PROFILE: Russell Amerasekera, Thomson; Celebrating a life of holidays

It’s 8.30am on a drizzly Friday morning when Russell Amerasekera bounds into the hotel lobby with the kind of chirpyness only a former package holiday rep could muster.

It’s 8.30am on a drizzly Friday morning when Russell Amerasekera bounds

into the hotel lobby with the kind of chirpyness only a former package

holiday rep could muster.



The bubbly 33 year-old travel PR man has come a long way since his rep

days and is now more likely to be seen coaching Airtours’ chief

executive on his presentation skills than leading the Hokey Cokey round

the hotel swimming pool. In the last two years Amerasekera has jumped

from the top PR posts at Thomas Cook to Airtours-owned operator Going

Places and as from July, will take on an upgraded communications

director’s job at the UK market leader Thomson.



His eyes light up at mention of the latest switch to Thomson which books

30 per cent of the UK’s 8.5 million package holidays every year. ‘Very

few travel companies are interested in senior level PRs who have

influence at board level,’ he says of the job heading Thomson’s newly

merged internal and external communications division.



Despite his cuddly, bespectacled exterior Amerasekera is fiercely

ambitious and once, as a student, harboured the ambition of becoming one

of the UK’s first black politicians. Instead he was lured by the

‘glamorous concept of travel’ and has been hooked ever since.



Now, he talks of his ‘frustration’ at the failure of the travel

business, a relatively young and entrepreneurial industry, to appreciate

the power of PR, despite the vast amount of media attention it attracts.

But he predicts this will change as holiday companies begin to focus

more on the company brand.



‘The old style two-week holiday with a reasonable hotel and beach has

gone. Consumers are demanding more for their bucks,’ says Amerasekera.

‘The travel industry is now beginning to realise the need to use the

brand to compete.’



Despite Amerasekera’s obvious relish at the chance to lead Thomson into

battle he retains a down-to-earth attitude towards the business after

hearing it from the punter’s mouth. ‘Only when you have stood there at

four in the morning waiting for the Glasgow flight to come in or sat by

the pool discussing if people paid pounds 199 or pounds 299 for their

holiday can you understand what you are marketing,’ he says.



This ability to cut the crap is not lost on The Daily Express consumer

editor Paul Crosbie. ‘He understands the audience he is talking to and

the fact that on a daily paper you need information fast and he doesn’t

baffle you with marketing speak,’ says Crosbie.



Travel Weekly associate editor, news Jeremy Skidmore agrees: ‘He won’t

give you any rubbish but can supply you with a quote on company policy.

It’s as good as speaking to a senior person in that company. He is

basically a good bloke and a good laugh without being an idiot,’ adds

Skidmore.



Amerasekera chuckles when I relay the quote. He prides himself on his

off-the-record relationships with journalists where a tip-off can by

traded for the opportunity to promote the brand. He also believes in a

no-nonsense approach when dealing with senior management. ‘It’s about

being able to walk into the chairman’s office when he is with someone

and say ‘Sorry I know you are in a meeting but this one is tight,’ he

says.



Amerasekera talks of his passion for ‘information broking’ or ‘getting

information and working in between people’ but it is the cause of

wariness among some of his colleagues



Sometimes PR professionals want to know more information to trade than

they need to know,’ says Airtours’ sales and marketing director George

Marcall in a comment which speaks volumes about how PR is perceived

within the travel industry. ‘It’s better to know about the story up to a

point. If you know too much then you start to trade.’



However Marcall expressed regret at losing Amerasekera - for whom a

replacement has yet to be found - recalling his ‘charisma’,

‘comfortable style with people’ and ‘red blazers and multi-coloured

socks.’ ‘He’s the kind of character you would remember,’ he adds.



Despite his affable eccentricity, Amerasekera is deadly serious when he

says that travel companies need to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ over

their public image. He also says he intends to be on the board of a plc

in ten years’ time - given his track record, I believe him.



HIGHLIGHTS



1986 Overseas representative, Thomson

1988 Press and PR executive, Thomson

1991 Head of communications, Going Places

1996 Director of communications, Thomson



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