Two millionaires linked to collapsed travel firm Kiss Flights were at the centre of an identical fiasco two years ago when their previous company went bust.
Travel tycoons Phil Wyatt and Paul Moss – who between them are worth more than £20million – are at the heart of the demise of Kiss, which last week left thousands of passengers stranded abroad and tens of thousands with holidays cancelled.
In September 2008, the two close friends and business partners were directors of XL Leisure, at the time Britain’s third-biggest travel firm.
Chief Executive of XL, Phil Wyatt at a conference after tens of thousands of holidaymakers being left stranded after the UK’s third largest tour operator went into administration and grounded all flights
But the company crashed with £100million of debts, leaving thousands of holidaymakers in the lurch. Wyatt, who cried on TV when XL, which he founded, went into administration, was nicknamed ‘Public Enemy No 1’ in the travel industry.
The Kiss collapse left 13,000 customers overseas and a further 60,000 booked to travel. Its demise has prompted warnings of a spate of travel company failures this autumn.
In July, Goldtrail, which specialised in cut-price holidays to Greece and Turkey, ceased trading.
An investigation by The Mail on Sunday has revealed that Wyatt’s tears did not prevent him linking up once more with Moss after creating an international web of companies.
Within six months of XL Leisure – which sponsored West Ham United Football Club – going into administration, Wyatt, 47, and Moss, 43, were back doing business – and making money from unsuspecting families buying cheap flights to Europe.
Viking Airlines, in which Wyatt bought a 40 per cent stake, began selling flight tickets for Kiss, run by Moss through its parent firm, Freedom Flights.
Last night, Wyatt, who lives in a luxurious £3.5million mansion in
a West Sussex village, denied any involvement in Kiss. He admitted driving a Porsche with the number-plate KI55 XLA, but insisted that it meant ‘I love XL Airways’.
Upper class: The luxury home of Phil Wyatt, who sold ticket for Kiss and ran collapsed travel firm XL leisure
Speaking at the gates of his home, Wyatt added: ‘Kiss Flights was just a customer of Viking. That was the extent of my involvement. There was no direct involvement on my behalf.’
Dressed in a pink T-shirt and shorts, Wyatt looked drained as he said of the collapse of Kiss Flights: ‘The travel business is just in a terrible state. No one is taking any seats on planes any more. It’s a bloody awful time.’
Despite the collapse of XL and Kiss Flights, Wyatt still enjoys an enviable lifestyle behind the huge black security gates of his sprawling home – the sort of residence of which his former passengers can only dream. The father of two
teenage girls lives with his wife
Jacqueline at the huge property, which can be reached only by a 400-yard drive. The mansion boasts an annexe bigger than most people’s homes, a swimming pool, Japanese water gardens and immaculate ornamental grounds in the front of the property.
Wyatt’s father Harry set up Monarch Airlines in the Sixties. After leaving school aged 16, Phil Wyatt joined the family firm as an operations clerk and spent a decade rising through the ranks, before leaving to make his own fortune.
Grounded XL aircraft at Gatwick Airport, following the the collapse of Britain’s third largest tour operator
He made his money as commercial director of the charter airline Goldcrest Aviation from 1991 to 2000, which was when he earned his
‘Public Enemy’ sobriquet.
He upset the travel trade by bringing in foreign aircraft to service British holidaymakers during peak summer months.
Rivals questioned the safety of aircraft drafted in from countries such as Slovenia and parts of the former Yugoslavia, but Goldcrest was selling almost two million seats a year by 1996.
In 2002, when Goldcrest was floated, Wyatt’s ten per cent stake soared in value from £5.8million to £18.5million, and he was thought to be enjoying a basic annual salary of more the £240,000.
Until two years ago, Moss lived in a detached house worth £1million
in Chislehurst, Kent, before he left his wife Juliette. The couple are believed to have a young daughter.
He was a member of the Surrey swimming team in the mid-Eighties and gained a Certificate of Extended Education – an alternative to A-levels – from Esher Sixth Form College, studying business studies, economics and sociology. After leaving college, he spent 12 months as a swimming instructor.
In 1986, Moss taught English in Madrid and a year later joined the travel industry as a reservations manager. Six years later he was based in Malaga, selling charter seats from Spain to the UK. He joined the Inspirations travel company as aviation manager in 1995, later becoming aviation director. But he was made redundant after a takeover by Thomas Cook.
In 1999, Moss formed Freedom Flights, of which he was managing director. He once said in an interview: ‘I am determined to make
my mark on the industry and my advice to anyone in this business
is to make sure you get noticed.’ Last night, Moss was not available for comment, but neighbours near his former home confirmed that he and his wife had parted two years ago and were now divorced.
The Civil Aviation Authority says that 17 British travel companies protected by an Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL) – a customer protection scheme – have gone out of business this year.
Many more unprotected companies have also failed.
Leading accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers warned that the Kiss collapse could lead to more travel firms going under this autumn. Ian Oakley-Smith, of PwC, said that the level of insolvencies might reach those seen in the second half of 2008, when 39 ATOL-bonded companies failed. They included XL, which was then Britain’s third-largest tour operator.
Mr Oakley-Smith warned of a ‘bigger spike’ in travel company insolvencies at the end of the year.
He added: ‘Some businesses will not have any cash reserves to tide them over as they await the next wave of bookings.’