Head of Co-operative Travel Consortium

Twenty years since working behind the counter at Thomas Cook, consortium head Alison Holmes went back to the shop floor at a Manchester agency in January to try and better understand the day-to-day challenges agents face

Q. Tell us about the agency where you worked?
A. I joined PR World Travel, in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester, which is a member of the Co-operative Travel Consortium. It is celebrating 25 years’ trading this year and continuing to grow its business, which is a great achievement. I certainly picked a busy day, one staff member was off sick, so there were four of us and everyone was non-stop all day, from checking invoices, to stamping brochures, preparing enquiries and, of course, making the coffees.

Q. Why did you decide to go back to the shop floor?
I used to enjoy working on the counter in a number of retail stores for Thomas Cook. Since leaving retail, I went on to work for a supplier and have spent the last 12 years working in consortium. The idea came from a conversation at the Jet2 conference in Palma, when PR World Travel was discussing the challenges it faces and I realised I had been off the counter for too long.

To understand and offer our members the benefits they require from their consortium, I decided I needed to understand the challenges they face today. I wanted to understand how we can make their jobs easier by providing relevant assistance and tools. So at our conference last year, me and my colleague Gillian Travis, offered our assistance to our members during the busy month of January.

Q. How much have things changed from your days on the frontline?
Since working at Thomas Cook 20 years ago, plenty of things have changed. Competition is now tougher, with suppliers who sell direct and 20 years ago we certainly did not dynamically package holidays and there was no fluid pricing. When I was on the counter, we worked just from the brochures and only had the small Sony viewdata screens with very limited information. Now it is much easier to get detailed information.

Q. What was the most challenging part?
A. You really need to know your product well. After 20 years away, this was a challenge, especially when you want to offer a good service and provide the correct answers for customers. With the help of the fab team at PR World Travel, I don’t think I upset anyone.

Q. What did you learn?
A. Some suppliers make it quite hard to deal with them and getting an answer to a query can be frustrating. Rather than assisting agents they put barriers in place and making contact with them can be difficult.

Q. Did you sell any holidays?
Yes, a Jet2holidays booking for a family in July and then the following week a couple whose enquiry I had started working on confirmed their honeymoon in Mexico. I still got that buzz after all these years, of booking someone’s dream and sharing in their excitement.

Alison’s CV

2014 to date: head of The Co-operative Travel Consortium
2012-14: Head of Freedom Travel Group & Co-operative Personal Travel Advisors
1996-2012: various roles at Freedom Travel Group and sales manager at Premier Holidays
1991-1996: branch manager, Thomas Cook, various locations

A colleague says:

Tania Lowe, partner, PR World Travel
“Alison got started straight away checking confirmations and tickets and making sure they were all correct and calling customers to advise their tickets were in.

“We were all serving so Alison was answering the phone and taking down enquiries, as well as helping customers at the shelves.

“We were all serving when a customer came in and wanted to book, but Alison remembered her roots and made the booking and loaded it onto Tarsc – so she’s definitely not lost her touch.

“It was a busy day and it was a good job that she was there to help us.”