Shirley Smith, Travel Counsellor
Shirley Smith, Travel Counsellor
What is your job? I send people on holiday! I run my own travel business from home and hold a franchise with Travel Counsellors, the world’s largest home-based travel company. There are more than 1,100 personal Travel Counsellors based all over the world, and last year the company had a turnover of £255 million! It’s great fun - hard work, but so rewarding when I put together exactly what people want whether it’s for a holiday or a business trip. Travel has changed so much. Technology has opened up the industry and people are no longer happy just to pick from a brochure. They don’t want to be told when to travel, they want to be free to choose how they get there and where they stay. I organise bespoke, individually planned travel arrangements, talking to the client to find out exactly what they want, and searching to find the right price and the right deal. As a Travel Counsellor every holiday I book is fully financially protected and licensed by ATOL, plus we are totally independent so that we are free to use whichever airlines and hotels we want. By not being bound to certain companies there is a better chance of a great price and greater flexibility, so I can tailor-make dream holidays for my clients.
How long have you worked at this? I’ve just celebrated my 10th anniversary as a Travel Counsellor but I have worked in travel for 24 years. I was born and brought up in Dartmouth, and when I left Dartmouth Community College, I went to work in the travel agents on the Boat Float as a YTS trainee. I absolutely loved it and I stayed there for 14 years – going from trainee to branch manager. In those days people didn’t organise their own holidays, it was all done by travel agents. Nobody had computers. Everything was handled by letter and telephone. The internet has transformed the way people go about organising their travel plans. It’s seen to be a way of finding cheaper holidays, but I don’t believe that to be the case, and there is so much online that it can be very confusing unless you have the expertise to find your way through it. Organising your holiday yourself really is no cheaper with hidden and added costs. Nine times out of ten I can better any online price. The price I quote is the price you will pay and, of course, it is financially protected.
What is a typical day’s work for you? No two days or two clients are ever the same, but what is lovely is that my clients are very loyal and all come back to me, often recommending me to their friends and families. All my business comes from referrals. Everyone knows I give 100 per cent and that I am on call to answer queries day or night. I also visit clients if they wish because I know a lot of people prefer to talk through their plans and requirements face to face. I am totally client focussed – whatever they want, that’s what I’ll do. I take all the hassle out of organising a holiday and it’s great when I hand them all their documents (flights, accommodation, car hire, airport transport, cruise ship details – you name it) and see the relief that it’s all taken care of, and the excitement as they set off on their holidays. I always ring to make sure they have had a good time, and were happy with everything. It’s important to get feedback on things like hotels and apartments if I am going to use them again.
So I could spend my day organising a Caribbean cruise, a European business trip, a rail tour across Canada and North America – it literally could be anything!
What is it like working from home? I love it! I work long hours but I fit all sorts of other jobs in around my phone calls, visits, research and emails – such as taking the children to school, dealing with the washing, feeding the chickens and collecting the eggs! We live on the edge of Blackawton and I work in my sitting room with views across trees and countryside, and my hens scratching about in the meadow. If the children have a celebration assembly or school play I can nip up the road and watch it, then come back and finish my work in the evening when they’ve gone to bed. It is a lovely way to work.
I’m married to Nick and we have two children, Oliver and Nadine. We’ve lived in Blackawton for 11 years and really enjoy village life. My parents, Ken and Stella Head, and my sister Alison and her family all live in Dartmouth. We’re a close family.
What do you like to do when you are not at work? We all love to ski! I first learned to ski when I was 13 and went on a trip with Dartmouth Guides. Laurie Pearson, our guide leader, taught me. I was hooked. Nick loves to ski too and we have passed our enthusiasm on to both the children – they skied almost as soon as they could stand! We love camping too and this year we’re off to France to camp with my sister and her family – great fun and perfect for children. It goes without saying that I love travelling, both with work and family. I go on quite a few work trips because it is important to be able to have that personal knowledge when you are talking to clients about destinations, but Nick and I have travelled a lot together too, and we have made quite a few trips with the children.
What is the best thing about your job? I get a real buzz when people ask me to organise a round the world itinerary, with interconnecting flights and hotels. I love putting those trips together. But the best thing is hearing about the great experiences my clients have had travelling the world. They really appreciate the personal service – it delivers great holidays!
First Published June 2010 By The Dart