He’s in the ‘best busi­ness in the world’ fight­ing for re­gion’s tourism

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - The Long Read -

Mar­tin Free­man meets the man with the task of cre­at­ing fan­tas­tic mem­o­ries, tourism lob­by­ist and hol­i­day busi­ness owner Alis­tair Handy­side MBE

IF you didn’t know what Alis­tair Handy­side does, you’d ex­am­ine his per­son­al­ity for clues and be a lit­tle con­fused in this game of What’s My Line?

There’s the wel­com­ing, avun­cu­lar side that makes him ideal com­pany, the type of char­ac­ter who can get on with any­body. A hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try pro­fes­sional, per­haps?

Then there’s the blunt, no-non­sense side, of some­body who can an­a­lyse a busi­ness prob­lem and point you to­wards a profit. Ah, he’s the boss of a multi-mil­lion-pound turnover com­pany, then?

And there’s the side that com­bines both of the above, that could talk a Labrador into a re­triever and have you con­vinced there’s no finer dog in the world.

Right three times over – all are on his CV. He built up a com­pany from scratch into a £100 mil­lion en­ter­prise and went on to be the com­mer­cial di­rec­tor of the even big­ger fish that bought the busi­ness out.

And then he chucked in a life in the fast lane – al­most lit­er­ally; home in Northamp­ton­shire was a stone’s throw from Sil­ver­stone rac­ing cir­cuit – for one down a long and bumpy track where he and his wife Lorna run an award-win­ning self-ca­ter­ing hol­i­day home busi­ness in Devon.

The un­paid day and night (week­ends too) job is as chair of South West Tourism Al­liance, the lob­by­ing body for the sec­tor. He is also a di­rec­tor of the na­tional Tourism Al­liance and is a past chair­man of the South West Coast Path.

His tire­less work for the sec­tor was re­warded with an MBE in the Queen’s Birth­day Hon­ours this year.

The Devon move was a re­turn home to the West Coun­try. He grew up in Bath and his first job was in Bris­tol. “I sold fish fin­gers for Ross Foods. I be­came…” says Mr Handy­side, 61, paus­ing for ef­fect, then, adding with a big grin, “se­nior sales trainer – just train­ing peo­ple to sell fish fin­gers.”

Later he re­alised that soft­ware bought in the United States could be sold at a tidy profit in the UK, and a tiny mail-or­der com­pany was built into a £100 mil­lion op­er­a­tion that was swal­lowed up by a US multi-bil­lion-pound con­cern, In­gram Mi­cro.

Five years with the lat­ter took his to­tal in cor­po­rate IT to a to­tal of 20 and a sense of the need to move on.

Feel­ing un­set­tled as they were spend­ing a lot of time in Devon vis­it­ing rel­a­tives, they de­cided to make the move full-time and hit on the idea of a hol­i­day busi­ness.

“Every­body who lives near Sil­ver­stone lets their house out when the rac­ing is on. We knew from that we didn’t mind hav­ing strangers in our bed­rooms, so we looked for an old farm to buy.”

They found Higher Wiscombe, near Beer: no longer a work­ing farm, with a house that badly needed ren­o­vat­ing and run­down barns. Af­ter a pa­tient 18 months wait­ing for con­sent, they threw them­selves into the job.

The first of many awards fol­lowed: the South West’s best self-ca­ter­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion in 2006 and a VisitEng­land gold the next year. “The ef­fect of putting that on our web­site was trans­for­ma­tional.”

Trans­for­ma­tional for Mr Handy­side, too. The likes of South West Tourism had been so sup­port­ive that he was de­ter­mined to give some­thing back. When the pub­licly-funded body went the way of the South

My job is cre­at­ing great mem­o­ries for peo­ple – what

a fan­tas­tic job de­scrip­tion – and hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with some of the most in­ter­est­ing peo­ple you could meet


West Re­gional Devel­op­ment Agency – scrapped by the Coali­tion gov­ern­ment in 2012 – he stayed on to en­sure a man­aged wind-down of the com­pany.

In its place came the tourism al­liance, a lob­by­ing body with no bud­get for pro­mo­tion or staff. “That means I am lis­tened to prop­erly in gov­ern­ment in Lon­don: I’m not just an­other paid lob­by­ist.”

Hot top­ics in­clude fight­ing for a fair play­ing field against the on­line agen­cies, such as Airbnb, to en­sure that any­body of­fer­ing ac­com­moda- tion through them is “safe and le­gal”.

“I have noth­ing against Airbnb. I use Airbnb,” he says.

“The prob­lem is that any­body with a smart­phone can go on and list their home.

“They are not in­spected. Their gas equip­ment does not have to be checked. Their in­sur­ance will be in­valid if they haven’t told the com­pany, and they will be break­ing the terms of their mort­gage if they haven’t told their provider.”

Se­cur­ing the back­ing of an all-party par­lia­men­tary group for that move

Alis­tair Handy­side in lob­by­ing mode

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