PROFILE: Setting the pace - Chris Mottershead, managing director, TUI UK

Chris Mottershead is the man who intends to make the package holiday sexy again. The boss of some of Britain's best-known holiday brands, including Thomson and Lunn Poly, wants to shake off the charter holiday's association with 70s kitsch and stomach bug complaints on Watchdog.

"Some people have been moving away from package holidays, thinking they're getting above all that, or they want something different. But I want to let them know that our product is better than ever and we're providing something modern and inventive," he says.

The gregarious Welshman has already admitted that the package holiday needs a 'makeover' (Marketing, October 24) and this week put his money where his mouth is by signing up Changing Rooms' Linda Barker and Food and Drink's Jilly Goolden to give Thomson's cruise holidays an "interiors and wine" overhaul.

"Some people think we're out of date, so we're linking our holidays with other aspects of modern life," explains Mottershead. "The sponsorship of Tottenham Hotspur this season was our toe in the water and you will see further associations with football, fashion and even music."

Underlying this reinvention, is a burning desire to find new ways of expanding TUI UK's business. It's a tough call at a time when the charter market is suffering from fears of international terrorism and the emergence of low-cost airlines. And Mottershead realises the key to growth will be in developing attractive new destinations - "finding the next Ibiza".

"When I arrived at this company in January there were no maps in the office - can you believe that?" he asks, sitting underneath a very large map indeed.

He points out that Thomson enjoyed years of dominance with its strength in Spain and other 'safe' destinations. But his former employer Airtours (MyTravel) overtook it as the biggest operator a couple of years back, partly due to the latter's enterprise in developing edgier destinations such as Turkey and Tunisia.

His determination to break into politically sensitive markets is an interesting one given a climate in which holidaymakers are decidedly wary about travelling at all.

Mottershead's confidence in beating the odds stems from an early manufacturing career that pitted him against bolshy Welsh unions and a turbulent 13 years in the travel industry beginning with a spell as finance director of small operator Aspro.

"My arrival at a company specialising in Cyprus coincided with the Gulf War, so I know all about managing a crisis," he says. Aspro flourished and was eventually snapped up by Airtours.

"Thomson became complacent," insists Mottershead. "It needs to be more aggressive and to take more risks."

He recognises the irony in calling for risk-taking at a time when Thomson's main competitor, MyTravel, is on the brink of collapse due to overly aggressive practices, and counters: "Of course it has to be calculated. You have to have a tight grip on the risks people are taking in the organisation."

Having completed a year at the head of TUI UK, Mottershead has clearly had time to cement his views on what he likes, and dislikes, about the way Thomson has been handled in recent years.

He takes a poorly-disguised swipe at his predecessor Shaun Powell - a marketer by trade - who was shifted sideways to manage the Spanish market last year. "If you haven't actually been a tour operator, you'll rely on others. If you're going to lead an organisation, you should have an understanding of the business and be able to pull the right levers at the right time," he says.

And he is scathing about the 'price of a curry' and 'period drama' campaigns developed by former ad agency HHCL and Partners. "Of course you need to stand out, but you can't just ask people to pay £20 more because of your name."

Mottershead is quick to point out that he is "not a marketer", but is clearly stimulated by this area of the business. His current priority, as the industry enters the busiest trading period of the year, is how to "get the biggest share of the noise" in the post-Christmas holiday-booking frenzy.

This shouldn't be too hard with a £6m marketing assault that breaks on Christmas Day, while MyTravel is currently obsessed with cutting costs.

But it won't all be that easy for Mottershead.

German leisure giant TUI bought Thomson Travel Group two years ago with the promise that its directors would continue to grow profits. In this quest Mottershead will stand or fall.

"Chris has one of the most pressurised jobs in travel," says Seamus Conlon, a deputy to Mottershead at Airtours and new managing director at TV Travel Shop. "But he's one of the best tour operators and most rounded business people in the industry. He's a pace-setter."

Mottershead will need all of his experience and exuberance in the months head. Because if he fails to hit targets the TUI board could yet make Welsh unionists look like pussycats.

BIOGRAPHY

1980-1990: Accountant, manufacturing companies including Wales Gas

1990-1993: Finance director, Aspro Travel, Cardiff

1993-2001: Finance director to managing director, Airtours Holidays,

then CEO of Airtours' US operation

2001-present: Managing director, TUI UK

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