INTERVIEW with John Lewindon of Austria Direct (22nd December)
John Lewindon, as well as still acting as an accountant, runs the travel firm Austria
Direct and also A & M Travel Organisers from 47 Back Lane, a grade II listed building
over 200 years old. Unless you went looking on the Internet, if you rarely used Back
Lane or the Back Lane Car Park, you might be forgiven for not realising he was there.
Hopefully this interview will remedy that situation. John spoke at great length about
his experiences over the years and we have sought to summarise and present the key
parts of what he shared.
Rochford Life: John, may we start by asking you to summarise your activities for
John: Well there is AUSTRIA DIRECT where I organise weddings in Austria for couples
from all over the world, and my other business known as A & M Travel Organisers,
where local people can book day trips and holidays by:
· booking holidays and day trips with Cooks Coaches and Kirbys Coaches,
· booking holidays with Shearings, Leger Travel, Travelsmith, Crusader Holidays,
Alfa Travel, Grand UK Holidays as well as cruises departing from Tilbury. (We are
not ABTA members, but work through W.R.Williams (Travel) Ltd of Southchurch, who
are full ABTA members.)
· booking National Express coaches through us and tickets are issued on the spot.
· offering a vast rail booking service in conjunction with our colleagues Trainseurope
Ltd of March, Cambs who are experts in their field - but we need a minimum of seven
days notice to receive the tickets from them!
· organising Sunday evening visits three or four times a year (as an offshoot to
A&M) to the famous Players Theatre Music Hall in Villiers Street,(below Charing Cross
Station). It was on these shows that the BBC "Good Old Days" was based. We take a
coach from here to London departing around 3.00pm arriving in London in time to take
the optional pre-show dinner at the theatre or look round Covent Garden, then the
7.30pm performance of "Under the Arches" and leave London around 10.15pm to be home
before midnight. At just £35 per person for the show plus the coach travel, we consider
that is a bargain for a show in London.
And of course there is still my accountancy work, and I still get new clients coming
in on a monthly basis.
I’m in most mornings by ten o’clock but I aim to leave at three in the afternoon
each day, and on Saturdays I’m here from 9.30 to noon, but obviously if something
has to take me away, I go, which is why I say to people if you are making a special
trip then do telephone beforehand and make sure I’m going to be there.
RL: John, in a recent interview with Ken Massow, he suggested you were possibly the
longest standing businessman of central Rochford. Can you go back to when you first
John: I first came over to Rochford in any sort of permanent form in 1958 when I
was a member of a firm of auditors who looked after one of the major motor repairers
in Rochford. I am an accountant by profession. I started in the accountancy business
RL: But you don’t do much in accountancy today?
John: Oh no, I’m very much in accounting. I was in practice in the Square from 1962
until I retired in 1998. The idea was that then I would have still have a hobby travel
business (which had been running for many years) but still keep on a few accountancy
clients who insisted on coming with me when my partners bought me out.
However with the advent of the Internet, the use of people like me for arranging
travel rapidly disappeared and the sort of people that I was dealing with for Austria
were getting too old to travel, so I went back to my former partners and said, would
you have any objection if I started to increase the accountancy practice, bearing
in mind the fact that when I had retired I had given up my official qualification
as a certified accountant. I had carried on as an unqualified accountant which enabled
me to still do all the work that I was once doing for small limited companies. They
said we have no objection to you doing that because we’re going to move to Southend
anyway, so the travel business once again went on to be the secondary occupation
and the accountancy side took over, just because I needed to pay the bills.
RL: So when did the travel side originally come in then?
John: Well we started the Austrian side about 1985. There was an English chap from
Bournemouth whose mother was Austrian, who had an apartment house in Seefeld in Austria,
and he decided he would like to let out the apartments on a sort of ‘license to use’
basis for a week or weeks of the year for twenty five years for a lump sum of money
plus an annual maintenance cost.
I’d been to Seefeld originally in 1955 and we’d been back in 1960 and we went back
in 1977. We were talking about eventually retiring out there and, to cut a long
story short, we took one of the largest of these apartments and marketed it from
England. Eventually the young man asked us to support his activities when he was
in this country and he used part of our offices at Market Square Chambers as his
base. We helped him with exhibitions etc. in this country and gradually we became
part of his Alpine Timesharing which eventually became Alpine Mediterranean Holidays.
Eventually we planned that when I retired at sixty we would go over to Austria and
I would look after the accountancy side.
Some time later I formed Austria Direct because I was handling flights and all that
sort of thing for all our holiday planners who were going over there. We expanded
to getting people accommodation all over Austria. That was about 1989 or 1990, then
one day a man walked in telling us that we’d been recommended to him and his daughter
wanted to get married in Austria. To cut another long story short we soon found ourselves
specialising in making the arrangements for weddings to be carried out in Austria.
Originally we did all the planning in conjunction with families, but now I will often
simply do the background setting up work while wedding planners, either here or over
there, do the bulk of the detailed planning and arrangements.
RL: Thank you very much indeed for that John; that is excellent.
If you check back over the interview you may come to appreciate John’s breadth of
experience in Austria and the travel business. The following is a brief recap of
his activities over the years:
1955 - first visited Seefeld
1958 - first moved over to Rochford in accountancy business
1977 - after other visits to Austria, became linked to the Apartments
1985 - started to develop the Austrian business more
1990 - formed Austria Direct to cope with the expanding business
1998 - officially ‘retired’ from accountancy, but maintained some accountancy work
and travel work.