Rich Tribute as Industry Bids Farewell to Gentleman Joe

The Northern Ireland Travel Industry has lost one of its most eminent, respected and popular figures of the last few decades

Joe Laffin, founder of Laffin Travel in 1972 and the Province’s ABTA spokesperson for more than 20 years, died at his home in Belfast yesterday after a short illness.

Current Northern Ireland spokesperson for ABTA Doreen McKenzie paid a rich tribute to the quietly spoken East Belfast man who began has working life as a chemist but moved to the travel industry with McCalla Travel before setting up his own retail shop Laffin Travel, which traded in one of Belfast’s most bombed areas, North Street Arcade off Donegall Street, during all the worst years of the Troubles.

Doreen, who succeeded Joe as NI ABTA spokesperson, said: “Joe was my mentor, and an inspiration. He taught me the ropes in ABTA affairs and much of the knowledge I have today was acquired from him.

“Joe was a true gentleman. He was respected, hardworking, sometimes a little bit cautious in his approach to things, but once he was convinced of the argument he threw everything into it, heart and soul. He presented a wonderful caring image of ABTA to the travelling public. He also taught me how to be a good public relations person for the industry, presenting the industry in a compassionate way to the wider travelling public. He has left a huge legacy to the industry in Northern Ireland.”

As well as running his own travel agency Laffin Travel for decades – a mantle now taken on by son Colin less than a 100 yards away from the original shop in North Street – Joe was one of the founders of the Consort Travel group, along with people like Kathleen Davidson, David Ingram, David Johnston, David Cameron and David Dalzell. For a short time in McCalla’s he worked alongside Stephen Boyd who went on to star in the Holywood classic Ben Hur with Charlton Heston.

Outside the travel industry, one of Joe’s major passions was the Boys Brigade. It had a major influence in shaping his persona – in fact he believed it changed his life – and was a member of the BB for 57 years.

Joe, pictured above receiving his Roll of Honour accolade from actress Suranne Jones at the 2004 Northern Ireland Travel and Tourism Awards, is survived by his wife Betty and sons Brian and Colin.

There will be a Service of Thanksgiving for Joe’s life in Knock Presbyterian Church at 11am on Friday December 22nd. The family have requested no flowers, donations in lieu to Action Cancer via Kirkwoods Funeral Directors.