Londonderry-based Grace Wallace joined Miles Morgan Travel in October as a homeworker after 26 years with Thomas Cook. She tells Benjamin Coren about the switch.
Q. Why did you join Miles Morgan Travel?
A. Following Thomas Cook’s collapse, I looked at what job opportunities were available, and was contacted by Miles Morgan. He asked if I wanted to join his team. Moira Lumsden is a good friend of mine, and at the time she was Miles Morgan Travel’s only homeworker. Miles asked her if she knew of anyone at Thomas Cook who would be interested in homeworking, and she gave him some names, including mine.
Q. How did you feel about making the change to homeworking?
A. I was excited and nervous, as it was something totally new to me and took me out of my comfort zone. After a few days, I decided to go for it and take on the challenge. I became the second homeworker to join Miles Morgan Travel – a third has joined since.
“At Miles Morgan, we have more companies to sell, which means you can provide more for your customer.”
Q. How does it differ from working for a vertically integrated company?
A. I was limited at Thomas Cook, as I was allowed to sell only certain companies. At Miles Morgan, we have more companies to sell, which means you can provide more for your customer. Everyone knows everyone within the company, which is really nice.
Q. What different products have you been selling?
A. I booked a Riviera Travel tour, which is not a company I had used before – and that was for a new client. I found working with them brilliant; they were very helpful. The client had lots of parts to incorporate and I went through the companies Miles Morgan uses and got some guidance from the branch in Chepstow. The clients booked it within two days. I’ve also been doing more tailor-made itineraries. Holidaymakers want each component to match their needs. As a homeworker, I can adjust my timetable and meet customers and help them to create the trip of their dreams.
“I start work at 9am and go to meet clients in locations suited to them, or their homes. I work in my own time – I find I actually work more.”
Q. What’s a typical working day now?
A. Generally, I work 37-and-a-half hours a week, but I might also meet clients in the evenings, so I adjust it all accordingly. The most challenging part is not going to an office on a daily basis. I start work at 9am and go to meet clients in locations suited to them, or their homes. I work in my own time – I find I actually work more. Having flexibility is also great for my customers, who don’t always have the time to meet me between 9am and 6pm.
Q. Are you prepared for the peaks?
A. It has been quiet in the lead-up to Christmas but in the new year, when the peaks hits, its head down and graft. I’m almost ready for the peaks, I was in Bristol this week meeting operators I have never met before – many of whom I hadn’t worked for – and they had product I didn’t know existed. These are companies I didn’t have the opportunity to sell with Thomas Cook.
“I had a lot of phone calls and messages from previous customers asking how I was – they are over the moon that I’m working for another company.”
Q. How do you drum up business?
A. I shared my story with the local paper, the Derry Journal, so people in my community know who I am. I also use my Facebook page and a lot of business comes in via word of mouth. I’ve gone out to local companies and hotels and found out about events, so I can be there and promote myself. I have also joined the chamber of commerce.
Q. Have you had any of your old Thomas Cook clients come back to you?
A. I’ve had several former customers wish me well, and about 20 to 30 have booked with me. I had a lot of phone calls and messages from previous customers asking how I was – they are over the moon that I’m working for another company and still working for them. As well as former customers, I’ve just had someone who had never booked with me who was given my details by an old client of mine.
‘I am thrilled at being able to continue to serve my customers’
The collapse of Thomas Cook was a huge hit for me and the industry, but I am thrilled to be able to continue to service my customers in my new role. It was important for me to join a company that puts its customers first and allows the flexibility to provide tailored travel – and I’m delighted to have found that. I was shocked when the collapse happened. I had been on leave and I was due back to work on the Monday. Everything unfolded late on Sunday night. We got a call not to go into the offices, as we wouldn’t have access. So I never went back to the office, I had no personal items there, so I had no reason to go in – and I think it’s quite difficult to go in and watch them dismantle the place. I love travel and I’ve been working in the industry for a long time. Within the trade, working from home has become more popular. I haven’t thought about work outside of travel, as I’ve known it for so long. In Northern Ireland, it’s not so big and, on the mainland, there are more companies and operators you can work for.
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