Hays Travel homeworker in Woolston, Hampshire, Julie Chapman combines her role with her job as a flight service manager for Virgin Atlantic. She talks to Harry Kemble
Q. How did you become a homeworker and why did you choose Hays?
A. It all started at the beginning of the pandemic when it became apparent that Virgin Atlantic, where I’ve worked since 1998, were making redundancies. We went through two rounds of redundancies when I realised I needed a plan. I was really lucky to survive both rounds but still had survivor’s guilt. I saw so many friends being made redundant. Covid pushed me out of my comfort zone.
I quizzed a friend that had taken voluntary redundancy about being a homeworker. She is now a Travel Counsellor. I’d known about Hays previously. It felt like a family, much like Virgin Atlantic. It felt like I was going from one family environment to another. Hays Travel is the largest independent agency in the country, so it felt like I was in a secure place.
“We went through two rounds of redundancies when I realised I needed a plan. I was really lucky to survive both rounds but still had survivor’s guilt.”
Q. What was it like starting a second career?
A. I remember feeling like it was going to be a nice slow start for me because we were in the middle of a pandemic. But it turned out anyone who knew me was going to book through me. I found myself rebooking, cancelling and immediately I became very experienced on the after-sales process. I thought I was going to be booking new holidays but I’ve spent nearly all my time on the same clients, booking three times for some people. I’ve branched out from booking for friends now, I’ve got customers in the north of England and Ireland. My customer base has grown nationally and internationally. I’ve even got customers moving to the US.
“I thought I was going to be booking new holidays but I’ve spent nearly all my time on the same clients, booking three times for some people.”
Q. How do you divide your time between the two jobs?
A. At Virgin Atlantic, I’m a part-time flight service manager. I’ve got to give Virgin 10 days a month, that’s in my contract. I’ll know what I’m doing the next month around the 18th and 19th the month before. The key is to communicate when I’m flying with Hays Travel. As soon as my out of office [message] goes on, there’s a brilliant support team at Hays’ headquarters in Sunderland, so if anything happens they can step in.
For example, I’ve got customers going to India in February 2022 who wanted to know if they could postpone. The day the full balance was due I was flying with Virgin Atlantic and Hays’ support team stepped in to save the booking. As homeworkers, we’ve got a business development manager, Michaela Marsh, who contacts us at least once a month. She’s always available.
“As soon as my out of office goes on, there’s a brilliant support team at Hays’ headquarters in Sunderland, so if anything happens they can step in.”
Q. Tell us about your first booking.
A. The first booking I confirmed was for my nephew. It was a UK holiday in May 2021, on which he and his partner got engaged – I had no idea that was going to happen!
“There are customers who have read something somewhere and I have to tell them that I’ve not read it. I feel responsible and like I am in a minefield.”
Q. How have recent weeks been as an agent?
A. I find the government so frustrating. I wish they would just respect the travel industry; there’s nothing more frustrating than finding out about changes at the same time as the customers. Sometimes multiple customers are calling at once. I’ve got into a routine of picking out the relevant information from the government website. There are customers who have read something somewhere and I have to tell them that I’ve not read it. I feel responsible and like I am in the middle of a minefield.
“The hardest thing for me as an agent is when customers want all the benefits of a travel agent but try to save a little bit of money booking direct online.”
Q. How do you feel about balancing the two roles?
A. I’m completely happy with my decision. If it was not for Covid I wouldn’t have pushed myself. I always thought I would switch to being an agent when I finished flying. The hardest thing for me as an agent is when customers want all the benefits of a travel agent but try to save a little bit of money booking direct online.
When things go wrong they say ‘help me, Julie’. I have to tell them – and it’s heartbreaking – to go back to where they booked the holiday originally. Business is up overall. I believe that’s because the customers who have had holidays cancelled are now booking ‘bucket list’ trips. I’ve been booking the most wonderful trips to places like Peru and the States. I’m so glad I became an agent.
How well do the two jobs complement each other?
For me, the two jobs go hand in hand. I can offer the most wonderful information to customers – off-the-beaten track stuff. I’ve got a wealth of knowledge from my experience flying. I’ve told all of my customers who have booked the best places to visit in New York.
For example, outside the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station the acoustics are so good that you can whisper in one corner and someone on the other side can hear you. I was whispering to my children even though there were passers-by and it was busy. The sound travels over the ceiling. I also tell people about The High Line so they can see all the highlights of New York without going back on themselves.
“I can offer the most wonderful information to customers – off-the-beaten track stuff. I’ve got a wealth of knowledge from my experience flying.”
If people are travelling with children, I always say carry a backpack so you’ve got two hands free. I can talk to people about turbulence and nervous flyers. I always recommend putting a half-full clear bottle on the table and watching the water. People can see that not much is going on in the bottle, so the turbulence can’t be that bad. I didn’t know how well these jobs would go together.