The founder tells Samantha Mayling she is ‘over the moon’ following her best month yet
Q. How did you start in travel?
A. I love organising and I love travelling – I dealt with bookings for my family, from day trips to holidays overseas. I always wanted to work for myself, so decided to leave my NHS management role to set up Phun in the Sun. I’d had no previous travel industry experience, but I was passionate about it. I had booked a trip for 137 people in 2014 via a travel company based in London, which was to Nevis for the 40th annual Culturama Festival.
I hosted the group as my cousin was the head of one of the mas camps and asked me to help with it. Mas camp is where people make costumes for carnival. We set up Phun in the Sun in 2018 and in September 2019 we joined Global Travel Group, which became part of The Travel Network Group in 2020. We decided to work with Global so we could choose our own name and branding. I chose the name Phun in the Sun after a ‘Phun-makers mas carnival camp’ based in St Kitts and Nevis, which is where my parents are from. The Travel Network Group has been very supportive and helpful, especially with understanding the systems. My first booking was for a family of four to Spain.
I chose the name Phun in the Sun after a ‘Phun-makers mas carnival camp’ based in St Kitts and Nevis, which is where my parents are from
Q. Who do you work with?
A. Initially I set up with my cousins, Lester and Steven Bertie. My colleagues Nathalie St John and Yvette Reece are company directors and help me out from time to time, while Gaynor Walker does the marketing. Nathalie and Yvette joined the business when Steven and Lester left. They have been friends for 30 years and believe in me. None of us comes from a travel background so we are all learning together.
Q. Where are you based?
A. I started hot desking at the Unity Business Centre in Chapeltown, Leeds, then moved to a small office and more recently to a bigger office there as I want to take on staff. The centre helps small businesses grow and the community team gives me ongoing support. The office is affordable and located in a well-known area. In September, Phun in the Sun and the St Kitts and Nevis Association co-hosted a meet-and greet reception at Unity Business Centre for Dr Christine Walwyn, the diaspora ambassador for St Kitts and Nevis. The agency was also featured in the local paper this summer as we marked five years in business.
My colleagues Nathalie St John and Yvette Reece are company directors and help me out from time to time, while Gaynor Walker does the marketing
Q. What happened during the pandemic?
A. When Covid happened, I felt I had made the wrong decision in giving up my job at the NHS. I was in hospital for 11 days with Covid, it was scary. The doctor who admitted me saw me a week later and said he had not expected to see me sitting up. I survived on savings, an overdraft and some grants. It was very hard but things have picked up.
Q. What are your plans?
A. In the future I would like to train some travel consultants and extend my opening hours from 9.30am to 9.30pm so clients can make a booking knowing they will be able to pick up the phone and talk to a consultant up to 9.30pm. I am also looking to recruit someone based in St Kitts who can cover later hours for us.
There are not many black women in the travel industry. I want to get the message out there that we can be a part of the industry
Q. How do you feel now your agency is established?
A. There are not many black women in the travel industry. I want to get the message out there that we can be a part of the industry. I come to work every day and feel grateful and thankful – there were times when my phone didn’t ring, now I’ll have three phones ringing at the same time. At school, travel did not seem to be a career for black women. My late grandmother was part of the Windrush generation. When we asked her if she was satisfied, she would say to me that she came to England to give her children a better life – her five children have done that. I am now really honoured that I have my own business. My grandmother made sacrifices to come here – I have her picture in my office as she inspired me.
I come to work every day and feel grateful and thankful – there were times when my phone didn’t ring, now I’ll have three phones ringing at the same time
What is your specialism?
We specialise in group trips to the Caribbean – sorting flights, accommodation and transfers. We also help organise special occasions overseas such as weddings, birthdays and stag or hen parties. We can sort elements such as a wedding dress or cake. I accompany some groups as I like to be hands-on if customers need assistance and to make sure their holiday is memorable. I organise excursions such as a catamaran ride, island tour and train ride. Next year I am adding a beach barbecue.
I accompany some groups as I like to be hands-on if customers need assistance and to make sure their holiday is memorable
The Culturama chairman has asked me to work with the Nevis festival to organise trips for people from the UK to attend the 50th anniversary event in 2024. It is a great celebration next summer and I am taking a group to Nevis from July 24-August 7, 2024. So far we have people from Leeds, Manchester, Leicester and Birmingham.
I am also arranging a group trip to St Kitts in June 2024 for the St Kitts Annual Music Festival. Business is steadily improving – group trips and weekend getaways are the most popular. October was the best month yet, I am over the moon.