The Hays Travel Leeds White Rose manager, and our first Cover Star of 2024, tells Samantha Mayling he is offering Montenegro to those looking for ‘somewhere different’
Q. Why did you enter the Cover Stars competition?
A. We book lots of Jet2holidays, as we’re in the heart of Leeds. I was encouraged to apply because I’d been nominated for the Agent Achievement Awards. I filmed a video saying we’d booked 4,000 passengers for Jet2 last year so it would be a great opportunity to increase our sales further. I was just about to board a cruise ship in Barcelona when I got the call to say I’d won. I thought it was a prank call! I was so excited.
Q. What was the highlight?
A. Kotor. My partner Shaun Moremon [branch manager at Briggate, Leeds] told me it’s his favourite part of Montenegro. He was jealous when I said I was going. We’re visiting next year on a cruise. The scenery is absolutely stunning and it’s very traditional, with cobbled streets and small shops. There was a pop-up bar in the square, making fresh lemonade and rose wine for €5, so it was very reasonably priced. I thought it would be quite expensive, but the value for money is better than Greece and Croatia. There are high-end five-star luxury properties, with very high standards. We also went to Kod Pera na Bukovici – the oldest restaurant in Montenegro – and visited Lady of the Rocks [islet in the Bay of Kotor] as part of a boat trip, plus Lovćen National Park and several upmarket hotels.
Pictured: Luke takes in the views from Budva Old Town fort walls
Q. What was the VIP treatment like?
A. We were in the lounge at Manchester airport and were fast-tracked through security – then had a private transfer to Iberostar Slavija resort, Budva, where we were upgraded to luxury suites. My suite was as big as my shop, with breathtaking, panoramic views of the sea and mountains. I show clients my photos and videos. Customers love a personal experience. If you recommend somewhere and have your own photos, that helps close the sale. The Jet2 flight from Manchester to Tivat was only two hours and 40 minutes so I recommend Montenegro to customers wanting a short flight. The transfers are short, from just 15 minutes up to an hour.
My suite was as big as my shop, with breathtaking, panoramic views of the sea and mountains
Q. What did you think of the food and drink?
A. The cuisine was outstanding and there was so much choice. I love seafood and the standards were very good. Every restaurant and hotel showcased what they can offer diners, and there were no language barriers.
Q. What were the other Cover Stars like?
A.They were lovely and we had a fantastic trip together. We’re all still in touch and they’re doing very well selling Montenegro too. Experiencing the product definitely does work. We’re all going to the Travel Weekly Globe Travel Awards in London on January 11. Jet2 has paid for us all to stay in a hotel.
I love the camera and I’m known as Mr Instagram, but I was nervous with the lights and guests watching as they arrived for breakfast
Q. What was your photoshoot like?
A. It started at 6am, at sunrise, but it was raining so we couldn’t do it around the pool. Instead, we went on the Iberostar rooftop then the lobby. I love the camera and I’m known as Mr Instagram, but I was nervous with the lights and guests watching as they arrived for breakfast. But then I didn’t want it to end as I had the best time. I felt like a star. We were also featured by Montenegrin daily newspaper Vijesti as we explored with representatives from Jet2holidays and Iberostar Group.
Pictured: Luke at The Chedi Luštica Bay hotel harbour
Q. Have you booked Montenegro holidays since the Cover Stars trip?
A. We have booked five holidays already, three with Jet2holidays and two cruises. I shared the experience with my team – and shops in other regions asked for advice or help to close sales. I’m switch selling customers who ask for “somewhere different but don’t want to fly too far”.
Montenegro is perfect and offers luxury for half the price. It’s also helping me sell cruise. I book lots of cruises in the eastern Med because they visit Kotor. More customers want bucket-list holidays after the pandemic and they want to book with agents as they might have had problems sorting their own holidays out. Customers don’t want to risk it any more, so they’re coming in to see someone in person now, which is great for us.
I’m switch selling customers who ask for “somewhere different but don’t want to fly too far”. Montenegro is perfect and offers luxury for half the price
Pictured: Cover Stars Luke and Jessica Gilmour
Luke’s travel career
In 2006, I started a national diploma in travel and tourism then went to work for Tui in 2008. I took redundancy in 2019 and started with Hays Travel a week later – then flew to Turkey for the managers’ conference. I’ve been a manager for 12 years: I get to celebrate my team’s successes and book holidays for my customers. I had lots to learn when I moved from Tui. I went from selling one tour operator to hundreds of operators. The pandemic was very testing. I set up regular FaceTime meetings with colleagues and customers.
We sell every holiday type – we’re big on cruise and long-haul – and just had our best year; we doubled our profits this year
We sell every holiday type – we’re big on cruise and long-haul – and just had our best year; we doubled our profits this year. We’ve won ‘shop team of the year’ from White Rose shopping centre and won ‘shop team of the year’ for Hays’ Central Division last year. I enjoyed the Hays conference in Portugal [in October]. After 16 years in travel, I still learn something new every day.