Your Holiday Booking homeworker Gill Preston remains upbeat. Juliet Dennis reports.
Q. You’ve had a long and varied career in travel. How did you get started?
A. I’ve been in travel for 34 years. When I left college at 17, I worked in hotels, then I went travelling and lived on a kibbutz in Israel, picking avocados for £5 a week. I didn’t do it for the money, but it was a brilliant experience. Once a month, we visited different places, like the Dead Sea. Back home I got itchy feet and went travelling again, ending up in Turkey, and that’s how I really got into travel. I was chatting to someone at the airport and got offered a job as an airport rep with Nova Tours [set up after ILG’s demise], taking guests to the airport and back. I was thrown in at the deep end. I had a bit of training, then did one season before the company went bust. I had a couple of years working with smaller companies in Turkey before I got a job with Thomson as an overseas rep. I spent 12 years with Thomson and worked in Turkey, Cyprus, Gran Canaria and the Algarve. I absolutely loved it.
“I had a couple of years working with smaller companies in Turkey before I got a job with Thomson as an overseas rep. I spent 12 years with Thomson and worked in Turkey, Cyprus, Gran Canaria and the Algarve.”
Q. How did you find switching from being an overseas holiday rep to a travel agent?
A. I moved back to Leeds after Turkey, where I’d lived and got married. I was back with my parents with a two‑year-old. I got a job at an independent agency where I had to learn sales on the shop floor. I knew the countries but had to learn how to sell; it was a big change. I had a really supportive team. I could help with the resorts; they helped me with places I hadn’t been to and with managing codes and sales.
Q. Why did you become a homeworker?
A. The agency closed and I was made redundant. I got a job at the Post Office but missed travel. I didn’t want to work for a big company and there weren’t many independents nearby, so I decided to try homeworking. It was a massive step. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be the right thing for me, but looking back I wish I’d done it earlier. It was Future Travel when I joined [later Freedom Personal Travel Advisors]. It worked out for my lifestyle with my daughter, who was seven at the time.
“I decided to try homeworking. It was a massive step. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be the right thing for me, but looking back I wish I’d done it earlier.”
Q. How have you coped with Covid, so soon after the Thomas Cook collapse?
A. With Covid, it’s been worse financially. With Thomas Cook, we were on our own, but this year with Covid it hasn’t been just us – everyone has been in the same situation. I’ve dealt with it better. I did think the business was coming back in July, but then after the advice for Spain changed it went downhill. I’ve been lucky; I got some money from the government, and I don’t have to pay rent and rates for a shop. My husband is working full-time and my daughter got a job at Tesco. The last 12 months have been an emotional rollercoaster. My poor husband and daughter: one minute I’m alright and then I’m down. It’s been very difficult.
Q. Have you done anything to spur sales this year?
A. I’ve been in travel for more than 30 years, the last 10 of them in homeworking. To mark those 10 years, I decided to do something each day over 10 days on my Facebook page to promote the different holidays I can book, including rail holidays, packages, attractions, car hire and UK breaks. I gave away a prize a day – for things like making a booking or sharing a post on Facebook. I wanted people to know I’m still here, booking holidays.
“I’ve been lucky; I got some money from the government, and I don’t have to pay rent and rates for a shop. My husband is working full-time and my daughter got a job at Tesco.”
Q. What are the prospects for your business?
A. I did a video on destinations you can travel to and have been doing mailshots and phoning customers to say ‘I know you can’t travel now but I am still planning to be here for another 10 years plus’. I don’t want to give up.
You were a Freedom PTA when Thomas Cook collapsed. How did you rebuild?
I’d been a homeworker for nine years when Thomas Cook collapsed. It was hard trying to deal with customers but not being able to do anything. We didn’t have a licence to trade and couldn’t get into systems to check things. I had to tell customers to bear with me, that I would do my best to move to another company. I was not trading for only three days in the end, but they were three very long days. Your Holiday Booking, part of Vertical Travel Group, took on 100 Freedom advisors. Luckily, all our systems were with Vertical, so we just had to tweak a few things and were back up and running.
“When Thomas Cook collapsed, I thought I’d lost all my future bookings but a lot of operators let us move them over. Some we were dealing with even though we weren’t getting commission.”
I’d phoned other consortia [about joining] but it was going to take weeks to get set up. Your Holiday Booking knew we were struggling financially and gave us instant commissions, which we didn’t have before. That made a massive difference financially. When Thomas Cook collapsed, I thought I’d lost all my future bookings but a lot of operators let us move them over. Some we were dealing with even though we weren’t getting commission. It was also a learning curve in terms of which operators we wanted to work with from then on.