Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist

A new face for Touchdown

A familiar face called into the office this week, in a new role. David Longmuir, formerly of Travel 2/4, is now group sales manager for Touchdown, and it was in this capacity that he popped in with news of the products available to agents and – in something of a departure from the company’s previous trade-only operation – to clients.

Touchdown has always offered super deals for agents and other members of the industry – with such a demanding clientele, it has had to – and it continues to do so through both phone and online bookings. But with its new Malaysia programme, the company is pushing its product in the general marketplace. Of course, discerning members of the public tempted by the prospect of a trip with add-ons that include sunset cruises, yacht charters and gourmet meals can only book through agents – which is as it should be.

A stopover brochure is also available for clients en route to Australasia – but again, it’s only bookable through agents. It was great to see David doing his rounds with renewed enthusiasm and reinforcing the value of the agent on the high street with a company that won’t sell direct to the public. Well done David, for keeping us afloat. More power to your elbow… or should that be rudder?

Zoe puts her foot down

On the subject of the travel industry and its discerning/demanding members, I must mention Zoe Staines, manager of Travelcare in Rayleigh, Essex. Graham Hawkins of Occidental Hotels had reason to call in on Zoe recently. But before he was able to explain himself, Zoe unleashed all guns.

“Where’s my mouse mat?” she demanded. Having recently completed Occidental Hotels’ training programme, she had expected to be awarded an all-singing, all-dancing mouse mat. (What this mouse mat doesn’t do, apparently, is not worth doing. It has a built-in calculator and is highly sought-after. Expect to see them on eBay soon.)

Graham was forced to tell Zoe he didn’t come bearing mouse mats. But before she could draw breath to deliver a fresh verbal onslaught, he managed to announce she had won the use of a Cabriolet car for a month. From desktop to open top – Zoe was dumbstruck!

Colleagues in Zoe’s office tell me she has acquired a whole new image and is driving around like Lady Penelope, although without a butler called Parker.

Of course, getting the car back may now be the problem for Graham. My best advice would be that he ensures he has a mouse mat ready to offer Zoe on the day.

It makes your blood boil

I’m sure there is an army of clients out there being specially trained by sadistic generals to torture travel agents relentlessly.

You’ve all met the foot soldiers of this particular infantry. They are the ones who take delight in calling into your office and proudly announcing they have taken your advice, but they won’t be booking with you, thanks all the same, as they can book direct.

I mentioned recently the woman who came in to thank me for recommending a particular tour operator with whom she had managed to book direct and had subsequently enjoyed a terrific holiday. But I’m now finding some feel ready to thank us for our free advice and work before they have even left the UK.

Such was the case with a chap who called in this week.

Both my colleague Nigel and I had spent time on his proposed itinerary to India. This incorporated obscure train services to little-known villages out in the sticks where he hoped to make contact with relatives of the founders of a tiger-preservation charity, as well as finding steam-train enthusiasts dotted throughout the sub-continent with whom he had become friendly over the Internet.

We had recommended Trans Indus to this client, who told us he had to confer with his family before booking with us.

He called later to say that, unfortunately, not all the members of his party could get time off work together, so he wouldn’t be going after all. Hmmm.

This week he stood before us as he unleashed the wounding words: “I wanted to thank you for recommending Trans Indus to me for my trip to India. They’ve been extremely helpful in constructing a very intricate itinerary. So good, in fact, that I recommended them to my friends, who booked with them and who have just returned. They had a wonderful time.”

He smiled. “I haven’t been myself yet, but I’m sure I’ll have a great trip too!”

A speechless Nigel reached for a hanky to dab away the perspiration along his brow as he resisted indulging in any act of violence that might have sprung to mind.

The client left before either my other colleague Penny or I could say anything – which was just as well, because I believe you can be prosecuted for swearing in a public place.

I rang Neal Sealy, manager of Trans Indus, to ask if ‘our’ client had really booked direct. Neal checked the name and confirmed a direct booking had been made.

The client had even visited the operator’s office, but when asked how he had heard of Trans Indus, had conveniently forgotten to mention his travel agent and said he had seen an advertisement in a paper.

Trans Indus works closely with agents and, like us, doesn’t like doing the job twice. In this case, Neal gallantly agreed to honour the agent’s input, for which we tortured souls were most grateful.

Well done, Trans Indus! The agent lives to battle another day.

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