Top National Entrepreneur Award for North West Businessman

Lancashire-based James Cole named top entrepreneur of 2021 by the UK travel industry


Last week, at the UK’s largest travel industry event of the year, James Cole, Founder and Managing Director of Lancashire-based Panache Cruises, was awarded the ‘John Hays Entrepreneur of the Year Award’.


Cole, who is the first-ever recipient of the prestigious trophy, was presented with the award at the all-new Travel Industry Awards by Travel Trade Gazette (TTG), attended by over 1,000 of the most senior industry executives.

This special category was introduced in tribute to one of the travel industry’s greatest and most-respected pioneers – John Hays, founder of Hays Travel – who passed away in 2020. It recognises the entrepreneurial spirit of an outstanding business-owner who has disrupted the travel sector.

John’s wife, Dame Irene Hays and daughter, Helen Hays, joined TTG’s senior editorial team to judge the submissions and choose a winner. 

Judges said: “This was a highly competitive category, with many strong submissions, but James’s entrepreneurial flair and laser-focus were outstanding. His new business idea which – against all odds – was able to launch during the height of the pandemic has already established a fantastic base for future trading.”


TTG editor Sophie Griffiths added: “The Travel Industry Awards by TTG – taking place for the first time in 2021 – celebrate those travel companies and travel professionals who put customers at the heart of their business, who are most deserving of consumers’ trust, and who have responded to the challenges of the last 12 months by making positive changes to their products, services and corporate cultures.” 


“With a robust process of judging panels, the Travel Industry Awards by TTG are the toughest to win in the travel sector, and any company which takes home a trophy on the night can be incredibly proud of their achievement”. 


Commenting on the award, Cole said: “After being in the industry for the past 23 years, accepting this award was one of the biggest moments in my life and something I will cherish always.


“Launching Panache Cruises was always about the long-term not just the short-term trading conditions. The market is now returning, I am building a strong, responsive and loyal customer base and the Panache team have been truly exemplary.   It’s been a hard but rewarding 18 months, and I feel truly privileged and honored to have been given this highly prestigious award in the memory of the one of the UK travel industry’s greatest and most respected businessmen. My sincere thanks go to TTG, Dame Irene Hays and the wider Hays family for choosing me to have this very special award.”


Cole launched Panache Cruises in July 2020 after using the first period of lockdown to develop the business plan.  In its first year of trading, the business generated more than £3 million, despite there being an international travel ban.  His ambition is for Panache Cruises to become the UK’s leading retailer of luxury cruises in the UK by 2027.


The Travel Industry Awards by TTG took place on Thursday September 30 at Magazine London beside the iconic O2 arena, co-hosted by Strictly Come Dancing’s Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly. 


The glittering awards ceremony celebrated suppliers of travel across various different categories, as well as individual travel agents, and several special categories. 


Press contact (Panache Cruises):

Alexis Coles Barrasso 





James Cole is one the UK’s best-known and respected cruise retailers and began his career in cruise more than 23 years ago when he worked as Product & Commercial Manager with Airtours Sun Cruises.


In his early career he helped set up The Cruise Store for MyTravel, a dedicated cruise retailer, which grew to £120m in sales in 3 years and, following the coming together of MyTravel and Thomas Cook in 2007, he then merged their two cruise businesses into a £300m entity which at the time was the UK’s largest cruise retailer in the UK.  Since then, James has been the driving force behind many of the UK’s largest cruise brands, including: Cruise118, Six Star Cruises and River Voyages.  During his highly entrepreneurial career he has retailed over £1bn of cruise holidays.


Initially employing a team of 15 and the intention of employing many more employees in the coming years, the business promises to offer an unrivalled level of personal service to those wishing to cruise in luxury, offering customers a 24/7 ‘nothing is too much trouble service.’


The company’s inventory of cruises offers over 7,000 itineraries, visiting over 1,000 ports of call with 20 of the world’s leading luxury cruise lines who specialise in Elite Ocean, River, Expedition, and Yacht-style cruising, including: Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal, Azamara, Celebrity, Scenic, Emerald, Uniworld, Hurtigruten, Aurora Expeditions, Riviera, Avalon and SeaDream Yacht Club.   


James was born and continues to live in Bolton and was a former pupil of Parklands High School in Chorley and Runshaw College in Leyland. He later became an MBA graduate and Honorary Fellow of the University of Central Lancashire.


Panache Cruises has recently moved to its new business premises, based in Strawberry Fields Digital Hub in Chorley.  


Travel Trade Gazette


Travel Trade Gazette is the UK & Ireland’s leading travel industry magazine, publishing since 1953. The Travel Industry Awards by TTG is a new, annual celebration of the best travel suppliers, and the best individual travel agents, in the business. Supplier categories are decided through a combination of travel agent rating and written submissions assessed by judges, while travel agent contenders submit a written entry that is then assessed by judges. 

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