We will be open at 9:00 am. Call 020 7590 0610
Dr Ian Wilson

Meet the Chairman

Leading the way in tailor-made travel

Article content

22 June 2018 by David Ward

It's been an incredible journey for Wexas since its inception in 1970. Here, founder and chairman Dr Ian Wilson shares some of the history and achievements of the company, as well as some of his many experiences in travel.

What inspired you to start a travel company in 1970?

In 1969, on leaving Oxford with a doctorate in political philosophy, I joined the advertising agency J Walter Thompson.But what I really wanted was to be my own boss, to have the freedom to travel and surf. I had no great ambition to build a travel empire. I was just looking for freedom and a way to avoid climbing the corporate ladder.

Had you always had an interest in travel?

I'd moved to New Zealand with my family at the age of nine but had always looked forward to coming back to Europe. New Zealand felt more and more insular as I got older and I associated travel with escaping a small island. By the time I was 13 I was collecting travel brochures from around the world.

How did you first get the business off the ground?

By day I'd be at work at J Walter Thompson. Then I'd spend half the night in the basement of a building where I was renting a room, just working on Wexas. To begin with I was working about 95 hours a week. My girlfriend at the time acted as a secretary. We sent posters advertising discount flights to student unions and nurses' hostels all around the country. Enough were obviously put up as we had 1,200 members by the end of the first year and 3,000 by the end of year two.

What have been some of your favourite places?

I love New Zealand. I've friends there from my school days and it's a great place to visit, especially with kids. I once worked out I'd been to more than 120 countries, but the places I go back to are Morocco, France, Portugal and Ireland. I've also been to Mauritius and the Maldives several times. I often visit islands, like Sri Lanka, the Azores, the Canaries and Cape Verde. For a couple of years, we had a second Wexas office in New York, so I was back and forth to America all the time. But it's generally the surf that draws me to a country.

Is there anywhere you haven't been but always still dream of visiting?

I'm still thinking about Mozambique, the northern part of Senegal (I've been to the southern part), Brava, the only Cape Verde island I'm yet to visit, and Saba in the Dutch Caribbean.

How else has travel changed in the last four decades?

So much has changed. Security has been ramped up. In-flight movies appear in the back of your seat. From an industry point of view, the advent of the internet and of companies like Expedia have forced conventional travel agents to change the way they work.

And, of course, there are fashions in travel like in everything else. In the 1970s, the Seychelles were favoured above the Maldives. Now it's the reverse. Twenty years ago, Bali and Kenya were just starting to take off but few people were thinking about Thailand and Malaysia, let alone Laos or Vietnam. Many favourites of the old hippie trail are now off limits, like Kashmir, Algeria, Iran and Afghanistan. So much is tied up with modern geo-politics.

The real cost of travel has probably halved in the last 40 years. At the beginning, with its focus on cheap flights, Wexas helped pioneer the shift. But over the years we've adapted too, launching a corporate service in 1987, expanding what we offer to cover all travel needs, from cruises to tailor-made journeys, and focussing our attention on providing great service and genuine expertise.

Which of the company's achievements are you personally most proud of?

In 1982 we invented annual travel insurance (as opposed to single-trip insurance) and for three years were the only people in the market to offer it.

Then of course there's Traveller, Britain's longest-running travel magazine, first called Expedition. I've got every issue except for the second: Vol. 1 No. 2. If anyone has a copy I'd love to hear from them.

I'm also proud of the causes we've supported. From the outset, we diverted a portion of our profits to funding university expeditions. After supporting around 200 directly, we began to give an annual grant to the Royal Geographical Society to act on our behalf. This continued right up until 2007 when we established The Wexas Travel Foundation, now a registered charity helping to support schools in Africa and preserve the South American rainforest.

Related offers

RCGS Resolute, Antarctica

Northwest Passage & Greenland with One Ocean

15-day expedition cruise from £15,685 pp incl. flights

cruise offer

Save up to £1,700 per cabin - book by 30 Sept
Book by: 30 September 2019

Sailing from the dramatic Arctic archipelago to Greenland, this expedition voyage takes in everything from mighty icebergs and unique wildlife to Inuit and frontier settlements. It’s all brought to life by included lectures and excursions.

Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, Oman

Oman in Style with Anantara

12-day tailor-made journey from £3,450 pp incl. flights


Early booking offer – Save up to £330 pp
Book by: 13 September 2019

This luxury holiday, staying at two spectacular Anantara resorts, combines the breathtaking beauty of Oman’s mountainous interior with the gold-sands beauty of its coast.

Peggy's Cove Harbour, Nova Scotia

Culinary delights of Nova Scotia

14-day tailor-made self-drive from £2,685 pp incl. flights

Showcase Nova Scotia’s gastronomy on included meals and a lobster cruise, while taking in its spectacular scenery and historic intrigue on gorgeous drives and luxury stays.

RV Vaikundam Kerala HouseBoat

Cochin & Kerala Backwaters Cruise

11-day tailor-made journey from £3,220 pp incl. flights

Kerala’s dreamy Backwaters provide the idyllic setting for this cruise holiday, which sees you sail across mirrored lagoons and through palm-fringed canals to explore artisan villages and ancient temples in truly laid-back style.

Dominican Republic Beach

Gems Of The Antillies on Seabourn Sojourn

14-day cruise from £3,760 pp incl. flights

cruise offer

Exclusive fly-cruise offer on new all-inclusive cruise
Book by: 31 July 2019

A delightful mix of Uncommon Caribbean landfalls, from historic Santo Domingo and chic Martinique to tiny Terre-de-Haute and glittering Antigua—plus a Caviar in the Surf beach party at Isla Catalina.

St Kitts & Nevis

Gems of the Leeward Islands on Seabourn Sojourn

14-day cruise from £3,985 pp incl. flights

cruise offer

Exclusive fly-cruise offer on new all-inclusive cruise
Book by: 31 July 2019

Sail round-trip from Miami to our favorite Uncommon Caribbean landfalls, from chic St. Barts and Martinique to laid-back Iles des Saintes and Jost Van Dyke—plus a Caviar in the Surf beach party at St. Kitts.

Why book with Wexas Travel?

At Wexas, we specialise in bespoke travel experiences. Our itineraries are just samples of what we can arrange, and can be changed depending on your precise needs, finances and ideas by our experienced destination specialists.

Contact one of our consultants on 020 7590 0610 to discuss how we can tailor your holiday.

Learn why Wexas is the leader in creating luxury holidays. What is tailor-made travel?

Expert advice & support

Visit us in our London office

Let our travel specialists curate the perfect holiday:

  • Inspirational ideas based on experience
  • Established for over 45 years
  • Tailor a holiday to your precise requirements
  • Personalised quotes and documentation
  • In-depth Wexas travel guides

Every step of the way

Every step of the way

Our services are with you from start to finish:

  • Dedicated personal consultants
  • Wexas Travel App
  • Free airport lounges on qualifying bookings
  • Care and guidance pre, post and during holiday
  • Full financial security: ABTA & ATOL protected