The Leicestershire-based homeworker set up with The Personal Travel Agents at Co-operative Travel just as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, she hopes agents will be the way forward for many people who have booked online
Q. Why did you decide to set up your own business this year?
A. I took a break from travel for four years after I had my daughter. I had the intention of going back sooner, but with family issues it didn’t happen. I thought about retraining and I was trying to think what I could do from home that was flexible. I realised how much I missed the travel industry. Why throw away 21 years’ experience? I used to be a branch manager at an independent agency. I couldn’t go back to working in an office as it was difficult with school pick-ups, so I decided to become a homeworker.
“I thought about retraining and I was trying to think what I could do from home that was flexible. I realised how much I missed the travel industry. Why throw away 21 years’ experience?”
Q. How difficult has it been to return to working in the travel industry?
A. It was nerve-wracking because so much has changed in the time I’ve been away. I had to get to grips with the latest Package Travel Regulations. I had no client base because I had been out of the industry for four years. I was nervous to start off with as I was working alone, unlike I had been in a shop. Selling holidays was the easy bit; it was the new procedures, working for a different company on a new system and making sure I was doing it right [that was harder], and having to know all the new entry requirements for different countries.
Q. What was it like starting a business just as the UK went into lockdown?
A. My training with Midcounties was in February, when coronavirus began to be on the news. I started my business in March. The lockdown gave me the chance to do some training and now I feel so confident. During the [first] lockdown I was doing a lot of work after my daughter went to bed. My husband is also working from home and my mum lives with us, so if I was on the phone they were able to help during the day.
Now I can do everything while my daughter is at school. I’ve not been as busy as I’d hoped, but luckily we are not relying on my business [as an income]. I knew it would take time to build up and I would like to have got it more established by now, but it will come.
“I’ve not been as busy as I’d hoped, but luckily we are not relying on my business [as an income]. I knew it would take time to build up and I would like to have got it more established by now.”
Q. Did you carry on marketing during the lockdown?
A. I didn’t put my business on hold. I was still on Facebook and doing marketing. I kept my presence and then all of a sudden it started to perk up. I made my first booking at the end of April. In May and June it really started to take off for a couple of months and I was getting recommendations from clients I had booked previously. Facebook really got my business going.
I did some good high value bookings and it was busy. I’m selling a broad range of holidays but I love doing tailor-made trips. I won’t turn anything away. I definitely don’t want to hibernate; you have to sow the seed by posting offers. You can’t let people think you have given up.
Q. Were you able to put your knowledge to good use while no one was booking?
A. During the first lockdown I had people asking me advice about holidays they had booked elsewhere. I put on my Facebook that I could probably help and a couple of people approached me. Who knows if they will come back to me to book but I think agents will be the way forward for many people who have booked online.
“Facebook really got my business going. I did some good high value bookings and it was busy. I’m selling a broad range of holidays but I love doing tailor-made trips. I won’t turn anything away.”
Q. You’ve put videos on your Facebook page. How has that helped your business?
A. My videos have created good engagement. I even got my little girl involved to say the Canaries were open on one of the videos I did! I always had the intention of doing videos and being on video calls to Midcounties really boosted my confidence. Having done them I can see how much they add value. I talk a lot about personal service on my videos; that’s what people want. The first one took a few takes but once you get into it it just rolls off the tongue. I’m not going to hide, I have to be positive and confident.
How do you feel about the future?
Even though it’s not been a good time to start a business, in the end [after this pandemic] I think people will think to book with an agent because they will want someone to speak to. As bad as this has been, I’ve got enquiries from people for 2022 and for when certain restrictions are lifted. It is difficult trying to work out all the new restrictions, but you have to get it right.
Before it would just be checking passports and visas; now you have to make sure all these rules and quarantine forms are done. It’s how travel is now, the new way of travelling. I have no regrets about starting up my business this year. I’m focused on the fact sales may pick up from January and, from what I’ve done so far, I’m really excited and positive for the future.