Veteran cruise line professional Iain Perkins first set his sights on the travel industry as a young British “army brat” flying back and forth between Tripoli, Libya and his boarding school in Dorset, England on Belgium’s now defunct national airline, Sabena.
|Iain Perkins, director, CruiseOnTravel
“I used to enjoy it. I wanted to be an airline pilot. I was very impressed by it. What seven year old kid wouldn’t be? ” Perkins remembered.
Perkins was born in Tripoli, as his British military parents were stationed in Libya after World War II.
“I went to British boarding school, which is what all British army brats did. At seven years of age I was sent off and I was at boarding school until I was sixteen,” he said.
Perkins was educated in Dorset, England and later lived in Antwerp, Belgium. He was young and ambitious, but the milieu of mid-sixties England could have been friendlier.
Finding his sea legs
“Like all late teenagers at that stage, I was broke and sitting in England thinking; ‘what am I going to do?’ A buddy said, ‘let’s go to Canada,’ and I said, 'fine.'”
The only problem was, Perkins didn’t know how he was going to get to Canada.
He found a job advertisement in the Financial Times for a Canadian company that was looking to hire people with British financial experience. As chance would have it, Perkins had worked in a bank in England.
“I thought, this is great, and I applied for that job and got hired immediately. I didn’t know what I was getting into (though). I didn’t know what the job was”.
The Canadian financial firm agreed to pay Perkins’ passage to Canada on the condition that he sign a yearlong contract. They even asked him where in Canada, exactly, he wanted to go.
Perkins, not realizing the geographical scope of the country, asked to be “in the middle."
“I remember the grin on the person’s face in Canadian Immigration. He said, ‘we’ll send you to Winnipeg.’ I thought; 'great, I can drive either way,' thinking Canada was the same size as England,” Perkins recounted.
He even remembered the date he first flew into Winnipeg: July 20, 1967.
“It was about 112 degrees; stinking hot. I walked off the plane and down the tarmac, and I remember a mosquito kind of picked up my arm and carried it away. It was that big a mosquito,” Perkins quipped.
Althouhg Perkins worked for a financial company, he actually knew little about finance.
“Personal finance, which is what they did, was a strange entity for anybody from England because we had no companies like that. There were banks and nobody thought about going to a place where you could borrow 500 bucks to buy a fridge, or a T.V., or whatever it was.”
“It was hilarious to me because it was totally strange. I became, instantly, an assistant manager, stationed all over; Thomson, Brandon and Selkirk in Manitoba”.
Part of Perkins’ job was debt collection and collateral repossession.
“It was hysterical and also very sad and draining when you had to go pick up a T.V, or a fridge, or a stove because somebody couldn’t pay, and that’s what [I] did about once a month,” he said.
However, nobody ever told Perkins exactly how to repossess a fridge.
“I went out with my little car, and either you got the money or you got the fridge. So there’s this two tonne fridge, and there’s you. I thought; 'how am I going to get this fridge into my car?'”
After the contract was up, Perkins left Winnipeg and drove to Vancouver.
|Iain Perkins and friends in Rome
Riding the waves
Perkins got his start in the travel industry in 1980 and worked for Alaskan Airlines, Horizon Airlines, the Phoenix Tourist Office and the Arizona Tourism Bureau.
In 1985, he was approached by Royal Cruise Line; an American-based, five star cruise line expanding its sales force in the West.
Perkins pitched the idea of having a Canadian sales representative, something the company had never thought of before.
He flew down to San Francisco the next day and was hired on the spot. His new job was to introduce Royal Cruise Line to Canada.
Until 1988, he was the only Canadian sales manager the company had. That year, Royal Cruise Line split the sales force into Eastern and Western Canada.
“It was just too big a country to cover by myself," he said. "Royal Cruise Line was a success story. We had an incredible following in Canada. We were doing between eight and 10 million dollars in business a year. We had a unique way of doing things. Our sales policy was quite aggressive, and we helped agents and paid good commissions."
|Perkins and friends on the Royal Clipper, moored off Dubrovnik
When the tides turn
Perkins ran Western Canadian operations from 1985 to 1996. The cruise line was eventually sold and merged with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).
