Fancy working in the travel industry? Workingmums.co.uk gives an overview and talks to one innovative travel franchise which is very much focused on work life balance, and helps franchisees set themselves up as a home based travel agent.
Depending on the role you are interested in, there are different entry routes. You can work your way up or study for specialist qualifications, such as a degree or BTEC in travel and tourism, or enter through other specialisms such as accountancy and PR.
There is some degree of flexibility offered in the industry, depending on the job you are interested in. A recent report by the Institution of Travel and Tourism found that travel agents and tour operators are in line with other industries when it comes to offering flexible working, particularly part-time working.
Out of 85 travel companies interviewed, 48% offered staff the chance to work part time, 27% allowed staff to use flexitime and 12% offered the chance to take a career break or sabbatical.
The report said companies who measure the results found that flexible working had a positive effect on staff motivation, customer services, staff retention and productivity. They also saw benefits in their recruitment processes and fewer staff absences. The report said that flexible working could particularly help companies who were facing tough economic times and give them the agility they needed to cope with the financial turbulence.
One company which believes flexible and family friendly working can help its bottom line is Travel Counsellors.
They were a very early adopter of homeworking. The company has 730 travel consultants in the UK who are all home-based and operate as franchisees. It also has 180 salaried staff in its HQ in Bolton and has around 450 travel agents outside the UK in Ireland, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and Canada and 47 salaried staff in its head offices in those countries.
The award-winning company was set up in 1994 as a company for home-based travel consultants after the owner David Speakman was inspired by a book by futurologist Faith Popcorn which talked about the growth of homeworking and the growing power of women as decision makers in households.
“He put the two ideas together and came up with the idea of a home-based personalised travel service,” says Steve Byrne, managing director of Travel Consultants.
If a consultant has previous experience in the travel industry they pay just £295 for the franchise and get to keep up to 60% of the commission on a booking. Travel Counsellors provides administrative help and support. For those with no previous experience in the business the charge is higher as it involves full training. They pay £10K and go through the company’s travel academy. Those applying for this only need an interest in travel and people skills, although Speakman says there is a selection process to make sure they get the right people for the job.
In return, the company gives a lot of support to help people – most of their agents are women – balance work and family life.
This includes innovative programmes like TC Teens, which provides exam support for the teenage children of franchisees. Working with a specialist company which has experience in over 20 schools the company provides webcasts via its Travel Counsellors TV channel which help improve children’s exam success. Another programme it offers staff is TC Kids.
Most of its franchisees are working mums and to help them work at holiday times the company provides a series of activities for them to do via webcasts. It also has a TC Partners scheme whereby partners of agents can do a free training day with the company to learn how to give more support to franchisees and spread the word about what they are doing. “Partners provide an important role in supporting franchisees and we want to help them be successful,” says Byrne. “It can be daunting working on a commission basis and from home if you are not used to it.” The scheme was suggested by a travel counsellor.
“We are a values-based company,” says Byrne. “There’s a lot of focus in the current market on the harder aspects of business, such as results, which are important, but we also focus on the softer issues. We try to give our counsellors the support they need to be as successful as possible, such as training and development and family support.”
Byrne wants to build on these support programmes and get counsellors to interact more with each other and form stronger relationships.
Byrne says the economic downturn creates winners and losers in every business and tends to “polarise” where people are. “If people are looking to buy on price, then that’s one thing. But price is not the only thing people are focused on. People want value for money. If they don’t feel the value they will just focus on price because that is all they have,” he says.
He adds: “We provide good value and make our customers feel looked after and that the family experience is important. Our counsellors develop relationships with their customers and know what is right for them.”
It’s a personal touch which at times can extend to helping families out in a crisis. Last year, for instance, when there was the ash cloud, one counsellor drove to France to pick up a family. “It’s all about being customer-focused, whether that is to help families going on holiday, short theatre breaks, cruises or organising business trips for companies,” says Byrne. Our customers want to feel looked after by someone they trust.”