The Kyle Travel branch manager Carol Hunter recalls her previous job and talks about the switch to being a high street agent. Benjamin Coren reports.

Q. How long have you been in travel?
A. I’ve been with Kyle Travel for 15 years. Before that I worked at The Northern Echo newspaper for 10 years doing reader travel, so 25 years in travel overall.

Q. How did your career begin?
A. I grew up on a farm in County Durham. I was the oldest child and originally wanted to work on the farm, but it wasn’t big enough to support me. I started to look for a job and I spotted one for Teesdale Travel in Barnard Castle, earning £12 a week. I also had an opportunity to work for pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline, paying £25 per week. It was 1975, I was 16 and that was a lot of money to me, so I took the job with GSK and worked there for 10 years as a shorthand typist before eventually moving into travel.

Q. When did you make the switch?
A. I left GSK to raise my children. When they reached nine and 10, I wanted to go back to work. I got an admin job at The Northern Echo newspaper in Darlington in 1995. The department was called newspaper sales, and we were encouraging people to buy the paper. Within that department was reader offers and reader travel. After six months, the reader travel manager position became open and I temporarily filled it. That became permanent within a year and I was there for 10 years.

“I started to look for a job and I spotted one for Teesdale Travel in Barnard Castle, earning £12 a week.”

Q. Which companies did you work with?
A. The two biggest companies were Newmarket Holidays and a company called TravelScope, which did UK coach holidays with some flights. We also worked with Shearings, Transun Holidays, Farthing Holidays and Galaxy Holidays.

Q. Was reader travel successful?
A. We did more than £1 million in business a year just on reader holidays. It was very profitable. Tour operators bit our hands off. When they booked trips, readers thought they were travelling with The Northern Echo rather than the operators. It was like a mini travel agency, set up in the reception of the newspaper’s offices, where people could come in and book. I had regular calls every day and we got a lot of bookings. It grew and grew.

Q. Did you travel a lot?
A. I was invited on an amazing number of fam trips and got to see parts of the world I’d never have seen otherwise. In the days of reader travel, if you accepted every fam trip you were offered, you’d be away every month.

“Readers who had seen the holiday in the paper came to me; they knew what the holiday was, so it was more of an admin role.”

Q. Why did you move to Kyle Travel?
A. Eddie Kyle, who owns Kyle Travel, bought Teesdale Travel. He knew of me and called to ask if I could work there. I joined in 2005 as a sales consultant, and became a manager in 2008. Kyle Travel had an office in Yarm, in North Yorkshire, and took over Teesdale Travel as the clientele in Barnard Castle was similar and it would make a good addition to the business.

Q. How was working on the high street different to your previous role?
A. At the paper, I wasn’t really in a selling position. Readers who had seen the holiday in the paper came to me; they knew what the holiday was, so it was more of an admin role. At Kyle Travel, customers come in and want a holiday, so it’s up to me to find out what they want and where they want to go, and match a holiday to their needs.

Q. Any advice for new agents based on your experience?
A. Listen to your customer, never pre-judge, and ask them questions about what kind of holiday they want. Find out what they want to do when they get there. By listening, and asking relevant questions, you can recommend a holiday to match their requirements.


What did your reader travel job at the Northern Echo entail?

My job was the liaise with all the tour operators who were keen to work with the paper. We gave them free advertising space to promote their holidays and in return we took the commission from the sales. When I worked there it was a daily broadsheet, and the operators got a column. I’d usually include an air holidays and a couple of UK coach holidays, as our readers in the northeast wanted local pick-ups for coach tours.

The reps from the operators would come to visit and we’d have a meeting where they would tell us about the new products they had coming up. I would look at the offer and pricing and decide if it would appeal to the readers and be a good seller.

The main Northern Echo office was in Darlington but it had branches in Durham and Bishop Auckland, and for North Yorkshire there was a branch in Northallerton. I put all our brochures in those branches so people could come in, pick up a brochure and call to book.