Midcounties Co-operative Travel’s learning and development manager David Watts-Davies tells Samantha Mayling about his 20-year career and winning the Agency Support award at the AAAs.
Q. How did you start in travel?
A. As a kid, Mum and Dad took me to travel agencies to book our holidays. I was fascinated – I always wanted that role. I joined Lunn Poly as an apprentice, aged 16. Within three years, I was assistant manager and, by 2004, I was working for Holiday Hypermarket. I became European manager, looking after the team that sold European holidays. They became Tui superstores and I was a superstore manager. I loved being part of a big team and working with customers. I was mostly in the West Midlands – Wolverhampton and Telford. Then I returned to the high street as a retail branch manager with Tui in places like Walsall.
“As a kid, Mum and Dad took me to travel agencies to book our holidays. I was fascinated – I always wanted that role.”
Q. How did you get into your current learning and development role?
A. I loved supporting new colleagues and starters with no travel experience. That showed my passion for training. In 2016, I got a Co-op Travel job as a knowledge and skills officer. Later, I was promoted to my learning and development role, based at Midcounties Co-operative Travel’s offices in Walsall. I’m in charge of developing skills for retail colleagues plus support for tour operator partners, and taking on apprentices. We have an inhouse talent programme and I work closely with learning and development colleagues across the wider Co-op society.
“I’m in charge of developing skills for retail colleagues plus support for tour operator partners, and taking on apprentices.”
Q. How did you cope with the pandemic?
A. More than 90% of training used to be face-to-face, by going into branches and with tour operators. From March 2020, colleagues had to support customers from home. My role changed very quickly, making sure colleagues had the knowledge and skills to deal with the pandemic. We developed e-learning and did a lot on Teams. It was a challenge – some face-to-face training would last a full day but had to be shorter for online, so we needed to be creative. Our colleagues were resilient and adapted well – they really engaged online.
“My role changed very quickly, making sure colleagues had the knowledge and skills to deal with the pandemic.”
Q. Is your role getting back to normal?
A. I hope to be on the road again to support the branches soon. Next year, we’ll hold more face-to-face training and events. I get a buzz being in the room and we are a sociable industry. As a trainer, it is the best experience to be together, getting that high-level engagement. It’s easier to create a fun environment. Icebreakers at the start help nervous colleagues to talk about their experiences. We have trained on Teams about online sales, including the dos and don’ts of that medium. Customers like face-to-face contact on Teams and can book through email and social media too – we’ve done training about that.
“Customers like face-to-face contact on Teams and can book through email and social media too – we’ve done training about that.”
Q. How did you help staff on furlough?
A. We updated furloughed colleagues about new training and worked with operators on webinars and resources. Before staff returned to their branches, we gave lots of support. We helped with health and safety protocols and worked with our charity partner, Mind, to support colleagues with their feelings about the changes.
“Before staff returned to their branches, we gave lots of support. We helped with health and safety protocols and worked with our charity partner, Mind, to support colleagues.”
Q. Why do you think you won the Agency Support Team Member of the Year award at the AAAs?
A. I was put forward by my line manager. Like anyone in travel over the past 18 months, I have adapted and supported other roles. For example, I was involved in trials of new systems. I supported the central learning and development team – which includes food, childcare and others – and helped travel’s central operations team. We’ve had acquisitions, such as Central England Co-op and Carrick Travel, so I helped embed those colleagues.
“We want events with operators and consumers too. I can’t wait to sort fam trips; it is a fantastic way to learn first‑hand.”
Q. What’s next for you and Midcounties?
A. We’re looking at different ways of training – there is value in online and digital but we also want face-to-face. We want events with operators and consumers too. I can’t wait to sort fam trips; it is a fantastic way to learn first‑hand. We do sustainability training with operators and our inhouse Co-operative Holidays. Fair trade is also a key part of the Co-operative ethos and is one of our values.
How have you felt since winning the AAAs award?
I haven’t stopped smiling since I found out. I’m so pleased to have been recognised within this amazing industry.
During the pandemic, I continued to develop our colleagues and provide them with the knowledge and skills to deliver the high level of service that our customers and members expect. I have taken on additional roles to support Your Co-op Travel and also the wider Co-op society.
“I love this industry and I have the best gig in the world, working with retail colleagues who are so eager.”
Everybody in travel has done long hours; we’ve all pulled together. We want to see everyone succeeding but we’re wary of burnout too, so we offer amazing support for wellbeing and work-life balance. I love this industry and I have the best gig in the world, working with retail colleagues who are so eager. I was not able to be at the awards, though – I was gutted. My line manager collected it for me. The Agent Achievement Awards is an event that everyone in travel respects. Even being shortlisted was incredible.
This year is my 20th working in this industry and winning this award is the icing on the cake.