It’s been a tough 12 months for Lisa Weakley, managing director of Somerset agency Global Independent Travel Centre, reports Samantha Mayling.
Q. How did you set up Global Independent Travel Centre?
A. I studied travel and tourism at college then started as a trainee at an independent agency, rising to manager. There came a point where I thought ‘I can do this solo’, so I opened Global Independent Travel Centre in Clevedon in 2010. I had a large client base and got involved in community activity.
Q. How did the agency grow and when did you set up the second agency in Winscombe?
A. I moved to Winscombe to set up a family home four years ago. There was already an independent agency there. I always liked the idea of having a branch where I lived so I could truly be part of the community. After a year or so I took over the existing agency and rebranded it Global Independent Travel Centre – and so far so good. We are now a team of nine, including marketing support and business development roles.
Q. What challenges do you face?
A. 2019 was a particularly tough year. I was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer and had just begun my chemo when Thomas Cook collapsed; it was a stressful time. I’m fortunate I have a great team and support network with my husband, mum, sisters and friends. My eldest daughter Amelia started school in September and my youngest turns two this week, so life is busy and you just have to juggle it all the best you can. I’m still having some treatment but the future is looking much better.
“Because of my cancer I’ve received a ‘high-risk’ letter from the NHS, so I’m in self‑isolation for 12 weeks and running the business remotely.”
Q. How are you coping with the situation caused by coronavirus?
A. Personally it’s very difficult. Because of my cancer I’ve received a ‘high-risk’ letter from the NHS, so I’m in self‑isolation for 12 weeks and running the business remotely. Myself and my hubby are playing tag, so we can each work from home and look after our young girls and carry out our home schooling duties. Usually my mum would support me with childcare but that’s not possible now. I’m due to start my radiotherapy this month too. In relation to the business, we closed our doors to the public prior to being told to by the government. Nobody could have predicted the situation we are all in. It’s just so surreal and unbelievably devastating.
Q. Have you managed to deal with all the clients overseas or who needed to be rebooked?
A. The majority, yes. It’s ongoing but where possible we are encouraging people to reschedule rather than cancel their holidays. We’ve had a few bookings such as a gentleman booking a flight from Australia to get his daughter home.
“The rest of the team are at home and I am very grateful to the government for the furlough grant scheme, enabling me to keep them in employment.”
Q. Has it been hard to run the business remotely?
A. I have allocated one employee (working in isolation) at both the Clevedon and Winscombe branches, with direct access to client files. The rest of the team are at home and I am very grateful to the government for the furlough grant scheme, enabling me to keep them in employment. I am remaining optimistic and hoping people will be in need of a holiday when we come out the other end– I know I will.
Q. You visited Iceland just before the coronavirus crisis hit travel. What was that like?
A. I was lucky to be able to fly. I had to seek permission from my doctor because of the virus and my health conditions. Iceland was amazing, especially our first day in Reykjavik and visiting the Blue Lagoon.
“We were part of the Freedom Travel Group and lost a large sum of summer commissions, totalling about £50,000. We had to take the hit but fortunately we had the capital.”
Q. How did the Thomas Cook collapse last September affect your business?
A. We were part of the Freedom Travel Group and lost a large sum of summer commissions, totalling about £50,000. We had to take the hit but fortunately we had the capital. Our turnover is about £3 million between the two branches. Our energies were put into contacting customers whose bookings were affected, so there was less time to focus on new booking opportunities. We are now part of Midcounties; we were up and running within four days. Midcounties has been excellent.
We held a holiday show to mark 10 years in business
With everything that is happening now, it’s crazy to think that less than two months ago we were celebrating 10 years of trading by hosting our own holiday show.
It was brilliant. We held it in February and we had more than 26 travel suppliers exhibiting with us including Cunard, NCL, Sandals, Exodus and many more.
There was a turnout of more than 200 people on the day, despite Storm Dennis bringing some horrendous weather.
“We had birthday cake and refreshments for everyone, we held a wine-tasting challenge and had a charity raffle, and we had a giveaway scratchcard for everyone who signed in.”
This was our second North Somerset Holiday Show. Our first was in February 2019.
However, this year’s event was extra-special for us as we were celebrating our first decade in business.We had birthday cake and refreshments for everyone, we held a wine-tasting challenge and had a charity raffle, and we had a giveaway scratchcard for everyone who signed in. The winner on the day won £250 towards a holiday. We also took bookings for holidays on the day and have taken several since as a result of the event. The effort pays off.
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