Richard Bowden-Doyle is a happy man. Thomson’s decision to ‘Tell it like
it is’ has hit home with the punters, securing the tour operator a
market-leading 30% of the million and a half sales on summer 1997
holidays sold so far.
This novel marketing strategy saw Thomson benefit from a blaze of
publicity around the concept of a tour operator being honest about the
holidays it sells.
Earlier this month, Bowden-Doyle also reaped his personal reward, in the
form of a promotion from marketing director to deputy managing director.
His new post includes management of the core beach holiday products in
Thomson’s portfolio and a seat on the Thomson board. It establishes the
fresh-faced 36-year-old as one of the travel industry’s rising stars.
Bowden-Doyle, who cut his marketing teeth at Cadbury, admits to now
being addicted to the highly competitive environment in the travel
‘I couldn’t go back to FMCG after this,’ he says, ‘the pace and the
aggressive nature of the competition is part of the buzz.’
Especially as Bowden-Doyle still has one more competitive weapon up his
sleeve, in which the truth might hurt the opposition.
As a result of Thomson’s decision to publish the results of its customer
survey, Bowden-Doyle has some sizzling information on some hotels which
Thomson recently dropped from its brochure, but which are still used by
These were hotels that just didn’t make the grade and received some very
poor responses from holidaymakers. ‘Were we to make that information
available it would be competitively very powerful,’ he says, ‘but we’re
still working through the implications.’
If the company decides not to go ahead, you sense it will not be Bowden-
Doyle who has lost his nerve.
‘When Richard fixes his eyes on the prize, he doesn’t get deflected from
it,’ says Andrew Robertson, managing director of Abbott Mead Vickers,
who has worked with him in the past. ‘It makes him good fun to work
His nerve has already been tested this year. Thomson’s main rivals
Airtours and First Choice surprised the industry with their decision to
launch their summer 1997 brochures in July. Thomson, which had planned
its launch for August 1, surprisingly chose not to follow suit.
‘We stuck to our guns,’ says Bowden-Doyle. ‘It is deeply uncomfortable
to know that your major competitors are out there selling holidays and
you are not making yours available.’
Bowden-Doyle comes across as a man who likes to speak his mind. His
childhood in Lancashire has given him the cliched northern frankness.
Those who know him remark on his straightforward personality, and he
appears unhindered by false modesty when he talks of his decision to
accept his job at Thomson.
‘The decision was a no-brainer. The marketing director’s job here just
has to be the best job in travel. The only downside was coming back down
south, but it didn’t take me too long to make up my mind.’
Bowden-Doyle’s career began in market research, but his first brand
manager role came in 1985 when he joined Cadbury, working on seasonal
products and creme eggs. Despite a minor blip on his record when he
signed off an order for a quarter of a million promotional egg cups the
day before the Edwina Curry egg scandal, he graduated to group product
manager. From Cadbury he moved into the travel industry via Lunn Poly,
the Thomson-owned retail travel agent.
Now confirmed as a travel industry stalwart, he laughs uneasily at my
idea of the Bowden-Doyle family - he has two children, a two-year-old
and a toddler of ten months - as active users of Thomson’s Superfamilies
He admits that he chooses Thomson holidays but they would usually be the
best of the bunch, other times he opts out of brochure booking and
privately might hire a cottage in France.
‘My wife and I are going on a Thomson holiday to the Caribbean next
month,’ he says, ‘but it’s a bit like working at Cadbury, you get sick
It’s probably unusual for a marketing director to confess that he
doesn’t always opt for his own product. But as Bowden-Doyle has found
out, telling the truth can be a healthy approach.
1983-1985 Market research executive, British Market Research Bureau
1985-1987 Market research executive/market research manager, Gillette
1987-1990 Senior product manager/group product manager, Cadbury
1990-1994 Marketing manager/head of business development/marketing
director, Lunn Poly
1994-present Marketing director, then deputy managing director, Thomson