Emma shares her experiences spanning the collapse of former employer Thomas Cook, the Covid-19 pandemic and fundraising efforts. Juliet Dennis reports.
Q. What’s your background?
A. I’d always worked for Thomas Cook. I was a branch manager in Newport in the Isle of Wight and became regional manager for Gatwick South, covering 27 stores. That was my job when Thomas Cook collapsed on September 23, 2019. I was then approached by Barrhead Travel in the December about getting a team together to open a new shop in Newport. Four of the former Thomas Cook team in Newport joined me so there were five of us when we officially opened.
“I was approached by Barrhead Travel in the December about getting a team together to open a new shop in Newport.”
Q. How difficult was it for you when Thomas Cook collapsed?
A. None of us could believe it. When I woke up to find out the company had gone, I was devastated and very emotional. I didn’t know what I was going to do; travel was all I’d ever known. The same day, I found out I had cervical cancer. I remember thinking I felt like I had lost everything. I’d lost my job and got cervical cancer overnight; it was awful. I had to have two operations. When Barrhead Travel first rang me about a job, they said to tell them when I was ready to start work. Barrhead was amazing [in supporting me].
“The same day, I found out I had cervical cancer. I remember thinking I felt like I had lost everything.”
Q. What was it like during the pandemic?
A. I remember saying to the girls I didn’t think they’d ever close the high street. Then we were told to work from home. We furloughed some staff for some of the time and we had one redundancy. I worked through. We hadn’t been open long in Newport so didn’t have lots of local business. I was taking calls from customers all over the country to move and refund bookings. We worked closely with the head of sales and regional managers and they were in contact all the time; everyone supported each other. We did Zoom calls with staff; I missed my team. The shop reopened in April and the team has been back since then. Barrhead has been fantastic, like one big family. Myself and my team are so thankful they gave us the opportunity to open a shop on the island.
“We worked closely with the head of sales and regional managers and they were in contact all the time; everyone supported each other.”
Q. Tell us about your first booking over Zoom.
A. I had an enquiry for a Royal Caribbean cruise for four households all going together and I suggested we get together on Zoom. I’d never done it before so I was quite anxious. None of them had seen each other for months; they were in Scotland but it was in lockdown. When they all saw each other they got very emotional. I ended up booking a cruise for all 12 of them on Anthem of the Seas to the Canaries. It was so lovely. They go next month!
“The shop reopened in April and the team has been back since then. Barrhead has been fantastic, like one big family.”
Q. Has the pandemic changed your customer base?
A. The shop has very supportive local customers from our Thomas Cook days. I’ve also got customers who I helped during the pandemic still booking with us, so it’s boosted our business. I am in regular contact with one in Scotland who has a boat on the south coast. He came to the Isle of Wight with his wife and they took me out for a coffee! It’s been great to develop new client relationships.
Pictured: Emma fundraising with her cousin Trudie
Q. How did you get into doing so much charity work?
A. Barrhead Travel encourages work with local charities. We chose the Mountbatten Hospice. We invited them to cut the ribbon at our shop opening. We have a good relationship with the hospice and use our Facebook page to raise money. We sell their badges in store and take part in fundraising events. I’m running 60 miles this month with my cousin and so far we’ve raised more than £1,000. We run four mornings a week on average, up to five miles each time. It does get easier and by the time I get to work it’s done and I feel better in myself.
“I’m running 60 miles this month with my cousin and so far we’ve raised more than £1,000. We run four mornings a week on average, up to five miles each time.”
Q. What’s your next charity challenge?
A. All of us in the shop have signed up to do Walk The Wight. You can do the whole 24 miles from Bembridge to Alum Bay or half. A couple of us will do the whole thing and then meet the others half way. We will start our fundraising in January. It’s quite a hard walk as you have to go over Tennyson Down.
Pictured: Emma on stage at the AAAs
How did it feel to be nominated for Travel Weekly’s Agent Achievement Awards for leisure manager of the year?
It was incredible to be shortlisted – I was over the moon. I didn’t win, but I loved going to the Agent Achievement Awards and reconnecting with so many people in the industry that I’d not seen for ages. I was asked to go on stage for the ‘Price Your Flights Right’ game hosted by AAAs headline sponsor Virgin Atlantic. I was the lucky winner and got two Upper Class flights to New York! I’ve never been to New York and so I’m going to take my husband there next year for his 50th birthday.