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Your Stories: Travel Counsellor Sally Murray shares how she coped during the pandemic

Using Zoom events to inspire bucket-list travel helped future-proof Travel Counsellors agent Sally Murray’s business, she tells Samantha Mayling

Q. What is your background in travel?
A. After leaving school in 1989, I started at Lunn Poly in Monmouth, Wales, on the Youth Training Scheme. It was fab. I had 18 years on the high street, becoming a regional manager for Tui and working for independents. It was a good mix of experience. I then worked for a training provider, visiting agents, tour operators and airlines, then I was made redundant so I got a role outside travel within the world of apprenticeships, higher education and quality assurance.

“It was a big step, going from a full-time salary to being self-employed but I don’t regret it for a second. It’s the best thing I have done; I absolutely love it.”

Q. Why did you become a Travel Counsellor?
A. I missed travel and I wanted to satisfy my travel bug, so I joined in January 2018. It was a big step, going from a full-time salary to being self-employed but I don’t regret it for a second. It’s the best thing I have done; I absolutely love it. Having been in the trade, I was aware of the business so I spoke to Travel Counsellors, and other homeworking agencies. I like the way Travel Counsellors is set up, with the personal service ethos, backed by amazing technology. I just clicked with them when I went to their head office in Manchester. The amazing back-up has really come into its own during the pandemic and cemented my decision. They have provided a lot of personal support and I tapped into their mindset programme. Mainly, I sell mid to high-end leisure travel – multi-centre holidays and complex, tailor-made itineraries; stuff you cannot easily put together yourself. I can sell cruises, ski, family holidays and bucket-list trips – and I’m building my own groups and adventure specialism.

“I just clicked with [Travel Counsellors] when I went to their head office in Manchester. The amazing back-up has really come into its own during the pandemic and cemented my decision.”

Q. What has business been like?
A. I had some clients travelling last year – a lot of UK business, and some to Greece. After restrictions lifted last summer, my first lot of overseas clients went Greek island-hopping in August – it was so exciting but it felt so complex and we had to make a lot of changes. I’m not back at pre-pandemic sales levels yet but I have had a very busy summer with overseas and UK bookings. This summer, last-minute bookings have been key. Croatia was popular. Confidence and demand are now rising. I’m busier than ever with new enquiries, for October half-term and Christmas/New Year, winter sun in Dubai, then into 2022, Easter and even 2023. We are very restricted about where we can go on holiday but it’s positive in terms of confidence.

“Confidence and demand are now rising. I’m busier than ever with new enquiries, for October half-term and Christmas/New Year, winter sun in Dubai, then into 2022, Easter and even 2023.”

Q. How have things changed since the pandemic?
A. There is a big demand for hand-holding and reassurance from an expert – someone clients can speak to whenever they want. Previously, I would meet the clients at home or in a coffee shop. I’m based in Hermitage, near Newbury in Berkshire, and haven’t got back to as much face-to-face contact as before. But now I use Zoom more than ever, because not all my business is local, and it gives me that personal connection with clients who are further afield. My Zoom events have generated bookings too. Travel is still challenging and complex but that is driving people to use agents like myself – there have been so many restrictions, and there are also changes with Brexit. Independent travellers have not had the support of an expert and lots of people struggled to get replies from travel companies last year. I’m lucky to have a network of support with Travel Counsellors.

“I use Zoom more than ever, because not all my business is local, and it gives me that personal connection with clients who are further afield.”

Q. Did you manage to travel in the pandemic?
A. We got to France last summer but this year we’ve been away in the UK to places such as the Lake District. My planned holiday to Florida and Mexico has had to move to next year and my Intrepid fundraising trek to Morocco will now be next April. There will be lots of training over the winter – long hikes with my sister and other travel counsellors. It’s great for keeping fit and looking after my mental health. It has kept me going. We also now have more time to fundraise for Reuben’s Retreat, which is a charity Travel Counsellors has supported for a long time.

“My planned holiday to Florida and Mexico has had to move to next year and my Intrepid fundraising trek to Morocco will now be next April.”


Sarah Murray travel counsellors 2

How did you cope during the pandemic?

From March to October 2020, I was just dealing with changes and cancellations. We were lucky to have my husband’s salary and local council grants and, for a short time, I worked on test-and-trace calls.

By October, I realised I needed more focus and goals. I signed up for a five-day Intrepid trek to the top of Mount Toubkal in Morocco, with a Travel Counsellors group, to raise money for Reuben’s Retreat.

“I wanted a new approach so I started ‘Be Inspired’ destination events on Zoom. People were at home in lockdown but there was demand for bucket-list travel. I could connect with old and new clients.”

With no face-to-face contact, I wanted a new approach so I started ‘Be Inspired’ destination events on Zoom. People were at home in lockdown but there was demand for bucket-list travel. I could connect with old and new clients and inspire them.

It evolved into a YouTube channel, which is now a platform for those events, so I can share it with other clients. It kept me visible until people were ready to book again. It future-proofed my business. Destinations included Namibia, Lapland, Maldives and Costa Rica. The most successful was Iceland, and I ended up creating a group trip, which I am hosting in March 2022.

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