Fresh from becoming the godmother of new Riviera Travel vessel Emily Bronté, GoCruise franchisee Christina Astill tells Natasha Salmon about juggling her time between selling cruises, hosting safaris in Kenya and running a smallholding.
Q. How did you begin your career in travel?
A. My travel career began in 1986 when I started working as a camp chef for Guerba Expeditions, which is now owned by Intrepid Travel. I would cook over an open fire for the guests on the tours – everything from camel to locusts. I then became a camp coordinator and tour guide. After eight years I came back to the UK and had my son, Richard, now 23. In 2006 I became a travel consultant at Bath Travel in Sidmouth then left in 2015 to become a GoCruise franchisee and absolutely love it.
Q. You live in Woodbury Salterton, a small village near Exeter. What is it like being a rurally based travel agent and having your own smallholding?
A. I am quite strict with my working hours because I think you have to be when you work from home. My office overlooks our smallholding and it’s great to keep an eye on the animals, especially when the lambs are born. We have around 150 sheep and are expecting another 100 lambs this year. I have quite a lot of local clients so often I will visit them or some of them like to come to the house, especially in lambing season.
Q. How do you balance your travel bookings and take care of the animals?
A. My partner Glyn is mainly in charge of looking after the sheep and the chickens. I am more his assistant. When we have lambs without mothers I am the one who bottle-feeds them, which can be a lot of work, like having your own baby again, but that is the great thing about working for myself at home.
Q. You started your travel career in Africa and still run your own safaris in Kenya. Tell us about those.
A. We go to different parts of Kenya and take groups of 12 to 24 people. I design the trip and like to go in September for the wildebeest migrations and in November as this is when all the lion, leopard and cheetah cubs are born. It is amazing and I have a particular cheetah called Malika who I always go out to see. I work closely with the Lion Guardians in Amboseli; they are the local Maasai who are employed by the charity to help the coexistence of people and wildlife in East Africa, especially lions. I love my work and I think every day how lucky I am.
Q. You’ve just been named godmother of Emily Brontë, one of Riviera Travel’s new ships, after entering a competition. Has this helped business?
A. It’s been amazing; I’d say it has been the pinnacle of my career. The phone has not stopped. It has led to some of my clients booking river cruises.
Christina’s sales tips
Take heed: Really listen to your clients and ask questions to find out exactly what they want.
Be enthusiastic: However mundane the request, remember how special
it is to the customer.
Think long-term: Be honest with clients, meet their requests, and they will become loyal clients.
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