Big Interview: Lisa McAuley, managing director B2B tour operations dnata Travel Europe

Big Interview: Lisa McAuley, managing director B2B tour operations dnata Travel Europe

The dnata Travel brands’ new managing director tells Lucy Huxley about plans for growth in the touring, cruise and luxury sectors

Starting her job “right in the deep end” of peaks was the “best thing that could have happened”, according to Lisa McAuley.

Gold Medal and Travel 2’s new managing director joined on January 9 from Silversea where she was UK boss for three years.

“If I’d started in December it would have been a bit of a lull, but starting in a business-critical period has been fantastic,” McAuley says.

“I had a one-hour show around the office, then it was straight into a trading meeting. I started right in the deep end from a peaks perspective, but it was the best thing that could have happened.”

Fortunately, both brands have had a “phenomenal” start to the year. “The benefit that brings is that I haven’t had to make any rash decisions trying to fix things,” says McAuley. “I’ve had time to breathe.”

But now, eight weeks in, McAuley says she has identified some “gaps and opportunities” in the business.


“From a product perspective, we have breadth and depth of product unlike anybody else. But we under-index in certain areas – such as touring, cruise and luxury,” McAuley says.

She adds that “all three of these specialist areas are showing good growth”, revealing that sales in January were up by 20% for Pure Luxury, 24% for Travel 2’s escorted and independent tours, 23% for rail and 32% for Travel 2’s Cruise and Stay programme, compared with January 2017.

“A lot of that growth comes from the wider product range on sale this year, but a lot is demand – consumers are after experiential holidays,” she says.

“These are front of mind for customers currently.”

McAuley reveals she is looking for a marketing director to work with sales director Nick Hughes, who joined at the end of 2017 from Attraction World.

Previously, the role had been a combined sales and marketing brief, but McAuley believes agents and the individual brands will be supported better by a dedicated resource who will help drive “an evolution of the brands”.


With her recent background in luxury cruising, McAuley believes there is opportunity to grow both an upper scale and a value luxury proposition.

Gold Medal currently has its subsidiary brand, Pure Luxury, with a concierge service, while Travel 2 has Simply Luxury.

“There’s an opportunity to expand the product, the knowledge and the fan base,” she says. “Coming from the ultra-luxury segment, I see opportunities to expand and improve our engagement with true luxury agents because there’s a segment of the agent community that operates in the high-net-worth marketplace that would not consider Pure Luxury or Simply Luxury for their clients. I understand why and we have some work to do, like adding private jets and more luxury cruise lines etc.”


McAuley says Travel 2’s cruise product is also ripe for growth. “We are experts in cruise and stay. We pre-package loads of cruises with tours, but it’s just a fraction of what we can do, with access to 140 airlines and tens of thousands of hotels around the world.

“But we need to educate agents better in terms of what we offer, which is why we are in talks about working more closely with Clia. I’ve been on the Clia board so I know what a great job they do. I want to recruit six more staff for our cruise reservations team, plus I want agents to understand what we do and how we can help them.”

McAuley revealed that Travel 2 would be segmenting its cruise range into two brochures: one mainstream, and one covering luxury, river and expedition cruising. Both are due in May.


McAuley is also keen to grow Travel 2’s touring business. She says it operates as a separate division within the operator, with a standalone product manager and brochure, featuring its own tours and those of operators such as AAT Kings, APT, Collette, Insight Vacations, Trafalgar and Belmond.

She believes Travel 2’s proposition is strong due to its relationship with airlines and the range of its ground product – there are 37 new tours in the 2018 brochure, meaning three-quarters of Travel 2’s touring product is new this year. That, coupled with the fact it is trade-only, ought to see more agents supporting it, according to McAuley.

She also plans wider agent distribution of Travel 2’s ‘Little Book of Incredible Journeys’ mini brochure of bucket list tours, and has applied for the operator to join the Association of Touring & Adventure Suppliers (Atas), which was set up in April 2017 and held its first conference in September.

“I honestly don’t think I’ve seen such a buzz around an event or conference in its inaugural year. Atas has really struck a chord with agents and we want to be part of that,” McAuley says.


McAuley revealed a new “multimillion-pound telephony and CRM system” was being installed across both brands and would be live in one by June or July and in both by the end of the year.

“It’s to help us target the agent community better with the right products for their individual customers. Not all agents sell everything, so we need to be more bespoke in how we target all our trade partners.”

McAuley says she still finds herself thinking like a travel agent, despite it being over 20 years since she worked at Lunn Poly. She said this background, and other parts of her career, have given her a good grounding for her new role.

“I spent 16 years in car rental for Avis. You have to nail the communication side of the business there because it’s all volume and low margins and very fast-paced. Margins are critical here too, so in terms of that element I’ve come back home.”

McAuley says she feels “incredibly comfortable” working in a B2B environment.

“The network you build up over time in this industry plays a massive part,” she says.

And from next week, McAuley plans to start meetings with trade partners. “I’ve spent my first few weeks understanding as much as possible about the internal workings of the business, and have sat with members of the team, listening to them taking calls from agents,” she says. “Now it’s time to go out and meet them.”

More: Travel 2 and Gold Medal boss: ‘No sense in merging brands’

60 seconds with Lisa McAuley

Q. Where are you most ‘at home’ when abroad?
A. At my brother’s place in Portland, Oregon.

Q. What’s the best advice you have ever received?
A. You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind.

Q. What was the last book that you read?
A. Losing My Virginity, Richard Branson’s biography.

Q. Do you prefer a night in or a night out?
A. Depends where and who with!

Q. What did you want to do as a career when you were young?
A. Prime minister, war correspondent or UN diplomat. Couldn’t decide…

Q. What is your favourite film?
A. The Godfather trilogy.

Q. What is your most-prized possession?
A. My daughter – if she counts as a possession.

Q. Favourite thing to do at the weekend?
A. Walking in the Peak District followed by a pub lunch.

Q. Favourite TV show?
A. House of Cards.

Q. Do you have any pets?
A. A cat called Dick. He had a brother called Dom, just to put that in to context.


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