Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist

Facts and figures

It’s best to have a good bedside manner for those clients who need nursing through their bookings; and my colleague Penny has certainly perfected her gentle approach. I’m loath to call clients ‘patients’ but that’s the best way to describe them sometimes.

Take the couple Penny dealt with this week, who plan on getting married in 2008 (are long engagements fashionable again?). They wanted an all-inclusive honeymoon and had drawn up a budget based on the price they’d paid for a holiday in 2004.

Penny explained the basics of inflation and general economics, emphasising it was unrealistic to expect a honeymoon to come in at a budget that was already two years out of date. She worked out a revised plan and handed it to her clients.

“Could you work out how much we’d have to save from our wages each month to cover the costs from now until the honeymoon?” said the bride-to-be. “When we bought our sofas, they worked out the finance for us, so I’m sure you can.”

Penny duly pulled out her calculator and wrote out a savings plan to ensure this most cautious couple will get the honeymoon they want. Though it will work out dearer than the sofa.

Photo finish

No sooner had Penny shaken off the mantle of financial advisor than she found herself in a new role as, well, style advisor I suppose.

A local farmer called in with the photographs we’d asked for in order to obtain a visa for Russia.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to get another set done,” Penny explained in her gentle way. “There appears to be some black marks over your face. Perhaps the camera lens was dirty or there was a problem with the photo booth.”

The farmer replied there was no problem with the photo machine, but he’d been lighting a bonfire before he’d had the photos taken and hadn’t had the time to wash the soot off his face.

It’s lovely to hear of someone with absolutely no vanity about passport photos.

Grey pound; grey matter

January, as ever, was a busy month, and we saw more than our usual share of old ladies on the make.

A sweet, textbook-style grandma called in and made a beeline for my colleague Nigel, declaring: “There’s the gentleman I want to see.”

Nigel’s chest inflated and he smiled as he asked: “How may I help, madam?”.

“I’ve been told you’re the man in the know when it comes to travel. You’ve been all over the world and you have an expert knowledge of cruising.”

Nigel’s chest could barely fit in his shirt, so swollen with pride was he, and so happy to hear himself described in such a way in a shop full of potential clients.

“If it’s a cruise you’re looking for,” said Nigel, “I’m sure we can help.”

“Actually, I rather wanted to ask you a favour,” said the white-haired old dear.

“Ask away.”

“I wondered if you’d come along to our club and give a talk on cruising. We can supply a projector.”

“I’m sure we could arrange something,” said Nigel, envisaging a queue of elderly folk all waving their cheque books and desperate to book at the end of the evening. “And I could bring in some brochures if folk are keen.”

“Oh, we won’t be booking any cruises with you,” said the old girl, totally deadpan. “We book through our own cruise club, you see.”

Nigel saw red, mostly. “Well, perhaps somebody from the cruise club who actually takes your bookings could come and talk instead,” he suggested.

“I’ve asked in the past, but you know, they never seem to be able to spare anyone,” said the lady.

Nigel didn’t bother to explain the time/money equation on the grounds she would almost certainly come over deaf, so he bade her farewell with the suggestion that perhaps she might want to give the cruise club another ring. After all, they might have developed a customer-care service since the last time.

Comeback to basics

What is it they say about a good travel agent? They just can’t leave it alone. Travel, I mean. And one who never can say goodbye is Val from The Gambia Experience.

Over the years, I have written many times about Val’s exploits as one of the best fisherwomen in the industry, and of the many championships she as won – especially in the Gambia.

I’ve lost count of the times I have used puns in reference to her habit of putting men in their plaice, and I really thought when I wrote about her retirement last year that was the end of it.

How wrong I was.

Imagine my surprise when I rang The Gambia Experience this week to find myself dealing with Val who was acting as reservations clerk. It was a comeback quicker than Sinatra’s.

Val explained she had come in to help out as the reservations department was so busy, it was all hands to the pumps, even if some of the hands had stopped pumping in December.

Val tells me that being back at work has made her re-evaluate what was supposed to be her retirement. She has decided she’d like to work part-time in tour operating or retail close to her home in the Eastleigh area.

It seems her only problem is her abundant experience; these days it doesn’t seem to count for much when there are lots of younger, cheaper personnel in the business. Which is a shame, as I for one lose patience when I hear the words, “Can you hang on while I check with my supervisor?”.

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