First of all I will give you a quick run down on my background. I was far removed from being a model student and I left school with 3 O’Levels, one of which was Geography, my second favourite subject after Art. I was always interested in people, places, maps and transportation but I really didn’t see the point in learning about textiles and sedimentary rocks, I liked drawing maps and I was probably more busy daydreaming about the places I could visit one day (and mostly have) as for history, it had absolutely no relevance to me at all and I hated the teacher. I reckon I’ve learned more walking round the Museum of London and watching Discovery Channel, but nothing beats looking at thousands of years of ancient civilizations and standing on the very ground they walked on
Shortly after I left school with my 3 O’Levels my friend who already worked in a travel agency introduced me to her boss. I worked at Kennings doing business travel for 4 years. When I first started in travel we had a tiny office 1 92a, Holland Park Avenue, this is it behind the tree
it had an outdoor toilet and a man that looked a bit like my boss Mr. Bonser (they were all Mr. in those days and invariably male)
overflowing ashtrays in a cloud of smoke
Typewriters with carbon paper
bookcases with telephone directories, and manuals like this
We had manuals for everything, fares, timetables, phone directories, hotel addresses, some I still use like this one for instance.
Does anyone know what this is?
I reckon we had the oldest museum piece on the planet, it sounded like an old steam train rattling through the office
a ruler to read the timetables as the writing was so small, We had rail tickets, coach tickets and flight tickets all handwriten manually so I learnt the mechanics of everything from scratch and knew exactly where to look things up with no internet and a lot of information was stored in my head.
Brochures that looked like this
BEA and BOAC which eventually merged to become British Airways. We were invited on Laker inaugural in 1974 but we missed it because we couldn’t find Stansted pre M11
Hostesses (nearly all female) that looked like this
During my time at Kennings and then At PIckfords our clients were a mixture of little old ladies doing coach trips to Brighton, rail tickets, ferry tickets and tickets to the Caribbean. So much so I knew every Caribbean accent. I learnt how to construct European rail tickets across land borders.
West London Air Terminal was where I worked in the late seventies which is now Sainsburys British Airways I learnt about mileage, fare construction and routings. and servicing clients with special needs.
I had a computer a bit like this and a headset In those days it was all manual ticketing and fare construction so I really had to know what I was doing. .
Since then I have been through 2 recessions, redundancies, the gulf war, holiday companies folding, shops closing and most notably. the Intasun and XL collapse, the tsunami, air crashes, ferry disasters, various airline strikes and more recently the ash cloud and on a more personal level, clients who have lost passports, needed help with visas and clients who have fallen ill in resort and each time I have been there to offer expert advice and a helping hand.
I worked at Thomas Cook for 21 years. At first it was fun but then it was more and more about directional in house selling rather than what the customer actually wanted to buy. Eventually I was working a 90 hour week. I’d had enough, no job was worth that, and my health was suffering mentally and physically, another friend introduced me to Travel Counsellors. I felt at ease straightaway amongst people who are just like me, knowledgeable passionate and genuinely caring about their clients and not just their wallets.
So how is all this relevant today, well firstly to show that my travel knowledge doesn’t just come from reading Lonely Planet, pressing a few buttons and playing with Google, although I do those things, it mostly comes from spending over 2/3 of my life working in the industry, building contacts as well as contracts and being passionate about what I do.
Secondly its to show how much things have changed and how we’ve all had to adapt and evolve with changing trends, its about keeping up with new resorts, airlines, hotels changing hands and most of all the internet. In many ways things are easier now and certainly that’s true with communications, we no longer have to wait a week for a telex confirmation, we can normally get an answer within a few hours as phone calls are cheaper and emails are instant. It also makes research easier, in days past we had to rely on maps in brochures to find out where a hotel was in relation to the beach or where it was in the city. Now I can check googlemaps and websites as well. I only use brochures to supplement information not on the website for information such as how many rooms in the hotel or better information on services.
Thirdly the world is smaller and expectations and perceptions are different and whereas in the seventies brochures featured a few resorts in Spain, Italy and Yugoslavia for 7 or 14 nights and clients would walk into a high street shop to book their holiday. There were £69 holidays with long since gone Sunmed and Blue Sky to unnamed Corfu in the eighties which included a flight which was usually at 3am, delayed by several hours and the accommodation would be a hard bed, a room that smelt of damp, a wardrobe with the door hanging off and a shower that dribbled in the wrong places. Clients are now more likely to do their own research and to go multi centre and travel to places Vietnam and Cambodia or to spend 2 nights, here and three nights there and use a combination of flights, trains and car hire. They expect boutique hotels, Michelin stars and designer labels and I have to be reasonably familiar with anywhere from Aberdeen to Zimbabwe to keep on top of competition or at least know someone who does
Regulations have tightened up for travel agents and tour operators, all holidays must legally be covered by ATOL or ATOL flight plus and that also means that all accommodation must be health and safety checked which is why we only use select suppliers. Most of the online booking agencies are not regulated
The other thing that has changed is 24 hour support. In the old days if the shop closed at 5.30 that was it, no contact until the next day, now I frequently book flights at 10 pm, check clients in, pick up a seat advantage from expired time zones, answer emails at 7am. I even made a booking while I was in Thailand recently as technology allows me to do that. Virtually all I need is a laptop, an ipad and a printer instead of a whole roomful of equipment