Your Stories: Tony ‘Tagliatelle’ looks back at 45 years in the industry

Long-time sales rep – known in the past variously as Tony Titan, Tony Tourama and Tony the Tank Engine – retired in December after 45 years in the industry. He talks to Juliet Dennis.

Q. How did your career start?
Around 35 of my 45 years in travel have been jobs on the road. I started as a junior travel sales clerk for agency Frames Tours [later bought by Thomas Cook] in Manchester, earning £11.50 a week. It was an exciting place to work. I started in May 1974, a few months before Clarksons went bust in the August. It was massive news at the time.

Most people will remember me as Pickfords Travel manager in Rochdale where I opened a new shop. I got into tour operating at the end of the 1970s. At OSL Wings Holidays [later bought by Horizon], I started on reservations and ended up in the northeast as a rep on the road.

Q. Describe your big break in 1991 at Titan Travel.
I joined as northwest sales representative and within 12 months was national sales manager. When I joined, Titan was 95% direct but wanted to work more with the trade. I spoke to Richard Cuddington [former product director] and told him they needed someone with experience of the trade to do the job. He asked if I knew anyone and I said “Yes, me!”

When I went into agencies, I’d say “Choo, choo” and agents would say “Choo, choo” back

I was given the job of national sales manager. Agents in the north knew me, but I’d never really known agents in the south. I was lucky people around me had the same desire to grow the brand. I thought I needed a catchphrase. Everyone knew me as Tony from Titan so I started dropping the ‘from’. When we started doing events, people just referred to me as Tony Titan. I felt to an extent it helped build the brand.

Q. You went on to work for other operators – what new nicknames did you get?
I joined Cosmos Tourama in 2005. Andy Washington [sales and distribution director] said “You have to become ‘Tony Tourama’”, so I did. I was there for five years before I joined Great Rail Journeys – and became Tony the Tank Engine! When I went into agencies, I’d say “Choo, choo” and agents would say “Choo, choo” back. After eight-and-a-half years, in 2015, I joined Typically as sales support specialist, covering the north. I could put my experience of working for bigger companies to good use. It was challenging at times, but enjoyable.

I quickly realised that being on the road was the job I liked doing

Q. How did you find the pandemic?
I got cancer during Covid. I felt off-colour at the beginning of 2020, and was diagnosed with spine cancer. I went into hospital and was told I’d had a mini stroke. I went through a period where I was quite ill but I tried to keep busy. I went on an Online Travel Training (OTT) course at the age of 63, which I finished in 2022, aged 64. I learnt how to build a website and create video and Facebook content. They asked if I had my maths and English certificates, and I told them my school had shut down in 1974! I had to retake maths; I had a tutor but it was the hardest four hours of my life.

I qualified with a Level 3 apprenticeship. I introduced much of what I had learnt straight away to the business. I created brand guidelines and multimedia offers. My aim was not to waste what I’d learnt, and although I’ve now retired, if I get the opportunity to use those skills, I will. I might set myself up as a consultant!

Q. Why did you stay on the road rather than climb the career ladder?
I quickly realised that being on the road was the job I was comfortable in and what I liked doing. I had the opportunity to apply or move up to be a director, but I never felt it was ‘me’. I felt I was much better on the road. It’s such a varied job, there is no other like it in travel.

Q. How did you get the nickname Tony Tagliatelle?
I walked into an agency and told them I had a job at Typically – they said I needed a tag. Someone suggested Tony Macaroni. On my first day, I went to a cookery school in Italy. The first proper picture was of me making pasta so agents started calling me Tony Tagliatelle. Most people in the industry don’t know my real name – at one point even my kids called me Tony Titan.

Tony Byrne Your Stories Jan 2024 two

How did it feel for your retirement to be recognised on stage at the Hays Travel Retail Conference?

To have 600 travel advisors give me a round of applause was quite emotional. I will miss the industry. It’s like one big family, so I am sad about retiring. In the final few months I said goodbye to agents I’ve known for 30 years and it was surreal. It’s been like a farewell tour. Everyone has said very kind things, but having an illness has brought forward the need to retire.

I will miss the industry. It’s like one big family, so I am sad about retiring

A job on the road can be quite strenuous and I feel now the time is right. I got the all-clear from cancer last May but I have rods holding my back. The biggest challenge is what I will do now. I’ve had many requests to meet up with people in the trade during my first few months of retirement so I will be having a fantastic social life. Hays called me an ambassador for Wetherspoons: I’ve stayed in 32 of their 57 hotels. My next job could be a Wetherspoons mystery shopper…Tony

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