Last month’s departure by long-serving Avis Travel Industry Manager, Russell Butler, has marked the end of an era, with his contributions to the industry spreading far beyond his role with the car rental firm. Butler had been with Avis for more than 28 years, establishing a phenomenal network of industry relationships, and during that time was also the driving force behind the highly successful Avis Travel Agent Scholarship of Excellence.
Celebrating two decades last year, the Scholarship program has bolstered the careers of many rising travel industry stars, with winners acclaimed for their focus on customer service, each year taking home a swag of prizes worth more than $40,000 courtesy of key sponsors including Qantas, Avis, AFTA, CLIA and many more.
“I could never have envisaged the success the program has enjoyed for the past 20 years,” Butler told travelBulletin. “It’s not simply about the fact that the award has endured, it’s about the calibre of the winners, people like Penny Spencer, Michelle Ashcroft, Robyn Sinfield and many more. So many extraordinary travel agents have used the Scholarship as an opportunity to reflect on what they do, which has then given them the confidence to go on and grow and do so much more,” he said.
The scholarship has also been driven by the Avis Travel Agents Advisory Board, a group of key influencers who have helped shape the car rental firm’s approach to the trade. “The program has enormous credibility, and one of the reasons is that since its launch we have never stopped critically reassessing every element, which means it has never ceased evolving and improving,” Butler said. Another key aspect has been the strong focus on customer service, “because despite the extraordinary changes across the travel industry, outstanding customer service has remained central to the success of retail travel businesses,” he added.
Russell was also on the AFTA board in the 1990s, and was instrumental in organising the Federation’s 1997 conference in India. He joined the Sydney chapter of industry networking group SKAL International in 1993, becoming president in 2003. In 2005 he joined the SKAL Australia national executive, serving as National President from 2009 to 2014 — a period which saw him chair the organising committee for the SKAL World Congress which took place in Sydney in 2010.
Butler is relocating to the NSW southern highlands with wife Diane, who has established a tourism and travel consulting business, while he considers his next move. A recent event in Sydney to celebrate the pair’s contributions saw a host of senior industry figures present, including many who flew in from across the country, such as Phil Hoffmann, Max Najar, Michelle Ashcroft and Trevor Jones alongside locals Steve Limbrick, Peter Collins, Mike Thompson, Bob Lunnon and Brett Jardine.