Being a life coach or counsellor is now part of the everyday job, says Gemma Antrobus, chairman of Aito Specialist Travel Agents and owner of Haslemere Travel

When Haslemere Travel was set up, some 30 years ago, booking holidays – mostly packages – took up 90% of our days. We did huge numbers of bookings – of various values – and clients were happy to have come to an expert, ensuring their holiday time was well planned and their money well spent.

As the years have passed, however, it’s interesting how much our current daily tasks have changed. I often discuss this with colleagues who have been in travel for far longer than I, and we remember the days when clients would queue up outside the door on the first trading day of January, intent on bagging a bargain, or would come in with cash and book an extravagant trip on the spot.  While not that long ago, it seems worlds away from the high street travel agency marketplace of 2018 in which we now work.

Shoulder to cry on

Today, my team spends much of its time not only planning holidays but also acting as counsellors for clients, as life coaches and even sometimes offering a shoulder to cry on. How many travel agents sit with clients, either long after – or even before – the booking has been made, to listen to news about a sick relative or an unruly child, their partner’s job or their latest house renovations?

You may have had chapter and verse on their ailments or heard why they chose to rescue the latest family pet from a sanctuary, rather than buy from a breeder. I’m sure that at least some of these scenarios will sound familiar.

Our bookings are now fewer in quantity, but much greater in value, so going the extra mile for a client is worth every minute spent in their company. Clients now spend more money on travel but they want, quite rightly, greater value than ever before.

Once we used to promote our ‘concierge’ skills as a unique selling point, a reason to book with Haslemere Travel, but now clients expect us, as par for the course, to make restaurant reservations, spa appointments and to book nanny services for their children.

Service with a smile

This is no longer an add-on service that clients used to request of us, or that we offered to VIP clients; it’s just part of what we do and, sadly, most of the time, is non-commissionable.

We do it, however, with pleasure, because we know that a client can choose to book their holiday anywhere and anyhow. We value their business, particularly those who have been booking with us for years and recommend us to their friends.

Personal touch

So, if this means spending hours sourcing mattress toppers for every hotel in a multi-centre itinerary in China, because our client is particular about how they sleep, or if we need to have hotel rooms cleared of all alcoholic beverages for a recovering alcoholic, then we do this with a smile, knowing that this kind of service certainly can’t be obtained by booking via Google.

I still wonder, though – did we consciously make this change, or is this just us adapting to the changing environment in which we work?