Travel Leaders Group UK director Barry Whittaker last night celebrated 50 years in the travel industry with a special event at the Corinthia Hotel in London.

The anniversary dinner was attended by more than 150 of Whittaker’s past and present colleagues, friends and family – though during his speech to the audience, he stressed that 50 years in the industry has led to contacts becoming close friends.

Whittaker starter his career as a junior travel agent at Baldwin’s Travel Agency in Tunbridge Wells at just 15 years old in 1969 – the same year the Concorde made its first test flight from Toulouse. He cites owner Tom Botting as his mentor and friend who introduced him to the world of travel.

Reminiscing about his friendship with Botting, Whittaker said: “Tom Botting not only gave me my first opportunity for a career in travel, but he was also an accomplished pianist and gave me my first ever gig as a drummer with him and his band.”

On his birthday in January 1970, Whittaker travelled on one of the first passenger-carrying B747 jumbo jets with Pan Am Airways between London and JFK. He commented: “I remember the mini-grand piano in the plane’s upstairs lounge and sitting at the bar during the flight. I’m starting to see those glamorous days of flying actually coming back.”

Whittaker went on to open his own agency, Crest Travel, in Paddock Wood, Kent in 1973 when he was just 20. He credits his wife Lynn – who he met during one of his drumming gigs with Botting’s band – for supporting him during their 45 years of marriage ‘through the ups and downs’.

Whittaker also acknowledged Geoffrey Kent, founder of luxury travel agency Abercrombie & Kent, as one of the best leaders he’d had the honour to work with during his career. “I was privileged to sit on the main board of A&K in the UK – I was known affectionately as the barrow boy – sitting alongside ex-students of the royal military academy Sandhurst and public school entrepreneurs. I learned so much from such a great team for which I will always be grateful.”

The Whittaker name will be kept alive in the travel industry by Barry’s youngest son Stephen, who is working as an independent travel advisor with Tzell UK, part of the Travel Leaders Group.

Whittaker said: “What a joy it has been to spend my career in this industry that has given me the chance to travel all over the world while getting to know colleagues and friends around the globe.”

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