Hays Personal Travel Consultant Kath McDonald tells Samantha Mayling about the challenges of being a home-based travel agent during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Q. What is your background in travel?
A. I have been in travel for 32 years, since I started on a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) at 16. It was organised by the job centre at an independent agency. I also worked at AT Mays and in a call centre, dealing with holidays advertised on Teletext. Then I worked at Lincoln Travel, which was bought by Tui, before becoming general manager of operations for Tui, covering call centres and homeworkers. Hays Travel asked me to work in its call centre, then three-and-a-half years ago I decided to become a Hays Personal Travel Consultant (PTC).
Q. What do you enjoy most about working from home?
A. With my older son, I missed school plays and suchlike when I wasn’t at home, but now for my second son, who’s 11, I don’t miss anything at school, as I can be flexible. The job fits my life rather than my life fitting around my job. I have a nice life and holidays. I also have a bar in the garden and we have a 40-inch TV in there. I couldn’t have friends round in lockdown, but I hope to be able to use it more. Living in Seaham, 10 minutes from Hays Travel’s head office, I’m right by the sea. Facebook advertising is where I get a lot of my business – lots of customers are now friends.
“With my older son, I missed school plays and suchlike when I wasn’t at home, but now for my second son, who’s 11, I don’t miss anything at school.”
Q. What sort of holidays do you sell and has that changed recently?
A. I sell any holiday type but I don’t do many cruises. Florida is one of my favourite places – I used to have a house there and know it like the back of my hand. I’m not a big staycation booker but I do think the new Disney cruises around the UK will be big sellers. A lot of my bookings have been for 2023 – bucket-list stuff such as Sandals and safaris. Lots of dream trips are being booked at the moment. People can pay Hays Travel monthly by direct debit and there are low deposits. On the whole, people have more to spend now – or they’re giving themselves more time to save up and pay in instalments.
Q. How have you managed during the pandemic?
A. Homeschooling was hard – I’m glad the kids are back at school now. My older son is in Australia – he’s 27 and I’ve not seen him for two years, but we FaceTime a lot. When the pandemic first hit, I had to deal with lots of refunds and rebookings. I did manage to get some clients on holiday last year, but with the air corridors, it was like a game of human chess. Some 2020 holidays were moved to this year – now they’ve been put back to 2022. I’ve been lucky that Hays Travel has the ‘peace of mind guarantee’, which is really working. Support from Hays has been brilliant. We have to keep up-to-date with changes in regulations and Foreign Office advice and be honest with customers that their holidays might not go ahead this year.
“I did manage to get some clients on holiday last year, but with the air corridors, it was like a game of human chess.”
Q. How did the PTCs mark the passing of John Hays last November?
A. A colleague and I organised a collection after he died, and we have raised money for a bench for Irene. It has a sunshine pattern on it, along with his name and the years of his life. We wanted to give something to his wife.
Q. Have you managed to travel much since the pandemic hit?
A. I went to Spain, Portugal and Turkey – in July, August and September – for family beach breaks. It didn’t bother me having to wear a mask on the plane. And as a homeworker, you can still make bookings while you’re away – I’ve been known to go back to my hotel room to book a holiday and blog about it.
“As a homeworker, you can still make bookings while you’re away – I’ve been known to go back to my hotel room to book a holiday and blog about it.”
Q. Any other trips coming up?
A. I have booked to go to New York for new year – a reunion of 17 friends and family from Australia and the UK. I have also booked a trip to the Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife at the end of May and Virgin Voyages cruises to Majorca and Miami with a friend. Hopefully, they will go ahead.
Life before Covid-19 struck
The pandemic has really shown how we took travel for granted. In January 2020, I went on a week-long fam trip to Japan, with the Japan National Tourism Organisation and British Airways to promote the new route to Osaka.
Hays head office put me forward for the trip as a reward for my hard work. I had to pinch myself. It felt like I’d won the lottery – especially when I turned left on the plane, as we flew Club World.
“I had to pinch myself. It felt like I’d won the lottery – especially when I turned left on the plane, as we flew Club World.”
It was an amazing trip, although I did not expect it to be so cold. We visited Universal Studios Japan, in Osaka, and also went to Kobe.
I remember how, even then, the people in Japan wore masks. It was just before coronavirus became a global story. The news about the quarantine onboard Diamond Princess in Yokohama broke while we were in Japan. People don’t think about visiting Osaka and Kobe, but when flights resume, they will be a great sell.
After that trip, I went to Madrid with the Palladium Hotel Group to watch Real Madrid v Manchester City in the Champions League. Then the pandemic kicked in.