Horndean Travel closed its doors to customers at the end of December after 40 years, calling time on owner Peter Causley’s 50-year career as an agent. He told Sam Mayling about his journey

When Peter Causley shut his shop on December 31, it brought down the curtain on his 50-year career as a travel agent – and 40 years as the owner of Horndean Travel.

During his last few weeks in business, he contacted his customers – some of whom are the children and grandchildren of his earliest clients – to let them know about his retirement.

“I will miss meeting my customers – it’s been ultra-friendly,” he said, recalling his long career running the small Hampshire agency.

“But I won’t miss sorting VAT and accounts.”

He was fortunate to find his way into travel – as a teenager, he was fascinated by travel agents but was told he didn’t have the right qualifications.

Having been made redundant from the AA’s car ferry department, he found himself joining Farnham Travel as a trainee in 1968.

“The boss, Roy Mansfield, believed in me, and my skills and customer care – and so I learned about the industry,” he recalled.

It also meant he could buy a discounted round-the-world airfare and at the age of 19, he took a month off to travel to Australia, where his brother had emigrated as a ‘Ten Pound Pom’.

“It took twice as long in those days, flying on a VC10, as the plane had to go via places such as Zurich, Damascus, Tehran and Delhi,” he said.

“The aircraft’s seats were virtually empty as flights were unaffordable for most people.”

Peter then had a six-month stint working for Lunn Poly in central London, not far from the BBC, and he booked holidays for the likes of DJ Tony Blackburn.

In 1973, his former boss at Farnham Travel recruited him to work in a new agency in Petersfield.

Sadly, he died in 1976 so Peter moved to an agency in Havant – until some clients asked him to join them in a new business venture, and Horndean Travel was set up in 1978.

“I was about 27 – so I was young to be taking on a business, but I really enjoyed it and built up my skills,” he said.

“It was a traditional, old-fashioned agency, doing everything from National Express tickets upwards.

“It’s a fixture in Horndean and I think we’re one of the longest surviving retail shops in the village.

“There’s a real sense of community and we know all our customers really well – and they return again and again.”

He’s had long-standing colleagues working with him over the years, and currently works with Sue Roy, who will be moving to a part-time job in a local supermarket.

The agency’s bookings will be taken over by Travelplanners in Waterlooville and the premises look set to become a fish and chip shop.

Looking back at the changes he’s seen over the years, he can recall the restrictions on the amount of foreign currency tourists could have, and high-profile collapses such as Clarkson in 1974 and Laker Airways in 1982.

“I also miss the way that you could ring up and speak to the managing directors and get things sorted,” he added.

“I can remember when we had New Year adverts and we would get queues out of the front door with people wanting to book the offers.

“Before computers and the internet, travel agents were respected as professionals.

“We did lose some business because of the internet but there are now people coming back to travel agents, after events like the Icelandic volcano. People thought they were protected with a package or had things going wrong with online bookings – people are now returning to independent agents.

“We do fewer bookings now, but they are higher value, and it’s more interesting than just doing bucket-and-spade holidays.”
He also recalled how he defended the reputation of travel agents after reading an article in the Mail on Sunday – his letter prompted a follow-up article which pointed out their usefulness.

He has travelled widely over the past 50 years, with Australia and the Americas as his favourite destinations, both for his own holidays and on educationals.

There were huge numbers on fam trips in his early days, such as 300-plus Blue Sky agents on a trip to Salou on the Costa Dorada.

In his retirement, he plans to help out at a local hospice and “play trains all day” as a volunteer with the heritage railway, the Watercress Line.

It will be quite a change for Peter, whose agency has been a member of Worldchoice for 25 years or more, and Abta for about 35 years.

“I was secretary of the Worldchoice southern region, liaising between agents and Worldchoice,” he said.

He has also been a loyal reader of Travel Weekly over the years, and has valued its advice and information, especially as he was working in a small agency in a rural village.

In particular, he remembered being alerted to a gang of fraudsters making Concorde bookings, and managed to avoid being scammed – and warned fellow local agents too.

He concluded: “Many thanks for your news and features over the years which have helped to keep me sane.”