Lilli Turner, trainee travel advisor of Your Co-op Travel in Evesham, talks to Juliet Dennis about becoming a travel agent and winning Young Leisure Agent of the Year at this year’s Agent Achievement Awards.
Q. How did you get into travel?
A. When I was at school we did work experience and I chose to work at Your Co-op Travel in Evesham. I’d always wanted to work in travel when I was younger. Every time we went on holiday I spoke to the airline cabin crew and holiday reps about their jobs. When I was about 13, I remember watching a documentary about Virgin Atlantic and Vivienne Westwood designing the uniforms. It was really interesting and I even wrote to Richard Branson to say I had watched it and wanted to be cabin crew! When I left school I applied to do a travel and tourism course at college but then the manager of the Evesham travel agency got in touch and offered me an apprenticeship. I started in September 2018 when I was 16.
“I even wrote to Richard Branson to say I had watched it and wanted to be cabin crew!”
Q. What was it like learning to be a travel agent?
A. I thought an apprenticeship was the best way to learn the job. To start with, I had to do a lot of online training modules and courses on cruise, attractions and destinations to improve my knowledge, as well as doing administration work in the shop before I made any bookings. My first booking was for New York. I also used to book a lot of coach holidays to get me started. I was quite nervous because of my age. A lot of customers used to ask me how old I was – and they still do now I’m 19! My apprenticeship was due to end in June 2020 but has been delayed due to the pandemic. I have done everything now, I’m just waiting to do my final exam.
“My first booking was for New York. I also used to book a lot of coach holidays to get me started.”
Q. What do you love about selling holidays?
A. I’m normally more excited than the customer for any booking. If you’re miserable, the customer will not want to book with you. I love booking a holiday that customers have always dreamed of and seeing their faces when you book it. We book everything: Europe, long-haul, bucket and spade, cruise. We make welcome-home calls and it’s lovely when they tell you they’ve had a good time or sometimes they come into the shop with a thank you gift. I have a passion for travel. Growing up, we always went on family holidays, so I’ve been to places like Greece, Spain and Florida. In the summer holidays before I started my apprenticeship, I went on an MSC cruise with my family. That was my first cruise and I’ve sold many cruises since then.
“We make welcome-home calls and it’s lovely when they tell you they’ve had a good time or sometimes they come into the shop with a thank you gift.”
Q. Did you work during the pandemic?
A. When staff were put on furlough, there was an option to work in one of the Co-op food stores so I decided to do that in March last year for a couple of months. It was so busy and I did all sorts of jobs, like door duty and shelf stacking. It was good because I felt like I was helping; they needed it because people were panic-buying because of Covid. In December, I came off furlough and went back to the travel agency for one week and then we had another lockdown. I came back to work in April this year.
“When staff were put on furlough, there was an option to work in one of the Co-op food stores so I decided to do that.”
Q. You are a Young Midcounties Ambassador. What does that involve?
A. I was one of the first Young Midcounties Ambassadors. The idea is to get more young people involved in the Co‑op Society, booking holidays and taking membership cards. I nominated myself and have been to a meeting at head office with other ambassadors to discuss how we get more young people interested and let them know we are not only for older clients. I suggested we set up an Instagram account, which we now have, managed by head office. A Co-op app was also one of the suggestions and student discounts on groceries.
“As yet I’ve not been on any fam trips, because you can only go on those when you’re 18 and there’s been the pandemic.”
Q. What are your career aspirations?
A. I want to get my apprenticeship finished and get my NVQ Level 3. Then I just want to progress further and work my way up. As yet I’ve not been on any fam trips, because you can only go on those when you’re 18 and there’s been the pandemic. I think you are so much better at selling a destination once you’ve been there; it makes a big difference.
What was it like to be named Young Agent of the Year at the 2021 Agent Achievement Awards?
I didn’t realise my manager and my team had nominated me so it was all quite a shock. I was interviewed on Zoom and asked questions, including what holidays I had sold recently, how I make sure a holiday suits a customer and what I had done while on furlough. I didn’t know who the other competitors were so I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been to an awards night before and I was really excited about going to the AAAs in London.
It was so nice to see some agents and operators I was familiar with and to catch up with them. On the night, I was just at my table when I suddenly heard my name being read out! Winning the award has really helped my confidence and customers have said ‘well done’. When I told my parents about the award, they cried, and I have given my nan a copy of the article in Travel Weekly about my win to put on her wall. At the moment, the award is on the mantlepiece at home but I might take it into work soon!