Travel then and now

Captain Harry Sullivan

Director of Sullivan & Sullivan, travel agents

My family originated from Gibraltar where my father with his brothers hd a ship chandlery and travel business. Our commercial activity dates back over 100 years. Having come to Malta in his thirties my father met a sweet 17-year-old attractive girl, married her and had 13 healthy children. I happen to be one of them.

We were all educated in one of the colleges run by the Jesuits society and as we were so numerous we were told to build up our own football team, since out of 13 children nine were boys.

After completing my studies, I joined my father's business which was well established in Malta. The company was called De Mattos Sullivan and was active in travel, shipping, bunkering, chandlery, dockyard ship repairing, etc. I enjoyed my job and work tremendously as I was always happy with public relations and liaison work and loved meeting interesting people.

My first air travel experience was when I had to go to Bahgeria in Palermo to visit my brother who was studying to become a Jesuit. He was very sick at the time. I had to fly in a Fiat three-engine Marchetti plane. A few days after my arrival my brother died. I hardly had enough time to get away from Sicily before World War broke out. Being a British citizen, I nearly ended up in jail.

On my return to Malta I went back to my work in the travel agency world as a booking clerk. I was in charge of registering passengers for journeys from Malta to Southampton in cabins on board ships arriving from Australia via Colombo, Aden and Port Said. These passengers mainly consisted of naval personnel and their families. The five cargo and passenger ships employed on this route belonged to the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line and were nicknamed the Bay Boats. Being also agents for Shaw Savill and Albion Co. Ltd, owners of the liner Gothic, I was involved in the arrangement of attending to the transfer of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth from the royal yacht Britannia to the Gothic, when on a visit to Malta on her way home to London. It was quite exciting for me to be close to the royal party.

When the war broke out in 1939/1940, I joined the army. After 45 days I was commissioned as second lieutenant and ended my eight years of military service in the rank of captain. Having had a good taste of what happens in the travel agency world, I rejoined the shipping and travel firm which was then renamed Sullivan & Sullivan Ltd.

In the years that followed our company was appointed general sales agents for Sabena Belgian World Airlines. We became very involved in air travel and were one of the first agents to become IATA members.

We have been a WATA member for the last 35 years. One fantastic experience happened when I was on a trip to Mexico a guest of Sabena. I made a bet with my colleagues that I would get airborne by parachute, I eventually won the bet.

Today, world travel is commonplace. Transportation has improved immensely and with people's appetite for travel to discover historic cities, enhance by the expanding network of communication, all year round vacations are planned.

The tourism industry has become one of the most important trades in the world. At the centre of one such 'trade' route is our small island. Malta situated in the middle of the Mediterranean. Here we give great importance to incoming tourists as all countries in this part of the globe very keenly compete for the tourist trade. The Government of Malta is investing a lot in infrastructure and tourist attractions. A considerable number of cruise liners also enter our grand harbour continuously.

I feel and believe that WATA members should give some importance to Malta, and somehow plan and try to promote tourism for the George Cross island which was a protectorate of Great Britain for 186 years. The French, the Knights of Malta of Saint John, the Romans, the Arabs and many other nationals have left their character on the island.

Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting our old friend Mr Dedina, the founder of WATA, and was very impressed with his style and personality. He was a gentleman of impeccable character and his mark within the association is still very much felt.

As an associate of this prestigious association for such a long time, with all due respect, I feel I should state that co-operation amongst members should improve considerably. To do this I had suggested that a feasibility study should be carried out to consider whether WATA headquarters in Geneva should be made to act as a wholesaler to serve all members at a cost (a percentage). If I remember well, I had proposed this also during a convention meeting in Berlin where my old good friend Mr Fas stood up and told me that 25 years ago WATA had tried to do something about such a proposition and failed to reach any conclusion. I, however, told him that this does not mean that what one could not do 25 years ago cannot be done now.

With all the modern and progressive means of communication and very advanced computer network, E-mail and, faxes, etc, I feel some good results can be achieved. This at least can be considered for groups. I hope that an action plan will be put in place for recommendations concerning the creation of any enterprise that would encourage and develop co-operation amongst members. This would also enhance and improve WATA's financial position.