Need a flight in 2hrs? Sean'll fix it for you

Need a flight in 2hrs? Sean'll fix it for you

FOR the business travel agent, there is nothing unusual about a client who needs a flight in 4hrs' time or decides to swap hotels halfway through a six-day trip.

Agents are trained to deal with frantic phone calls from secretaries trying to cater for a boss who needs an extra day to complete an important deal in Tokyo- even if it means changing their return flight by 24hrs.

The nature of travelling on business means that arrangements are made, and then changed, at the very last minute. Although this might involve a lot of extra time and effort, it is all part of the service that travel management companies are expected to provide for their clients.

However, few agents would take kindly to being woke in the early hours of the morning by a client demanding an executive jet is chartered for him by 8am the same day.

And even the very best of travel agents would find it difficult to conjure up 30 rooms in a city-centre hotel which is showing as full.

But for Sean Shelley, the owner of a highly specialised travel agency Shelley Ashman International, these examples are not out of the ordinary.

Based in Reading, Berkshire, Shelley Ashman International deals with clients for whom money is no object, but who also want things done immediately.

"I don't say no to people," said Shelley, a heavy smoker who appears undaunted by any task. His mobile phone rang incessantly during our 1hr chat in central London but Shelley kept his cool.

An overseas client is having trouble getting a US visa in time for a trip and Shelley has his work cut out in trying to fix things in time.

'Fixing things' is his catchphrase, and he makes no secret that the 'fixing' is invariably achieved by having a quiet word in the right ear or simply knowing the right person.

"Hotels might say they have no rooms free, but they always keep some empty. It's just a case of being in contact with the right person at the hotel," he explained.

Often Shelley will use smaller hotel establishments, where he has built up relationships with the management or the reservations staff.

Sometimes he sends a bunch of flowers or a small gift afterwards - just to ensure the special relationship continues.

These gestures are remembered the next time he calls for help.

"I have to find people who are reliable, who are going to do what they say they are going to do. Luckily for me, I've found some," he said.

Interestingly, Shelley's background was not in the travel industry - he was originally an estate agent. After that he got a job working for a company which exported cattle and horses. It was through this business that he moved on into the transporting people.

Many of his clients are from the Middle East, and need to take large groups of people on trips where there is maximum security and privacy. These clients will often travel in private jets and helicopters, often at short notice, so it's imperative that Shelley has a list of pilot friends to step in to save the day.

Back in Reading, Shelley is supported by a team of five consultants who work around the clock making travel arrangements for their corporate clients. The agency makes a guarantee that every client will get a telephone call within 10mins of his or her initial request.

According to Shelley, none of his clients have been disappointed. And the staff? Well, they may be rushed off their feet - but at least they know every day at work will throw up a new challenge.

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