Travel Counsellors agent Ian Gifford’s faith in human nature was restored by a client’s decision to help a taxi driver during the pandemic that he met on a holiday to India. Juliet Dennis finds out more.
Q. How long have you been with Travel Counsellors?
A. Five years. Before that I wasn’t in travel. In my early career I was a youth hostel warden, and ran a small hotel in Scotland for five years. Prior to Travel Counsellors I did consultancy work for Toshiba at senior director level and was involved in building a business automation software company. When the guys who ran it relocated to the US we parted ways and I had to think about what to do next. Being a travel agent is something I’d always wanted to do but it was only when someone introduced me to a Travel Counsellor that I thought, ‘if I don’t do this, I’ll regret it’. Two weeks later I was doing training! I was 62. When I was at school, the careers adviser said I should do something in travel. It’s just taken me most of my life to get to it. I wish I’d done it 20 years ago.
“A few weeks ago – five years after the trip – my client contacted me and asked how he could get in touch with the driver. He’d seen what was happening in India with Covid on the news.”
Q. Why did one of your clients ask for help to find a taxi driver in India?
A. In November 2016 I booked a group of four friends on a trip to southern India for two weeks. It was one of my first bookings. It was a bespoke package using our destination management company Trail Blazer Tours India (TBi). They had a driver for the whole trip. They had a fantastic trip and the client has booked with me ever since. They said every little change they wanted he sorted out; he was a driver and a guide. A few weeks ago – five years after the trip – my client contacted me and asked how he could get in touch with the driver, Shery Joseph. He’d seen what was happening in India with Covid on the news. He thought the situation must be dire and wanted to send the driver some money.
Q. How did you find him?
A. I dug out details of the original booking and got in touch with TBi and their contact in the UK, Vivek Angra. He did all the detective work. He contacted someone in Delhi and managed to track the driver down. He hadn’t been working as a driver for a year [because of lack of work due to pandemic] and had been doing odd jobs to make money. My customer sent him around 32,000 rupees (around £310). That’s a lot of money to him and it paid for school items for his kids. The driver sent a video message back to my customer to say thank you for the money. My customer was absolutely delighted.
“I personally feel humbled that our Travel Counsellors community with our partner, Vivek, and TBi have managed to make a difference for the life of one family in India.”
Q. How unusual is this sort of request?
A. It’s the first time I’ve ever been asked anything like this where we have had to contact someone after such a time. I have people thanking me for trips but that’s not the same. It’s nice to have such a positive story. I personally feel humbled that our Travel Counsellors community with our partner, Vivek, and TBi have managed to make a difference for the life of one family in India. There is so little positive news coming out of India at the moment.
“I have been looking at other opportunities and gaps in the market. I did some research on student travel and travel for the under-30s and identified a good market.”
Q. What plans have you got for your business for the future?
A. I have worked full-time throughout the pandemic; you have to be there when your customers want you. Business is coming back. I have been looking at other opportunities and gaps in the market. I did some research on student travel and travel for the under-30s and identified a good market and with STA Travel disappearing there is a gap. I’m working with another Travel Counsellor to target that sector. She was a former STA manager and we are hoping to look at opportunities to develop a niche for Travel Counsellors. We will look at how to generate leads and get more Travel Counsellors to work in that sector. I am not just trying to grow my business, but help grow the group.
You’ve decided to join the Reuben’s Retreat Everest trek. Why?
The last year has been challenging and I’ve been trying to look at the positive things I can do. I’ve lost three and-a-half stone in the last year and tried to get healthy.
I was pretty down in April after my dad died. He was 92 and in a care home, but got Covid so we couldn’t go and see him.
I needed to do something positive so I started walking.
“Next month I’m walking up and down a hill locally 35 times – the distance is equivalent to hiking up Ben Nevis and Snowdon in one day!”
Before the pandemic I was working 20-hour days; it wasn’t sustainable. Covid has taught us to do things differently.
I have now signed up to do Reuben’s Retreat’s Everest Trek next April, so I’ve been doing challenges to get fit and raise money. Next month I’m walking up and down a hill locally 35 times – the distance is equivalent to hiking up Ben Nevis and Snowdon in one day!
It’s going to take me 10 to 12 hours. I’m doing a Joe Wicks workout every day at 6am.
We’ve all got our challenges, but we have to channel it into positivity. My customer who gave money to the driver in India was the first person to donate towards my Reuben’s Retreat trek.