Take The Family agent and mum of one Pauline Stoneman tells Lee Hayhurst how her working life has changed since she moved from a high street agency chain six months ago to operate as an upmarket family holidays specialist homeworker.
Q. How did you become a family holidays specialist travel agent?
A. I previously worked for Travelux in Tenterden and the opportunity came from a chance meeting last year in a coffee shop with Kate [Jelly] from Take The Family. They needed someone to run the agency side of the business. They had joined Hays [Independence Group] in January and wanted to deal with the more luxury enquiries themselves. I was looking for a new challenge, having been 12 years in one place. It sounded exciting so I thought ‘why not?’
Q. What has it been like moving to focus on a particular niche in travel?
A. In the shop in Tenterden we had a real mixture of clients, but it was predominantly well off retired couples, as well as quite affluent families. So this area was somewhat new to me and it’s been a big learning curve finding out what families are wanting and expecting. The real difference has been working from home. I don’t have that face-to-face contact so can’t see their facial expressions and show them stuff. What I realise now is if you get people into a shop you have won half the battle.
Q. So what’s the trick to capturing a family booking when you don’t have the client sitting in front of you?
A. It’s trying to build a rapport because they have probably got goodness knows how many enquiries out with any number of people so you have to stand out. People are always going to be looking for help because there is so much information out there not just on our website, but on the web as a whole. If you Google ‘holidays to Spain’ all sorts of stuff comes up and people get confused. There’s too much for them to look at. We have always been about giving advice and information to parents and offering them inspiration and tips. People don’t necessarily know what they want. They know they want to go on holiday, they have an idea of budget and dates, but don’t know where to go.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge?
A. Matching aspirations to budgets. People don’t realise how much a family holiday costs. For a family of four when they want all-inclusive and two bedrooms in the summer you’re looking at £8,000 as an average. Anything under £3,000 I tend to direct them to a website. People often have unrealistic expectations. The other thing is guaranteeing family or interlocking rooms. Even parents with just one child want two bedrooms so they can put the child to bed and have a drink on the terrace or in another room. There are very few hotels that offer that. I’m learning a lot about which hotels do.
Q. It must be rewarding helping families go on holiday?
A. I have clients who have always gone on really good holidays, but now they have kids they feel they’re not able to do what they want to do. So I have to talk them through it and give them all the information they need to feel confident. I would really love to encourage more people to have a real adventure; I get greater enjoyment out of planning things when I need to get a map out.
Pauline’s sales tips
Keeping mum: Invariably it is the mother who makes the decision on where to go on holiday
All ears: Listen to what the client wants. Self-catering might be better than all-inclusive.
Open all hours: Family bookers often research at the weekend, but could get in touch at anytime
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