Bosses at collapsed Swan Hellenic cruise firm paid themselves nearly £1m

About 400 holidaymakers have been left in chaos abroad after the troubled business, which counted former P&O chairman Lord Sterling as its second-biggest shareholder, ceased trading on Wednesday, reports The Telegraph.

Grant Thornton has been appointed administrator to the Market Harborough-based firm, which operated the Minerva vessel under the Swan Hellenic brand name and Voyager under the Voyages of Discovery brand. Both operations, which employed 150 staff, have been shut down.

However, its Hebridean Island Cruises subsidiary, the operator of the luxury Hebridean Princess ship that was twice chartered by the Queen for holidays, has been kept afloat after Roger Allard, All Leisure’s chairman and majority shareholder, orchestrated a deal to sell the business to a group of investors last month. Mr Allard has been installed as the chairman of the Hebridean Princess’ new owner.

Meanwhile, All Leisure’s profitable tour holiday brands, Travelsphere and Just You, have been sold by Grant Thornton to Canadian business G Adventures, saving 200 jobs and protecting the bookings and holidays of more than 13,500 passengers.

“The cruise operations have been significantly loss making over a number of years and the ongoing cost of funding by the tours operations has created significant cash issues for the entire group,” said Eddie Williams, of Grant Thornton.

According to All Leisure’s last set of accounts for the year to the end of October 2015, its cruise division suffered an annual operating loss of £2.6m on revenues of £61.1m. Thanks to its profitable tours business and a tax credit, it generated an overall net profit of £543,000.

At the same time, however, seven members of its management team and non-executive directors paid themselves a total of £920,000. Mr Allard alone was paid £301,000 and chief executive Ian Smith received £313,000.

The company’s two main cruise brands focused on historical and cultural destinations in the eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea and North Africa. However, demand to travel to those regions has been hit by the rise of terrorism and geo-political turmoil.

Like other travel companies, All Leisure was more recently rattled by the vote to leave the EU in June, which sent the pound tumbling and piled further pressure on the firm.

Mr Allard told Travel Trade Gazette: “Trading for these two brands has been tough since the Arab Spring. While we poured more money into the business, you can’t change geopolitical events.

“As well as that, a lot of the costs of operating ships are in dollars and euros, which has been a struggle since the Brexit vote.”

All Leisure was listed on London’s junior Aim market until June, when it delisted to cut costs. At the time Lord Sterling, who was in favour of Brexit, owned about 6pc of the company.

The Civil Aviation Authority said the “vast majority” of All Leisure’s 400 customers abroad will be able to use their scheduled plane tickets to get home, although it added that it “has made arrangements to bring the small number of remaining passengers back to the UK at no extra cost”.

Travel association Abta said the firm had taken about 13,000 future bookings that have been cancelled. About a third where for UK departing cruises and so are financially protected by Abta, while those booked with flights will be covered by Atol.