The couple sell both leisure and corporate travel from their garden office in Meldreth near Cambridge. They talk to Samantha Mayling.
Q. How did your travel careers develop?
Emma: I studied languages at university and immersing myself in local cultures is definitely my ‘thing’. I launched my Travel Counsellors business in February after leaving a well-paid, senior job with an economics consultancy. Gary has worked in travel for more than 20 years and had been badgering me for a couple of years to join him at Travel Counsellors – it was a no-brainer.
Gary: I started at Trailfinders, after a year of backpacking, then went to Flight Centre where I worked in the leisure brands before moving to work exclusively on corporate travel. I started at Travel Counsellors in January 2019. I didn’t feel I could offer the sort of personable, bespoke service I wanted to within a large TMC. I have now got a team of six other travel counsellors, which mimics a small TMC team.
Gary has worked in travel for more than 20 years and had been badgering me for a couple of years to join him at Travel Counsellors – it was a no-brainer
Q: What’s selling well?
Emma: Canada seems to be super-popular and I recently booked Costa Rica. In Europe, most enquiries are for Greece, Cyprus and Croatia. I sell to family and friends, as well as referrals from corporate travel counsellors, plus people who respond to my local advertising. People are generally desperate to travel, for sun this year and for ‘big’ trips next year. I enjoyed putting together a complex two-week trip to Canada, which included an extended Rocky Mountaineer package, using Travel Counsellors’ Phenix booking system.
Gary: I have clients in the UK, US, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and I look after a lot of sporting events around the world as well as travel for some VIPs. The higher-end travellers – business/first-class flights and five-star hotels – have returned quickly.
I sell to family and friends, as well as referrals from corporate travel counsellors, plus people who respond to my local advertising
Q: How did you cope during the pandemic?
Emma: I increased my hours at my previous employer to make up for the loss of income from Gary’s corporate travel business, although his clients started travelling again six months into the pandemic. Gary did the home‑schooling at first for our two kids, then I took over for the second lockdown.
Gary: The sudden downturn was a real shock. Luckily the sporting world bounced back quickly, so I was back to work after a six-month hiatus. Support from Travel Counsellors was huge, with a sense of community. I also worked for head office on cancellations and rebookings.
Support from Travel Counsellors was huge, with a sense of community. I also worked for head office on cancellations and rebookings
Q: How do you juggle travel and work?
Emma: We spent two weeks in Mauritius at Easter. We love the culture, climate, landscape, people and the tiny three-hour time difference, and I get to speak French. The first time we visited was on our honeymoon in 2008; this time was with our son (nine) and daughter (12). I blogged about it, as we have our own webpage and the freedom to do our own marketing. I did keep in touch with a supplier while I was away, as I had started to create a complex itinerary for a client, but I also had buddy cover.
Gary: Mauritius was the first holiday without my laptop – I can trust my guys to look after the business. It was great going away knowing that my clients were in good hands.
We spent two weeks in Mauritius at Easter. We love the culture, climate, landscape, people and the tiny three-hour time difference
Q: What sort of training and fam trips do you do?
Emma: Travel Counsellors offers training on a huge range of topics including business skills. I’m working my way through the Canada Specialist Programme, and the G Adventures and Aussie Specialist Programme are next on the list. I am looking forward to learning about cruise at the Clia Conference this month and meeting up with my Travel Counsellors buddies.
I’ve previously worked in industries that are very conservative, serious and formal – but anything in travel seems so exciting and positive. But you can work too hard, so I went for lunch today with friends in Cambridge.
Gary: We have the Travel Counsellors conference in Liverpool in November and I have been to a couple of Gold events in London recently, plus a Gold weekend trip to Ibiza. I maintained my Gold status [Travel Counsellors’ top sellers tier] throughout the pandemic.
I am looking forward to learning about cruise at the Clia Conference this month and meeting up with my Travel Counsellors buddies
What’s it like being a husband-and-wife team?
Emma: Gary does corporate, I do leisure, both running our own separate businesses. I’ve started helping Gary’s clients book their holidays and that’s really exciting because we can offer a truly comprehensive service. We love working together. Gary is very experienced and patient, having spent years training agents. When I get that all-important booking, we celebrate together. Sometimes, working from home every day can feel like groundhog day, so it’s important to get out. I regularly meet another agent from the neighbouring village. I’m strict about only working in the garden office.
Not having a commute and being able to fit in day-to-day jobs at home during the day is great, and when we need to work outside normal office hours it’s not a big issue
Gary: It’s amazing having Emma to help organise holidays for my corporate clients as I don’t have the time or knowledge. It also stops me getting lonely in our garden office. Not having a commute and being able to fit in day-to-day jobs at home during the day is great, and when we need to work outside normal office hours it’s not a big issue. You end up working long hours, but I have won clients with this flexibility over large TMCs that don’t offer it.
With Emma’s help, I can see our business growing into a complete solution for people who need experts to look after corporate and leisure travel.