings. I work two days a week from home, mainly looking at the legal and property side and negotiating with landlords. I scout locations in cities, looking at high street and shopping centre locations. Previous crises fade into the background compared with Covid. In October and November, things were picking up and bookings were increasing, but Omicron was like a cliff edge and we went back to square one. But I hope to see a reasonably good 2022.

In October and November, things were picking up and bookings were increasing, but Omicron was like a cliff edge and we went back to square one

Q. How are you involved with Abta and the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA)?
A. I’m Abta’s Scottish representative and have also served as SPAA president. I remember key industry speakers at SPAA events, such as Sir Colin Marshall of BA and David Crossland of Airtours. I was at the SPAA awards in December, remembering when it was just a lunch with one award. I’ve always felt gratitude to the industry and by supporting the SPAA and Abta I’m giving something back. My proudest enjoyments are hearing about young people I have employed going on to a successful travel career or starting their own travel business.

My proudest enjoyments are hearing about young people I have employed going on to a successful travel career

Q. Where have you travelled?
A. I’ve travelled widely – every place has its own attractions. The most amazing experience was flying on Concorde, three or four times, to New York. My favourite overseas destinations are Vancouver and Majorca, and I’ve had a tour of the White House. But my favourite place is the Outer Hebrides – they’re fantastic. I’ve not been anywhere for the past couple of years, but I play golf twice a week with retired colleagues in Glasgow.

I knew nothing about what was happening until I arrived at the Oswald Street store in Glasgow and saw masses of people

Q. How did Barrhead mark your 60 years in travel?
A. I had thought it would be a little celebration with about 10 of the management team. I knew nothing about what was happening until I arrived at the Oswald Street store in Glasgow and saw masses of people. It was delightful and emotional, and brought back lots of memories as I chatted to people.

The industry has provided me with a wonderful career and memories. I don’t ever recall leaving home and wishing I wasn’t going to work

Q. Any retirement plans?
A. As long as I’m healthy and have the desire, why not continue? Health is wealth. I’ll keep going as long as I’m wanted. The industry has provided me with a wonderful career and memories. I don’t ever recall leaving home and wishing I wasn’t going to work. Some people have been forced out of travel, so we are losing valuable experience; it will be a challenge to replace them. We need new blood in the industry. But travel will come back again.

Q. What are your early memories of booking holidays?
A. There was huge demand for Belgium – Ostend and Blankenberge were major attractions – and Jersey. We did lots of promotions with Wardair of Canada, with a film show, and customers would book on the night. We used phones, pen and paper – a teleprinter was the newest thing. I remember the excitement of the arrival of a fax machine at head office so you didn’t need a courier.

People emigrating to Australia, South Africa and Canada also provided steady business.

We used phones, pen and paper – a teleprinter was the newest thing. I remember the excitement of the arrival of a fax machine at head office

Early package holidays involved travel to the Costas by coach, so an 11 or 12-night holiday gave you seven nights in resort. We were very busy from January to September, then you could put your feet up for three months. Winter holidays hadn’t been thought of. There was big growth in package holidays during the 1970s but then there were also big collapses – Courtline in 1974, Sir Freddie Laker’s Skytrain in 1982 and International Leisure Group in 1991. They led to the protection legislation that changed the face of the industry.

MoreBarrhead’s Roddie MacPhee celebrates 60 years in travel

Share article

View Comments

Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.