The West Sussex agent shares how things have changed since the 1970s and tells Juliet Dennis why she still loves the job
Q. How did you get into travel?
A. When I was 14, I went with my mum and dad to book our first package holiday. When we were at the travel agency, I thought the job looked interesting. I made up my mind that that was what I wanted to do. There must have been 10 agencies in Worthing then, so we went to every one to see if I could get a Saturday job. The last one, Broadwater Travel, said yes so I worked there at weekends. When I left school at 15, in 1971, I worked there and did my training. I did a bit of everything: mainly looking after brochures and making the tea!
There must have been 10 agencies in Worthing then, so we went to every one to see if I could get a Saturday job
Q. What was it like working at Lancing Travel in the mid-1970s?
A. I started off at their Worthing office as a senior sales consultant aged 18. In 1975, when I was 20, I was made manager. As we had an Iata licence, we did all the [flight] ticketing. It was hard work, not like now where everything is at the click of a button. All holidays were in brochures. You’d take the deposit and hold something on option for three days and wait for the confirmation.
For a lot of people it was their first holiday abroad. The price in the brochure was also the price they’d accept. If the client went to another agency, the fare was the same. In those days, airline tickets were handwritten and there were also no extra charges.
All holidays were in brochures. You’d take the deposit and hold something on option for three days and wait for the confirmation
Q. How much did the job change between the late 1970s and early 1990s?
A. I left my job to have a family in 1979. When I left we were still using dial telephones and typewriters. If a customer wanted to pay by credit card we had to fill in a form. When I came back in 1993 after having three daughters, it was all price-led promotions and computers. It was a very different job.
We had Sabre, so flight tickets were issued through that. The job was harder because of price matching. At the time, the Gazetteers directory was our bible. It gave you all the facts about resorts and destinations. It was a bit like the Tripadvisor of its day. It gave you a really honest overview of a hotel.
When I came back in 1993 after having three daughters, it was all price-led promotions and computers. It was a very different job
Q. What’s been the most challenging time of your career?
A. Covid. Initially I was furloughed. I came back when we were allowed to reopen the shop but it was just a question of moving holidays, then moving them again, and again. It was a bit soul-destroying.
Sometimes after moving someone’s holiday two or three times, they didn’t want to go any more. That was horrible. It was costing us time and credit card fees. The fact we managed to get through Covid and are now doing really well has made more people want to come to us. It’s nice that people appreciate the agent.
The fact we managed to get through Covid and are now doing really well has made more people want to come to us
Q. Why do you love your job?
A. It’s different every day. Recently a couple came in who wanted to go on one of the big cruise ships. But I knew they wouldn’t like a big ship, so instead I got them on a Fred Olsen cruise because I knew that would suit them. They were so happy and that makes it all worthwhile. The client has said they will be back to book another. It’s important to get the right holiday for the right person.
I knew they wouldn’t like a big ship, so instead I got them on a Fred Olsen cruise because I knew that would suit them
Q. What’s the team like now?
A. Cheryl Craft inherited the business when her grandfather Joe Langdell died, and her daughter Jessica, 27, is also now working for the company so it’s a real family business. Cheryl started in 1994, a year after I came back, so we’ve worked together for years. We have a good team. I feel like part of the family.
I’ve gone down to two days a week now. I felt like I needed to slow down a bit, but I didn’t want to step down. It’s hard to let go. I look forward to my days in the office and my days with friends and family. I have no plans to retire yet. I still love my job and this suits me perfectly.
I’ve gone down to two days a week now. I felt like I needed to slow down a bit, but I didn’t want to step down. It’s hard to let go
You worked with one of Britain’s oldest agents, Joe Langdell, who was still working at 92. What was he like?
Joe interviewed me when I first started at Lancing Travel. I worked with him for a long time. We organised a lot of trips as an agency, where we took our clients abroad ourselves. The first one I did with Joe was to California. I always remember going to Disneyland Resort (Disney California Adventure Park) for the first time. It was November 1976 and we went for 10 days with TWA flights. It cost £245! When I came back I found it hard to explain to my mum and dad what I’d seen. We used to take around 50 people and also took them to Los Angeles, San Franscisco and Las Vegas. It was a case of escorting customers, getting them on and off the coach and answering queries. It was the first time I’d been to the US and it was exciting.
I did three trips to California and Vegas, and one to Florida and the Bahamas. In the 1990s we started doing Florida, and the trips were called ‘Go with Joe’. People loved it. They didn’t have to hire a car, we took them to all the main attractions and to Universal Studios. Joe was a real character; he was a lovely man.