General manager, Latitude, Thomas Cook
I WANTED to be a policewoman when I was at school. I went to see a career’s advisor and ended up on a travel and tourism course – I’ve no idea how that happened! I travelled a lot when I was younger so it must have come up in conversation, but I’ve never looked back.
My first job in travel was for British Rail. I lasted there about 16 months and at 18 I become one of the regional trainers. It wasn’t what I wanted to do long term but it gave me my break into the industry. I certainly didn’t want to work for a travel agency – but that’s exactly what I ended up doing! I worked in High Wycombe and I loved it. The social life was brilliant. I got to travel a lot too, mostly to Europe and the Caribbean.
The highlight of my career was when I joined Thomas Cook Signature as Africa product manager nine years ago. After four days in the job I flew to Cape Town. There was a cloud over Table Mountain when I arrived but when I got up to start work and opened the curtains where I was staying, the clouds had gone and I saw the mountain. Southern Africa is my favourite destination. It’s so diverse. There are not that many places which have so much on offer.
I don’t particularly like being a tourist – I like to see more of the local life. You certainly get that opportunity working in product. I don’t like to stand still in my career – I always wanted to be further up the food chain. It allows you to look at the bigger picture. But I would never change my years as a travel agent, the insight and knowledge it has given me are invaluable.
It’s a steep learning curve to go from being a travel agent to a tour operator, and I would not say it was easy. I became general manager of Latitude at its launch last year. There are only eight of us. There is a huge amount to do and we have got big competition in the market. The challenge is to be better than them in terms of what we offer. We are not just focused on beach product. I want our service to be exceptional.
Travel agents today have got a tough job. It’s our job to make their lives easier. I am a tough boss because there is a huge amount to be done but I also like to laugh, joke and let off steam. All the team is passionate about Latitude. The nice thing is we’re part of a big organisation in terms of support.
When I go on holiday I do tend to use our product. It’s a bit like a bus man’s holiday when I go away! You are always looking at the rooms and checking the service. It’s always new for my husband but not for me.
My husband was my next door neighbour. He came round for dinner one night and never went home! I’d lived in Peterborough for around five years when he moved in next door. I was just being neighbourly! He moved in – it was always going to my house we lived in – and he sold his house next door. We still live in the same street.
We got married in September last year in a game reserve in South Africa. Our baby is due at the beginning of July. I am not nervous because it’s not a reality yet. I’m sure it will be in a few weeks’ time. At the moment I am more concerned about work.
I love cooking – and I think I’ll be doing a lot more of it once I’m on maternity leave. I rarely buy microwave food and I’ve never been to McDonald’s. I wouldn’t even entertain going into one because I don’t like the food. But being pregnant you do find yourself wanting pie and chips.
I love organic products and feel we should all take responsibility for what we put into our bodies, spray on our bodies and wash ourselves in – most of my team now receive an organic box of veg each week. It’s impossible to buy 100% organic. There are so many things people don’t realise have chemicals in – anything that foams is bad! I don’t know why we are so passionate about having things that froth.
Our generation has been brought up to go to the supermarket. I think eventually people will turn back to their local products. Within Latitude’s product range, most of the hotels in tropical places have organic gardens, which I’m thrilled about. I always mention it when I am chatting to the hotel chefs. We always look at the ways hotels get rid of their refuse and sewage and recyclying. I take a personal interest in these issues because it’s close to my heart. We also always try to use local companies as our ground handlers. I think customers will become more aware of what they are doing in terms of sustainable tourism.
Being pregnant is tiring so I can’t work the hours as I usually do. It’s important to keep the work/life balance. Most of the good ideas come to me when I am driving in the car, that’s when I’m at my most creative.
I have not stopped working since I was 17 – I’ve been at Thomas Cook for 18 years – so being off work to have a baby will be very different. I am planning to get involved in watching This Morning on TV, do a lot of walking and learn how to be a mother. I am sure it’ll be a tougher job because I won’t know what I’m doing. I think it’s going to be quite a challenge.