As he heads into retirement, Touch of Class’ owner talks about his varied 50-year career in the travel industry
Agency: Touch of Class
Years in travel: 50
Years at this agency: 13 running Touch of Class as a homeworking member of The Global Travel Group
How did you get into travel?
I joined DL Edward Travel in Perth in 1968 as a trainee counter clerk and was hooked. Six months later I gained a British Airways diploma and was appointed assistant manager.
You’re retiring soon: what’s been your proudest moment to date?
Being appointed manager of Rankin Kuhn Travel in Glasgow, then being headhunted to join Denholm World Travel as deputy managing director. This led me to set up Clifford International Travel in 1986.
What are your hobbies?
I’m a keen thespian and love treading the boards with the local amateur dramatics group. I’m also very proud of my garden and spend a lot of time keeping it in tip-top condition.
What’s a typical day off like for you?
My family are the most important thing in my life. Time with them is precious. My daughters and grandchildren are my world, so I spend as much time with them at weekends as I can.
What’s the most satisfactory booking you’ve ever made?
A two-centre Australia and New Zealand holiday for three ladies worth more than £20,000. The clients told me that they found my personalised guidance, advice and support consistently reassuring. It was confirmation that going the extra mile and offering a bespoke service as an independent agent wins a client’s confidence.
What’s the best fam trip you have ever been on?
A trip to Zimbabwe in 1982, just after the country had secured its independence. We met the country’s vice-president, Joshua Nkomo, who recommended a potent mix of brandy and port as the ideal medication for settling an upset tummy!
What’s your favourite destination?
Cape Town – I’ve visited three times now. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is an ideal base to visit Table Mountain, the old towns of the Winelands and the iconic Garden Route.
What’s the daftest question a client has ever asked you?
Well, it was less a daft question and more of a daft client, actually. They booked a package with flights from Glasgow and then moved closer to Edinburgh. They wouldn’t accept that travel documents weren’t interchangeable and went ahead and tried to check in at Edinburgh airport. Needless to say, the flight from Glasgow left without them onboard!
What would you be doing if you weren’t a travel agent?
Before I got into the travel business, I spent two years as a student psychiatric nurse, so I’d probably have continued along that path, I suppose. I’m involved with the Samaritans, which I find incredibly rewarding; I’d probably have done more with them too.
Cruise, fly and flop or adventure holiday?
For total relaxation my first choice would be a Caribbean cruise, followed by a return to Barbados, Bahamas and Cape Town. Closer to home, I’d have to pick the Canaries.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
“You cannot spend what you have not worked for and earned.”
What’s the secret to excellent customer service?
Product knowledge. Deliver honest and reliable advice on every enquiry, no matter the value. Build a trustworthy business relationship with your clients from the moment they contact you and follow it through to the conclusion of their booking.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self now?
Think positive, stay positive. There’s no such thing as can’t. Set your objectives and strategies and work hard to achieve them. My family and I would never have believed that when I set up Clifford International Travel, 20 years later we’d be referred to as one of “Scotland’s travel successes”.
Who do you most admire in the travel industry?
I’ve worked closely with so many people over the years and learned so much that it’s impossible to single out one person in particular, but thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey in travel.