Thames pleasure-boat City Cruises fleet shortlisted for Family Traveller ‘best days out’ awards
PUBLISHED: 12:02 24 July 2015 | UPDATED: 23:21 26 July 2015
A family business running pleasure cruises on the Thames has been shortlisted out of 2,200 travel industry companies for ‘Best UK Days Out’ in the 2015 Family Traveller awards.
City Cruises, which was ‘launched’ by the Beckwith family from the Isle of Dogs in the 1980s, was previously London regional winner of the ‘Best UK Family Business’ awards in 2010 in the £5m-£25m turnover category.
“We now carry more than two-million passengers a year,” managing director Kyle Haughton said this week. “Our unique view of London from the river has been recognised among the best days out in Britain for families.”
The business has doubled from the one-million passengers its fleet of 14 carried annually just five years ago from Tower Pier as well as Greenwich, Westminster and Waterloo piers.
The company was created by Gary and Rita Beckwith out of a traditionally fragmented Thames pleasure boat industry.
They lived at Blackwall by the entrance to the Millwall Docks with their two children before the Docklands Development Board took over the area. Their son Matthew, now 30, joined the family business as field ops manager after serving his Waterman’s apprenticeship to qualify as a captain. He used to spend his school holidays working with his dad on the Thames from the age of 12.
Gary started out with just a barge moored on the Southbank by County Hall selling grease and diesel to boat operators.
The barge had been a ‘leftover’ from the 1951 Festival of Britain which his father Beckwith took on as a business. It was left to Gary when Fred retired in 1984.
Gary borrowed £35,000 from the bank to buy his first vessel when one of his pleasure-boat customers was retiring, then gradually bought out the 13 other individual operators on the river over the next six years.
His wife Rita who he met in 1980 was the backbone of the growing business, who literally kept the company afloat from their office at Cherrie Gardens Pier just downriver from Tower Bridge.
The couple had enough saved up by 1996 to build a new 500-seater vessel, the ‘Millennium of London’, the first new sightseeing cruiser on the Thames for 25 years, making a “splash” when it was formally christened at Tower Pier by the Queen on October 18 that year.
“I remember the day well,” Rita later recalled. “It was windy and my hat blew off in front of the Queen and splashed in the water!”
It put the fledgling City Cruises on the Thames map which sailed on to win the service contract when the Millennium Dome opened in 1999.
The company later invested £35m on four new 500-seater cruisers, riding the crest of a wave of good fortune on Old Father Thames.
Some 2,200 family travel companies and brands including City Cruises were nominated in June for the Family Traveller magazine awards, whittled down to the shortlist for the grand titles in September—now open to public votes online.