Former travel PR Zoe Palmer explains how her previous role with cruise and touring brand APT has helped her sell since joining Travel Counsellors in 2020. Harry Kemble reports.
Q. Why did you decide to become a travel agent?
A. After working for APT Travel Group in Melbourne for five years, my family and I decided to relocate back to the UK in 2015. It wasn’t easy at first. In England I carried on working for head office in Australia, three days a week, before taking up the UK PR role with APT. After a while I decided to do something different with my brain. I worked as a luxury sales and marketing manager at a milliner (hat maker) for a year, but I missed travel so much. There were cruise companies near me in Winchester but they did not have any PR roles for me. Becoming a travel counsellor gave me flexibility and autonomy as well. I’d started talking to Travel Counsellors at the beginning of 2020 and went to the head office in Manchester a couple of times.
After a while I decided to do something different with my brain. I worked at a milliner (hat maker) for a year, but I missed travel so much
Q. How did the pandemic affect your situation?
A. When Covid hit I was on furlough at the milliner’s business, and I didn’t want to sit around doing nothing, so decided to hand in my notice. I remember being very conscious about how the travel industry had been devastatingly affected by the pandemic. It was awful. I thought I could spend the time building and learning the systems at Travel Counsellors. I saw it as a real opportunity. I started my training in June 2020.
Starting as a travel counsellor was very humbling. I’ve got huge respect for anyone who has done travel retail for any length of time
Q. What was it like when you started?
A. I’d done a lot of crisis PR and learnt there was always a light at the end of the tunnel. Starting as a travel counsellor was very humbling. I’ve got huge respect for anyone who has done travel retail for any length of time. I was excited I’d taken this decision to start my own new business. I made my first booking on my first day. It was for Couples Sans Souci in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, with business-class flights. I couldn’t believe it. But it was later cancelled due to Covid. The family have since made two more bookings. Early on, I also booked a family of three to go to Italy in July 2020. It was more of a tailor made trip. They flew to Rome for a night before transferring to Naples and then catching a ferry to Procida island. I had to work hard to piece the trip together. This family were brave because the border had only just opened. They just wanted to travel.
Since Covid, inevitably when you get bookings, you get rebookings. It’s been a real learning curve and quite challenging
Q. How has business been since then?
A. It’s been stop-start. Since Covid, inevitably when you get bookings, you get rebookings. It’s been a real learning curve and quite challenging. It’s been interesting to learn how clients react to situations caused by the pandemic. You have some clients that just want to go. Sometimes I’ve got my heart in my mouth when they do that! Others are a bit more cautious. I don’t think that any travel counsellor properly switches off. They’re so dedicated.
There’s a massive opportunity in that new-to-cruise segment. Having worked in the industry I’ve got the ability to showcase the benefits of cruise
Q. What kind of bookings do you tend to make?
A. Because I’m so new, my sales tend to be in the premium luxury sector. I’ve done lots of different bookings. One was getting a client out to Australia last Christmas. Another was for clients to go on a Disney cruise in Alaska, but they switched and did a staycation cruise with the same line in the UK instead. I’ve booked a fair bit of cruise because I’ve got that experience of the cruise industry, but I’d like to do more. I’ve just started to market cruise more and to identify clients who I think cruise is right for. There’s a massive opportunity in that new-to-cruise segment. Having worked in the industry I’ve got the ability to showcase the benefits of cruise to customers.
I’ve got a new client going on Scenic Eclipse this summer. They wanted a special yacht experience; they’re really excited and want to do everything
Q. What kind of cruise bookings have you made?
A. I’ve got a new client going on a Greek islands cruise on Scenic Eclipse this summer. They wanted a special yacht experience. I gave them other options as I thought they wanted something smaller than Eclipse. But they’re really excited and they want to do everything – the helicopter, the submarine – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With a special cruise like this, people want to do all the add-ons to elevate the experience. I don’t have any pre-pandemic travel retail experience, but this is something I’ve seen from clients. They want to push the boat out a bit more.
What skills from your PR career have you been able to carry over to being a travel agent?
When I was working at APT’s head office in Australia, we used to charter out vessels. I got involved with the promotion of these cruises. So I knew cruise was a fantastic product and that there’s a great breadth of options for agents to sell. I also knew what the competition [to APT] offered and am aware of the new products as well.
The hardest thing throughout the pandemic has been to remain positive. It’s not always easy to go to the world with a smile on your face
I’ve got the confidence and the knowledge of how to listen to clients and then tosell them the right product. I’ve worked across river, expedition, luxury and smaller ship sailings because of my time at APT. There’s also so much I didn’t know that I am now getting to grips with. The hardest thing throughout the pandemic has been to remain positive. It’s not always easy to go to the world with a smile on your face. Clients know that I will give them truthful counsel. I’ve got to be truthful about what the future holds. I am so excited about the future. I’ve got so much to play for. That’s why I decided to start up this business when I did.