Having returned to college after travelling, Gavin became a Florida specialist. He talks to Benjamin Coren about establishing his business, Pillinger World Travel, and meeting his wife through work.
Q. How did you join the industry?
A. I made my first steps in travel in 1997 when I went back to college to study travel and tourism after travelling and spending a year in Brazil. I was doing a telesales job when I saw an advert to sell Teletext Holidays as a Florida specialist. One of the girls I worked with left to work for an agency called The Travel Shop. She later contacted me as the agency was setting up a Florida department and she put me forward. I also met my wife Kate there.
Q. When did you set up Pillinger World Travel?
A. After some time in The Travel Shop, I thought we could do this for ourselves. It was a big risk but in December 2005 we went for it. Kate and I left and we joined the Global Travel Group and spent a week doing intensive training before setting up our office from home. We knew Global and some of the staff beforehand and have been with them ever since.
Q. How did your business grow?
A. Our first booking was for a five-night New York break. We booked it on Boxing Day. We got busy quite quickly and soon had to employ a member of staff to do our admin. We opened our first office the following year in October in Bamber Bridge near Preston. It was a little office with a small shop front and we took on our first sales person in December. From there we sold holidays online and on Teletext alongside some walk-in business. Then in October 2009 we moved into our current premises in Higher Walton, and we will have been here 10 years in October.
Q. Why do you enjoy selling the USA?
A. It’s a popular destination and what we offer allows us to provide tailor-made holidays and create unique packages for customers. The US is our bread and butter and we get a lot of repeat business from it. It offers something for everyone’s tastes. It’s such a big country and there are so many destinations within it. It’s also not necessarily the most expensive place to get to, and out-of-season flights can be quite reasonable.
Q. How do you build your customer base?
A. We pride ourselves on our customer service, and we always go the extra mile because we are passionate about what we do. We particularly love to sell holidays to destinations we have been to and where we know. I love my job and I love making people’s dreams come true. People work hard for their holiday and I want them to have their ‘wow-factor’ holiday.
Q. What is your favourite holiday to sell?
A. I like selling twin-centre Florida holidays, which are very popular so they might spend a week in Orlando and then a week on the Gulf of Mexico in a place like Naples. Other popular destinations for us include Las Vegas and Los Angeles and Route 66 holidays were particularly popular after Billy Connolly made a programme about it. Vegas is popular with stag dos and we also get a lot of young people booking holidays there. Vegas can be quite cheap and, when you go out of season, you get a lot for your money.
Q. What is your favourite destination in the US?
A. I love the Florida Gulf Coast; we often go to a place called Anna Maria Island. It’s got Florida charm, it’s laid-back and its really rustic. There are no big hotels and no chain restaurants. It has a great laid-back holiday vibe and feels like Cornwall in some places. It’s very protected, there’s a lot of wildlife and you see dolphins every day, and if you want to go out for the day, you’re only a couple of hours from Orlando.
‘I fell in love in a travel agency’
When I joined The Travel Shop in Leyland, near Preston, in 2000 I met my future wife and business partner Kate, who had already been working for The Travel Shop for four years. After I was brought in to set up the Florida department she oversaw the European side of things. I sat at the back of the office, and she sat at a desk right near me.
We got to know each other and clicked so I asked her out. In a couple of years we had moved in together. We got married in October 2002, in Orlando, Florida at the Wyndham Orlando. I had previously visited the hotel on a fam trip to Orlando, and I suggested it to Kate when we were deciding where to get married.
Before the wedding we stayed in a villa with members of our family, and my brother and his wife joined us as a surprise. We spent 10 nights in Orlando and on the wedding night we went to the Wyndham for the ceremony and the reception and spent one night there. After that we travelled to Sarasota on the coast where we stayed in a villa.