Scottish mum-of-three Victoria Fergusson joined The Personal Travel Agents at Your Co-op mid-pandemic after a five-year career break. She’s now the 12th-highest seller despite juggling a second job. Juliet Dennis reports.
Q. Where did you start your travel career?
A. I started at Going Places in 2000 in the days when we did our own window cards and everything was on viewdata. It seems very old-school now. I fell in love with the job from the first minute. Seeing how happy everybody is when you sell a holiday is infectious and that’s what I thrived off.
Q. How did your career progress?
A. I left Going Places to work for Hilton and then went to Thomas Cook as a customer service manager for one of their smaller stores in Montrose, here in Scotland. I had my eldest child in 2011. At Thomas Cook you had to go back full-time as a CSM, so instead I decided to become a part-time sales consultant at Thomas Cook’s Dundee superstore. That meant I could just sell and didn’t have to worry about anything else. I loved every minute as I didn’t have the pressures of the other tasks I had as a CSM such as counting travellers’ cheques and hitting targets.
Seeing how happy everybody is when you sell a holiday is infectious and that’s what I thrived off.
Q. Why did you take a career break?
A. I fell pregnant with baby number two in 2014 and when I was due to go back to work in the second half of the year I ended up pregnant with baby three! I was fortunate that I didn’t have to work at that point. Later on, I took a part-time job waitressing in a coffee shop for a few days a week, but in 2020 they had to shut and then couldn’t afford to take me back on. But that was never going to be a forever job: travel was always my passion.
It was the back-up and support that sold The PTAs to me. It was a huge draw. They were like a family.
Q. What prompted you to rejoin the travel sector during the pandemic last year?
A. Covid gave me a kick up the backside to think about what I wanted to do with my life! I had to have a job that worked around the kids as my husband is in the Royal Navy and away a lot. I did a lot of research and weighed up the pros and cons. I spoke to Claire Willoughby, business development manager at The PTAs. I owe everything to her. I had been out of travel for five years and she took a chance by taking me on. It was the back-up and support that sold The PTAs to me. It was a huge draw. They were like a family. I started trading as a homeworker in August 2020.
I thought there was no way I would hit £25k profit in my first year, so when I got the call in August I’d totally forgotten about it.
Q. How’s business now?
A. I’ve been going just over a year. I’m currently ranked 12th out of 170 PTAs in the business for sales. If you hit your yearly sales target you are refunded the joining fee. I thought there was no way I would hit £25k profit in my first year, so when I got the call in August I’d totally forgotten about it. Business has exceeded my expectations. I was hoping by year two or three I might hit £20k profit but not in year one! I’m just getting my head round how to do business on Facebook and Instagram and all the Covid things. Sheena Whittle [head of The Personal Travel Agents] has been amazing; she’s so inspiring and motivational.
The key to it all is being very organised. It’s a lot of juggling and I get my mum, or neighbours, to help sometimes.
Q. As if that weren’t enough, you took on a second job. How do you juggle everything?
A. When the government put us back into lockdown last year, I took on a part-time job. It was 14 hours a week with the Royal Navy’s welfare team, helping families and recruiting volunteers. It went up to 32 hours a week and at the moment I do that during the day and come back to my travel job for three or four hours in the evenings once the kids are sorted. In the mornings, I set my social pages up for the day.I also work weekends on my agency.
Travel is long-term for me and from next month I’ll be back to 14 hours on my part-time job, which will give me so much more time to focus on travel. The key to it all is being very organised. It’s a lot of juggling and I get my mum, or neighbours, to help sometimes. It’s just about priorities. I focus on immediate departures and try not to worry about bookings for next summer; that can wait. Being a navy wife, you are used to it – it’s all about putting the big-girl pants on and making it work!
How did having a dog help get sales off the ground?
I started with no customers, no database, nothing, as I’d been out of travel for years. Now, I have 1,400 followers on Facebook and about the same on Instagram. Most sales in my first two months were UK holidays. One day in November, I put a dogfriendly deal on a Facebook dog-walking group I’m a member of because of my dog, Otto. It was a Hoseasons cottage half an hour away. I got 400 likes that day and by Monday it was 1,100. People started making enquiries.
I started a daily dog-friendly deal on Facebook and people would share it. The deals brought people in, I got more messages and calls. They didn’t necessarily book that deal but would end up booking a city break or a cruise. I started an Instagram page and put pictures of my dog on there too as he’s a cute Hungarian wirehaired vizsla. Now, I do a dog deal once a week instead of daily, and intersperse it with photos of places I have been and pictures of Otto!