Samantha Mayling catches up with Laura Randerson about making the switch from the high street to homeworking, and how she secured a booking worth almost £50k
Q. How did you start in travel?
A. I was made redundant from an architectural hardware company 16 years ago and a friend mentioned a vacancy at Lunn Poly in Hempstead Valley shopping centre, near Gillingham in Kent. Although I had no travel experience, I was taken on as a travel advisor and trained on the job. I’ve always been a ‘people person’ – the hardest thing was learning all the airport codes.
I took a break to run a pub for a year – my family has a background in pubs – but I missed travel too much. I became a deputy manager at Lunn Poly and covered for managers on maternity leave. At one, we won shop of the year, and at another I won manager of the year. I ended up back at the original store as manager.
Q. Why did you join Holidaysplease?
A. I left Tui just before Christmas 2017 to join Holidaysplease. My friend was working for them and said it was amazing. I’ve not looked back since. The biggest change was being independent – there’s a whole world of travel beyond Tui. It is crazy, in a good way, as it gives me flexibility for my clients.
I built up my clients through word-of-mouth and social media. Before the pandemic, I networked in a group called Ladies that Latte and another one called Women in Business at events in venues and hotels. Social media has been so important this year – keeping my presence out there during the pandemic.
“I built up my clients through word-of-mouth and social media. Before the pandemic, I networked in a group called Ladies that Latte and another one called Women in Business at events in venues and hotels.”
Q. How do you manage your work-life balance?
A. The beauty of working from home is the fact that everything is on my mobile – emails, Instagram, Facebook. I can watch TV in the evening but it’s no hardship to pick up my phone and reply to messages. I have days off but you can talk to customers when you are free. I have made bookings at 10pm for customers who work shifts, and I can walk the dog at 1pm if I want.
Q. What destinations have you visited?
A. I did fam trips with Tui for top sellers – one was to Universal Studios in Florida and another was a Tui cruise, visiting Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Bethlehem. I have been to many places on holiday: Greece, Cyprus, Mexico, Singapore, Bali and Dubai. For my honeymoon we went to Sandals Negril in Jamaica. I’ve not left the UK this year, although I have visited Cornwall and Scotland.
“The beauty of working from home is the fact that everything is on my mobile – emails, Instagram, Facebook. I can watch TV in the evening but it’s no hardship to pick up my phone and reply to messages.”
Q. What have you been selling lately?
A. For summer 2020, I booked staycations, such as lodges with hot tubs, and Greece and Turkey. One client travelling in the school holidays said the airport was stress-free as there were no crowds. My other bookings are for 2021 travel: the Maldives; a Route 66 trip for 10 guys marking a 40th birthday; a husband buying a holiday for his wife’s 40th; European trips; and winter sun – the Canaries air corridor was good news. But I’m not doing the same level of business as before. Bookings take more time. But some people are ready to book and want something to look forward to.
“Support from Holidaysplease has been amazing. There’s a financial support package for agents, and we have monthly Zoom calls with the whole network.”
Q. How have you coped with the pandemic?
A. At the beginning, I felt like I didn’t know my right from my left; I was doing so many refunds and cancellations. I didn’t feel there was light at the end of the tunnel. Air corridors opened things up, but then there were tests and quarantine forms, and government changes coming really late in the day. It’s been a travel agent’s worst nightmare. Support from Holidaysplease has been amazing. There’s a financial support package for agents, and we have monthly Zoom calls with the whole network.
I remember dealing with other crises, such as the ash cloud and the collapses of Monarch and Thomas Cook. Patience is key: be calm when you’re on hold for hours as you cannot do everything. Keep in contact with customers and keep them up to speed. Agents are a different breed. There have been tears, anger, grey hairs, lots of gin and times when I felt ready to throw in the towel – but we’re made of stronger stuff. Bookings are out there for 2021.
How did you secure a booking worth almost £50,000?
It was for a wedding that we’d booked originally in November 2018, for travel with Tui in April 2020 to the Dominican Republic. Having to tell anyone their holiday is cancelled is horrible but this was the worst. I had to tell them two weeks before departure; I cried and it was heartbreaking. The couple are friends of friends who have always booked with me. I kept in touch with the bride about their plans and made an appointment to visit on the day that Tui’s 2022 prices came out. What’s great about the homeworking model is how flexible we can be.
I went to them at 7.30pm and was there until 11pm – they work shifts and have a little boy, so it was the best time. I rebooked them and nearly all their original guests for April 2022. It was a really good feeling leaving their house, knowing they had a smile on their faces and could look forward to their wedding. It was worth almost £50,000, with 30 passengers. It’s cheesy but, as anybody in travel knows, we make people’s dreams come true. There is a real feelgood factor.