Travel Counsellors agent Claire Young recalls taking on a mentoring role during the pandemic while also building up her weddings and honeymoons business. Samantha Mayling reports.
Q. What is your background in travel?
A. My career was a happy accident. At the age of 16, I had the opportunity of a YTS [Youth Training Scheme] position in my local United Norwest Co-op. I started with opening mail and processing confirmations and tickets before moving on to the main counter, then foreign exchange. I fell in love with it immediately. I also worked for Lunn Poly, Going Places, Thomas Cook and smaller independent agencies before I took time out to have my daughters Daisy and Darcy. After recovering from a stroke in October 2012, I decided to return and worked in the legal complaints department of an OTA, then my local Tui store.
“I started with opening mail and processing confirmations and tickets before moving on to the main counter, then foreign exchange. I fell in love with it immediately.”
Q. Why did you join Travel Counsellors?
A. I met my partner Paul in March 2017 and told him I would like to have my own business. I went to Travel Counsellors’ head office in Trafford Park and met Ashley Butler from recruitment. As soon as I walked in the door I felt at home. A gentleman began chatting to me, asked my name, shook my hand and asked why I had decided to look at Travel Counsellors. Ashley told me it was Steve Byrne, the chief executive. As I left, he said: “Bye Claire, hope to see you again soon.” I was a bit shellshocked – I don’t think my regional manager had ever remembered my name let alone the chief executive of a big company like Travel Counsellors. Paul said: “Let’s go for it.” On December 5, 2017, my business went live. It is very much a family business – both of us and our kids are involved to some capacity. Two of my clients are now honorary grandparents to the kids. I sell mostly short and long-haul leisure, UK holidays and cruise. I have dealt with a lot of group enquiries, mostly hen and stag parties, holidays for anniversaries and milestone birthdays, destination weddings and honeymoons.
“I went to Travel Counsellors’ head office in Trafford Park and met Ashley Butler from recruitment. As soon as I walked in the door I felt at home.”
Q. How did you cope during the pandemic?
A. It was tough. We had a great first two years and in October 2019 moved into an office in the town centre of Wythenshawe, Manchester, but then had to let that go. 2020 was set to be our biggest year and when the lockdown started I just watched it all fall off the books. Most clients moved their travel plans further down the line. If anyone wanted a refund, we obliged. It stood me in good stead as, within the next six months, everyone who had a refund did come back and book with me. In March 2020 I was distraught. Paul and I crunched the numbers – we would have to tighten our belts a bit but we looked OK. We had his salary and I had the SEISS (Self-Employed Income Support Scheme) grant. The business had to come first and we had to stay close to it.
“Bookings take twice as long now, making sure the client knows about everything and taking them through the process and forms.”
Q. What are bookings like now?
A. Bookings now are great – people have had such a hard 18 months that everyone just wants something to look forward to. They want someone who can guide them and share expertise. Bookings take twice as long now, making sure the client knows about everything and taking them through the process and forms. I am building a garden office so I can have face-to-face meetings with clients. Wedding fairs are starting again and people are planning weddings. Hen and stag parties switched to staycations in the pandemic, but some are going overseas together as a “sten do”, so couples can share rooms and share costs. Paul and I are going to Iceland in October and I can check wedding locations, private tours and hen and stag options.
“Hen and stag parties switched to staycations in the pandemic, but some are going overseas together as a “sten do”, so couples can share rooms and share costs.”
Q. Any memorable bookings?
A. A wedding at Nissi Beach, Cyprus, in August 2019 with a couple who had 50 friends and family. It was an amazing experience and beautiful to watch the day unfold via their social media. In total it was worth about £65,000. Another was a tailor-made twin-centre honeymoon in Las Vegas and Mexico. They have since had several holidays with me and are expecting their first child – I’ve planned their first family holiday for this Christmas.
What was it like being a Travel Counsellors mentor during the pandemic?
I worked with new travel counsellors, supporting them and giving advice. It gave me more gumption, it was like mental vitamins for me. I was seeing them succeed in the worst time the travel industry has known – and I knew I could keep going too. I planned for my business and wanted to move more into destination weddings and honeymoons.
“Travel Counsellors have an amazing support package but the biggest thing is community. It’s not a ‘them and us’ operation. We are all in it together.”
When an opportunity with a leading bridal magazine, County Brides, presented itself, I grabbed it with both hands. I ended up with a 10-page feature including a honeymoon competition, advert and articles about honeymoons, times to travel, Mauritius and hen and stag parties. It has created lots of leads.
Travel Counsellors also set up a fund for any travel counsellors who were struggling and hosted virtual conferences. They have an amazing support package but the biggest thing is community. It’s not a ‘them and us’ operation. We are all in it together. We genuinely want to see each other succeed and will offer our own advice and share experiences.