Natasha Salmon meets the team at Hays Travel in Castleford, West Yorkshire, which opened last December.
From booking bizarre stag do requests in the Ukraine to return trips to Benidorm, Hays Travel in Castleford is a firm favourite among the West Yorkshire town’s residents.
The store, situated in the Carlton Lane shopping centre, is yet to reach its first birthday but is already noticeably popular, with customers walking in and asking for agents by name.
The friendly team, led by store manager Laura Garner, have built a ‘travel hub’ for returning customers and are regularly recommended by friends and family.
The store’s growth in the last nine months is “amazing” according to Laura, and something she believes is part of a wider trend.
“I really do think people are coming back to the high street,” she says.
“We have seen people of all ages coming in after bad experiences with online booking, or just looking for that expert advice you can’t get anywhere else.
“The difference from when I first started is amazing – we are now constantly busy.
“Our top destination is Spain, especially Benidorm. People from Castleford love the home-from-home feel of Benidorm and go back regularly.”
Laura says there has been a noticeable change in holiday enquiries since incidents in Tunisia and Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt last year and uncertainty surrounding Turkey.
“There has been a massive shift in people who normally go to Tunisia and Egypt.
Some people have been put off going to Turkey too,” says Laura. “I think this is why some Spain holidays have got more expensive, so people are deciding to pay slightly more to go to other places like the Caribbean, Cuba and Cape Verde.
“In comparison, customers are finding them to be reasonably priced, especially when they can still go away in the winter.
“Cruise packages are also becoming popular. As prices rise people are really determined to get more for less.”
The shop’s team of eight considers itself a family, each member even being assigned roles such as ‘mum’ or ‘baby’.
The team meets every morning to discuss the aims for the day; Laura even plays music to get everyone pumped for the day ahead.
The youngest member of the team, Elli-May Smith, is just 16 years old and started her apprenticeship six weeks ago.
Laura says: “I’ve been in travel for 10 years and like Elli-May I started as an apprentice. It is such a great way to begin this career.
“Learning on the job from people in the office who have a wealth of experience is 10 times better.
“We have all been to so many places too so we have the knowledge not only for our customers but for new staff like our apprentices.”
While I was in the store, Elli-May sat in during a booking with agent Jane Spence, who has worked in travel for almost 30 years, so she could learn the ropes and help.
Fellow sales consultant James Rix was also kept busy as some of his customers came in and asked for him by name.
Laura says: “So much of our business and many of our customers come to us just by word of mouth. They come in to us and ask specifically for James, Sarah or Jane.
“They will have been at a party or dinner and been told of the holiday their friends had. They don’t want to miss out.”
The team has embraced Facebook and use it to keep in touch with existing customers.
It has yet to set up a Twitter account but, as a new store, Laura says there are more plans to engage with customers in the pipeline.
“We plan on building on our work with the community,” she says.
“We have started in our first year building relationships with other businesses in the centre – they all get a newsletter with our latest deals. Next year we will be building on this work to expand out into Castleford.”
Up close and personal
I have been in travel for... 28 years. I’ve been with Hays Travel since April and before that worked for Thomas Cook and other independent agencies.
My favourite destination is... Cyprus, closely followed by Italy where I have just come back from. I go there often and have loved every single visit, the food is just incredible.
If I hadn’t become a travel agent... I would have been a vet or worked with animals.
My weirdest request... was when a man came in trying to arrange his friend’s stag do to Chernobyl. He was the best man and came in twice, adamant he wanted to see the reaction from the groom and his friends.
I’ve been in travel for... longer than I’d like to say! I’ve been here since February and used to be a holiday rep.
My favourite holiday destination is... Benidorm, I absolutely love it: it’s like Blackpool with sun. What more could you want from a holiday?
If I hadn’t become a travel agent... I’d have been a soap star. Coronation Street would be my choice; I’d love to get behind the bar in the Rovers Return and reckon I could do a better job than Steve McDonald!
My weirdest request... is people asking to go to the Isle of Fernando (a fictional island from dating show Take Me Out).
The ‘family’ at Hays Travel in Castleford welcomed me as soon as I arrived and I instantly felt the warm, friendly atmosphere which brings customers back time and again.
There was a constant stream of customers, whether just to pick up a brochure or to plan a holiday in detail with ne of the Hays consultants.
James Rix, also known as ‘Rixy’, was in and out of the store as regulars walked past and called him over for a catch up. Known for cracking jokes, he had me and the rest of the team in stitches with his ambitions to “get on telly and behind the bar in Corrie”.
I was impressed by the dynamics of the team, each offering experience and knowledge in different destinations while knowing exactly what their customers want.
It offers the perfect environment for apprentice Elli-May, especially with the likes of sales consultant Jane Spence to show her the ropes. The future looks bright for this Hays Travel store as it approaches its first anniversary in December.
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