The acquisition of Royal Cruise Line by NCL, reportedly put 3,000 people globally out of work, and Perkins was one of them.
However, he quickly took a position as sales manager, Canada, for the Greek company, Royal Olympic Cruises.
Perkins successfully introduced the line to the Canadian market and held the position from 1996 to 2006.
The company’s European arm, headquartered out of Athens, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Initially, that didn’t affect the North American arm since it operated as a separate corporate identity. A year later though, it caught up and dragged Royal Olympic underwater.
“They kept losing ships and getting tangled up in legal battles," Perkins said. "They went out of business in 2006. It was frustrating for me because I’d done well with Royal and Royal Olympic, and on both occasions, through no fault of my own, I lost both positions."
The Hawaiian surf
Taking a break from the cruise industry, Perkins went to Hawaii with a colleague and worked in the deep water ocean business and the salt industry, for companies DO Hawaii (Deep Ocean Hawaii) and Palm Island.
His job was to extract salt from deep ocean water, in order to desalinate it and make fresh bottled water.
“I had a lot of fun with it for two, two and a half years, as VP of global sales," Perkins said. "I charged around the world, selling bottled water. It cleared my mind about the cruise and travel industry."
But at the end of the day, the bottled water business wasn’t where Perkins wanted to be.
Calls kept coming in and then, in 2010, Perkins heard through industry colleagues that Pullmantur Cruises, a five-ship, mass market cruise line based out of Spain, wanted to expand globally.
In 2011, Perkins forged his current company, CruiseOnTravel, to be the Canadian representation company for Pullmantur and handle a GSA arrangement.
“We’ve got a lot of good things going on. We’ve just set up Transat Holidays as a major tour operator exclusively for a one-year period,” Perkins said.
Based in Vancouver, Perkins is a family man with a wife in the medical industry, and an active 15-year-old son.
|In Venice: Iain Perkins with son Jake
A frequent globetrotter, Perkins said his all time favourite travel destination is Venice.
“There’s something magical about that city [that] I love. The atmosphere, the history and the culture.”
Perkins is also an avid collector of old movies. His favourite is ‘The Searchers,' an old cowboy movie starring John Wayne.
He names his greatest mentor as Phil Zeck, who he worked with at Royal Cruise Line and still connects with down south.
“We hit it off and became very close friends," Perkins said. "He lives in Palm Springs and we have a house there so we still stay in touch."
|Iain Perkins with mentor Phil Zeck, former VP sales, Royal Cruise Line
A great personal loss for Perkins was when his sister Jean died young from a brain aneurism. He said that if there was any person, living past or present, that he could be united with today, he would wish for a reunion with Jean.
The wave of the future?
Perkins reminisces about the way it used to be in the travel industry. He said that before, success was based on personality, face to face discussions and building personal relationships with agents, tour operators and suppliers.
“Now, I think in this new modern digital age, it’s not the case anymore," he said. "Most of the cruise lines just want people who know how to handle budgets, a certain regional area, and sometimes don’t even get to know their accounts by name. It’s just based on X percentage of business. I don’t see, nowadays, the personal relationships that we used to have. (Before), it was face to face, person to person. I miss that."
“Now it’s all about business, and dealing with the 100-150 emails you get every day," Perkins continues. "It’s all very impersonal because of that. Now you can twitter, blog, [there’s] email blasts and you couldn’t do that before”.
Perkins believes the cruise industry is a different niche within the travel industry because prospective clients need to build trust based on in-person interactions.
“I believe in the cruise industry, the travel agent is back. Online bookings were very popular for a time, but now it’s come full circle and people want to deal with a professional who knows the answers to the questions they may have,” he said.
Perkins asserted that the key to future success is putting in real face time with clients who want human interaction, rather than being left dealing with, “large corporations that just have the bottom line in mind.”