A holidaysplease.co.uk homeworker has nearly tripled her career-record booking after picking up and converting an outlandish Saint Lucia enquiry.
Sheila Sparkes’ new clients this week put down a whopping £30,000 deposit on the £160,000 booking, which could yet rise to £220,000 if they choose to fly British Airways rather than by private jet.
"What a dilemma to have!" said Sparkes, whose previous largest booking was a £60,000 Saint Lucia wedding. "It’s a 60th birthday party for the dad – Sugar Beach, Viceroy.
"The main concern about whether they do BA or the jet is that if we go into a full lockdown and BA cancels the flights, in the client’s words – “anyone with money’s going to be scrabbling about looking for a jet’."
Sudbury-based Sparkes said the enquiry came from Holidayplease’s pool of generated leads, something she has tapped since the Covid downturn. "It’s not usually how I work," she said.
"I’ve been homeworking for the best part of 20 years and for Holidaysplease for nearly eight years – I’ve got a well-established and loyal client base, I’d never taken their generated enquiries.
"But while January and February were storming months, on 1 March, the shutters came down and it was game over. If I’d just relied on my own clients, I’d have had a fraction of the bookings by now."
Sparkes explained how, back in April, it was on a Zoom call with Holidaysplease bosses Charles Duncombe and Richard Dixon that she started considering the firm’s generated enquiries.
"I just thought, ‘I’m going to have to kick myself up the backside and start working in that manner’. Holidaysplease was generating a lot of enquiries because lots of companies were asleep – we ramped up our marketing, and were really well-placed to capitalise.
"We were all hands on deck. At the start of May, I decided to start taking these enquiries, attacking them, and seeing what I could do."
Pursuing 100 to 150 enquiries a month, Sparkes revealed that in July and August, she took £60,000 to £70,000 worth of new business a month.
"This was just another booking in the pool," she said. "I just happened to get hold of the client’s son. They were all on holiday in Turkey, having a few drinks.
"The conversation went a bit like this, ‘we’re looking to do a birthday holiday for my Dad, we want to go to the Bahamas, we want a yacht, I want to get the Rolling Stones or Status Quo in for my Dad’. I just humoured him and went along with it."
However, after dropping them an email, the client rang back a week later and in the space of a fortnight, and despite "a little wobble", Sparkes eventually got the family to settle on Saint Lucia and put down the deposit.
"It was a pretty large deposit," Sparkes admitted. "I thought they might come back and say, ’thanks but no thanks’. But it was when he said, ’we’ll go first class because it’s got that je ne sais quoi’, that was it for me."
Sparkes said the call with Duncombe and Dixon "really made her pull her socks up". "Looking back, if I hadn’t have done anything, I’d still just be doing amendments and re-bookings," she said. "Instead, I’ve got a load of new forward business."
And reflecting on the booking, Sparkes added: "I told the client this morning, ’I hope I’m on your speed dial and I’m your go-to girl for all things travel’. I feel like I’m part of the family now. You’re all things in this job sometimes."