Former Protected Trust Services relationships manager Lucy Clarke explains why now is ‘a better time than any’ to launch

Q. What was your background before launching Travology Travel?
I’d been at Protected Trust Services since 2018, recruiting agents. It was fantastic, but I was speaking to travel agents and wishing it was me. I’ve worked as a travel agent since I was 16 – I joined Going Places in 1998 – and I also worked at Broadway Travel and looked after homeworking agents there.

Q. With the pandemic going on, was August a good time to start the business?
Now is a better time than any to launch, as I don’t have to refund lots of people. I’m trying to get my work-life balance sorted. In the past, I have done too many hours but, being my own boss, I don’t have to answer to anyone. I was on my laptop at 8.30pm last night, working on my website, but I also manage to go out and do things during the day.

travology-squareQ. What are the benefits of being a PTS member?
I joined PTS to work how I want. They are there if I need them, such as for advice about regulations, but not to tell me what to do. We can have our own commercial agreements with anyone. For example, in Chester we have local coach companies I could use. PTS will do the background checks and it’s good to support local businesses.

Q. What have you been booking so far?
I’ve been booking for friends and family initially. People are excited about getting away from December-January onwards, but I’m finding that they say the risks at the moment are too high [because of quarantine restrictions].

My first booking was with Jet2holidays to Majorca for next August, for nine people, for £8,000. Then I did a Dubai booking for January, worth £4,000, and have lots of enquiries for next year. It’s been difficult setting up accounts with suppliers as so many staff are still on furlough. I’m not targeting any particular type of holidays. People want a bit of everything, from two-day breaks to two-week holidays, cheap and luxury.

Q. You’ve opted for an office rather than being based at home. Why?
It’s just me at the moment, in Chester, but I plan to grow so I’ll use the office space. It’s better to have an office than to work at home as I can do inductions and meetings here and it’s not too expensive in Chester. I’ve got an area where I can meet customers, people can make an appointment, and I have a sofa and brochures. Homeworkers in this area are welcome to come here to the office to have appointments to meet clients too.

Q. What about your online presence?
I’ve designed the website and pages on Instagram and Facebook myself, which I really enjoyed. It is colourful and a bit girlie. Pictures are a mix of stock photographs and mine – showing yourself in a destination is a great personal touch. My mum and dad went to Malta recently, so I’ve asked them for pictures and information.

Q. What are your longer-term plans?
I hope to have a company conference next year in somewhere like Palma, with suppliers. By September 2021, I hope to have maybe 15-20 homeworkers. I’ve been thinking about a retail store, as Chester would be a good place, but I wouldn’t like to have homeworkers overlapping in the same area. They can mix and match: have some local clients as well as a nationwide clientele.

Q. How optimistic are you for the future?
I was disappointed when the Spain quarantine came in as I had lots of enquiries I could have booked. It made people panic and think ‘if it can happen to Spain it could happen elsewhere’. That said, the pandemic has highlighted what travel agents can do. Customers of online travel agencies found there were not enough staff to deal with them. An old-fashioned agent is a real person that you know. I shared that Eamonn Holmes clip about the future being for agents – we need more people like him.

What are Travology’s plans for homeworkers?

I want to recruit homeworkers as self-employed agents and have had lots of interest. So far, I have three homeworkers, in various locations. My target is to have 10 homeworkers by December. Homeworkers will be called travel planners, as customers need advice and someone to make the recommendations.

The aim is for each customer to think of their travel planner for every holiday. My 75:25 commission split [in favour of the homeworker] is competitive and the monthly fee [£49] is quite low and I provide them with VOIP phone calls. When a homeworker joins, they get an induction and then tailor-made support according to their skills. I can give social media training too. We are small, so you won’t get lost among the numbers. I’ve been a homeworker and have managed homeworkers, so I want to limit the numbers, as I know that works.

Initially, I’m looking for people with travel experience. Long-term, I plan to launch a ‘travel uni’, as I can put together a training course for newcomers to the industry. There are some really good people out there but there is so much to learn. If you have worked in customer service, you have those skills and they are transferable.