Your Stories: Why Gazelle Travel’s Gordon Lawrence is a US mega-fan

Trips offer the chance to learn so much and it helps to sell if you’ve visited somewhere, the manager of Gazelle Travel in Durham tells Samantha Mayling

Q. How did you get into travel?
Many moons ago – back in 1981– I began working for Barclays Bank, before moving to Thomas Cook to sell foreign currency. I then started selling travel with Thomas Cook, before moving to [Newcastle-based independent miniple] Callers-Pegasus, which was subsequently taken over. I then joined Gazelle Travel in 1999 when it was set up by Nick Coulthard, who had also been at Callers-Pegasus. At Thomas Cook, I sold trips such as Newcastle-Gatwick flights with Dan Air and holidays to Spain. Travelling long-haul was much less common then. If you went to the US, it would be to visit friends and relatives. Then charters to Orlando started in the early 1980s.

Q. How did the shop cope with the pandemic?
We had staff on furlough and some worked from home. A lot of people came past [the shop] and said they wanted to book. When we were allowed to reopen, I would come in, by myself, so that people could see that we were still active. At the end of the pandemic, most of the people coming into the shop wanted to visit friends and relatives – grandparents or parents who had sons and daughters in places such as Australia, New Zealand and the US who they had not seen for three or four years.

Q. How is business now?
We specialise in long-haul and luxury holidays. For US bookings, New York is always popular, and the West Coast is quite busy. We’re always busy with the Far East as well. This week, I’ve been booking a client who wants to see friends in Australia next February, and also booked a Christmas holiday. In the shop, we’ve got experts on the Far East, such as Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. I was lucky enough to go on a fam trip last year to Tahiti. It was a beautiful place. I sell US holidays to all sorts of clients, but mostly families and couples. I even had two clients who were sisters and used to go to visit a third sister. They were in their late-80s and would like to do a road trip when they were there.

Q. Tell us about your clientele.
We are in the centre of Durham, near the market square. It’s quite a big university town surrounded by lots of little villages. About 10 miles away, you have the foothills of the Pennines, and bigger settlements a bit farther away such as Stockton and Newcastle. We get loads of clients via word of mouth – even people who remember us from our Callers-Pegasus days. There are clients with kids who are now grown up and have families of their own – and those kids are coming to us. Some clients even live abroad but still book with us.

We do in-store events to promote destinations, including one for New York with hot dogs and Budweisers. Overseas events are popular with holidaymakers – the 250th anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence is coming up in 2026. People also go to the US for sports tournaments such as the Masters golf. Brand USA offers online training and suppliers come in to see us – there is a lot of help out there to support us with clients.

Q. What are your main memories of the US?
My first trip was in 1986 – I went to visit cousins in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve been going to Phoenix, in Arizona, for 30 years as I have friends living there. Staying with people means you’re living like a native. I’ve been to almost all the continental states – I’ve yet to get to Wyoming – and I haven’t been to Alaska or Hawaii. All the states are different. It’s not all about the theme parks – there’s something for everyone.

You’ve got great music in places such as Nashville and Memphis, as well as places for foodies, the outdoors, mountains and history. My favourite cities include New Orleans, Chicago and New York. Away from the cities, I like upstate New York; Buffalo and Niagara Falls; the Great Lakes; the West Coast; and the Olympic Peninsula [Washington State] and Puget Sound, where you can see killer whales.

What do you like about Brand USA’s mega-fams?

There have been about 10 and I’ve been on them all. Brand USA works with British Airways, American Airlines and, this year, Aer Lingus. You complete the training online and sell flights to earn a place. Then you say which one you’d prefer out of five or six itineraries. When I return, I’ve always sold holidays to the places I’ve been to – it helps if you’ve visited somewhere.

My most memorable trips include Mount Rushmore; Seattle; Atlanta to Alabama; Cleveland; Detroit; Arizona and the Grand Canyon, and going over to Nevada for Las Vegas; Utah for Monument Valley; plus New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. You see iconic places, but you also stop at less-touristy towns and meet the locals. But it’s not a holiday when you are on a fam – you’re working.

You’re checking out the properties and you have to make sure you’re talking to the reps and your hosts. It is really important, because they put time and money into bringing you there. You have to be switched on – but you learn so much about the places and people.

Share article

View Comments

Jacobs Media is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.