Taking on a new job in travel at a time when the industry has been plunged into crisis by a global pandemic would not be for everyone. But after 27 years in travel, Cherie Richards has a solid resolve.
Many in the industry know Richards from her most recent role of commercial director for Global Travel Group, where she worked for 15 years – many believed she would never leave.
But in February this year, burgeoning franchise group Not Just Travel (NJT), which has 600 homeworkers, approached Richards.
She accepted the newly created chief business development officer role, and worked out her notice at Global amid the most devastating shock to travel in recent memory.
“To leave my team and the members in the middle of the pandemic was very difficult,” recalls Richards, who was the recipient of the 2019 TTG Top 50 Travel Agencies Contribution to Travel award.
“But I had an excellent team over at Global and I know they’re doing a great job. I don’t think there was ever going to be a ‘right time’ for me to leave, as I was an integral part of it.
“I was offered a great opportunity with NJT to help me with my career progression, but also to be able to work from home. I have a five-year-old.
“When your personal circumstances change you have to look at things a bit differently. The guys [NJT co-founders Steve Witt and Paul Harrison] are entrepreneurs and saw me joining their business as a coup because of my experience.”
As well as helping existing travel consultants generate more profit and improve customer experience, and working with suppliers, Richards will be responsible for developing a new division of the company, which sees NJT seek to “attract the very best travel agent talent in the UK with a completely new, fresh and innovative offering”.
“I’d like to be able to bring that concept to fruition and have something out there that the experienced agent could join and ride on the back of our financial backing and training,” explains Richards.
And with existing franchisees, she sees opportunities too. “I’ve seen that homeworkers do move into office or retail space and I do still believe people will want to do that,” she shares.
“Once you’ve progressed from a homeworker, your brand and the full service element becomes more important, so the administration being looked after by the agent is something I’d like to look at too.”
Richards says she has detected “green shoots” of an industry revival, with demand for multigenerational and villa holidays. She adds, though, that going forward changes will have to be made, such as a reflection on how businesses have been operating and how they’ve handled cash.
She continues: “Just after I announced my move, there was a wave of redundancies and that’s very indicative of our industry at the moment.”
Richards invites anyone who’s recently been made redundant to contact her directly. “I’ve already received quite a few messages from field- based tour operator BDMs who have lost their jobs.
“I’m aware of other businesses that might have new opportunities as well as at Not Just Travel.”
The note Richards ends on seems representative of the kind of leader she will be in her new role. “I’m a mental health first aider. Anyone out there who wants to reach out and have a chat, I’m here.
“We will get through this, and hopefully come out brighter the other side.”