Libby Gray, manager of Hays Travel’s Teesside Park branch in Stockton-on-Tees tells Samantha Mayling about winning a Travel Weekly Agent Achievement Award.
Q. How did you start in travel?
A. I started part-time in 2003 at Co-op Travel, after seeing a job ad while queueing to buy a lottery ticket. I love holidays and thought it would be a fab job. Previously, I’d worked as a Wetherspoons manager but I’d been at home for two years after my daughter was born. I was with Co-op Travel until the Thomas Cook merger in 2011, working up from travel consultant to assistant manager and then manager, always in the northeast. It was very hard when Thomas Cook collapsed in September 2019. Hays Travel took over in October 2019 and I took on the branch at Teesside retail park, Stockton-on-Tees.
“I was with Co-op Travel until the Thomas Cook merger in 2011, working up from travel consultant to assistant manager and then manager, always in the northeast.”
Q. What was it like starting with Hays?
A. When you get a new job, you have to establish yourself again. I had to learn new systems and new ways of working; it’s been a blur. Hays Travel founder John Hays told me: ‘It’s a big shop and we’ve got a lot of holidays to sell.’ I contacted many of my Thomas Cook clients, and set up a Facebook page from scratch – we now have more than 4,000 followers. We want posts to be engaging, such as when I won the award, and about birthdays and gifts from customers – it’s not just about sales. I came from an independent background and Hays can offer a huge choice, which puts us in good stead as we always have availability.
“We want [our social media] posts to be engaging, such as when I won the award, and about birthdays and gifts from customers – it’s not just about sales.”
Q. How did you cope with the lockdowns?
A. We had to adapt to working from home, while still building a new team. Some were on furlough and some were working on NHS contracts, but I kept in touch with everyone to make sure they felt part of the team – keeping them upbeat and motivated – and using Zoom for the first time. I had staff who caught Covid, which was scary, and staff that lost family members to Covid.
Q. How hard was it to keep working?
A. I worked throughout, doing six or seven days a week in some instances, initially refunding and rebooking – and then even some new bookings. I worked long hours, as people called back in the evening, but I wanted to deliver for the shop. We did well with refunds; we did what’s right for the customer. And there were a lot of rebookings as people wanted something to look forward to.
“I worked throughout [the pandemic], doing six or seven days a week in some instances, initially refunding and rebooking – and then even some new bookings.”
Q. How has Hays Travel helped in the pandemic?
A. Hays invested in us, and I wanted to repay that. I wanted to do it for Irene [Hays, Hays Travel owner]. When we reopened last summer, it was really busy with lots of customers who wanted to see us face-to-face; not everybody wanted to be on Zoom. We had some successes in the next lockdown [November 2020 to April 2021]; my own personal sales were almost £1 million. I was really motivated to achieve and sold a lot of cruises because they can be booked far in advance – I’m passionate about cruise. The Hays ‘peace of mind guarantee’ was key; the direct debit scheme helps make holidays affordable. After John [Hays] died [in November 2020], there were lots of people who wanted to support Hays, they really liked what he stood for. Irene Hays being godmother of P&O Cruises’ Iona helped raise the profile of Hays too.
“After John [Hays] died [in November 2020], there were lots of people who wanted to support Hays, they really liked what he stood for.”
Q. What are sales like now?
A. Customers are coming back through the door now. We’re selling cruises, long-haul and family holidays for summer 2022. With the US opening up from November, confidence is back to book New York at Christmas, which is one of our bestsellers. Customers are thinking about Florida for 2022. We take customers through regulations, testing and passports before they start looking for a holiday so they’re confident. Some are now on their third or fourth holiday as they found it was simple, and the prices are keen. Prospects [for travel] are huge – operators are launching programmes further in advance than before, so customers can plan. Travel money is busy – we’re recruiting for a foreign exchange consultant and an apprentice is starting soon. Christmas and New Year will be busy and we’re looking forward to 2022 – I just want a normal year.
“We take customers through regulations, testing and passports before they start looking for a holiday so they’re confident.”
What was it like to win Leisure Manager of the Year at the Agent Achievement Awards?
My feet have not touched the ground, it’s not sunk in yet. Everyone in travel has worked so hard [during the pandemic] so I was shocked but delighted. It has been lovely for the team, we’re over the moon. We have the banner and award here at work – customers ask about it so it’s lovely to tell them and it makes them feel they’re in good hands. My award is testament to my staff and how hard they work – we looked after our customers and delivered the sales. I feel quite humble because it has been a hard year for everyone. It was good to dress up for the awards and wear heels for the first time in ages – it was fun.
“We have the banner and award here at work – customers ask about it so it’s lovely to tell them and it makes them feel they’re in good hands.”
Also, Dame Irene Hays won the Outstanding Contribution to the Travel Industry award, and Hays Travel won two other awards. There was a group of us from Hays Travel there on the night and we had our picture taken with Irene as she came over to us, which was lovely. I’m very proud and grateful for the award.