I fell into travel quite by accident, starting my travel career as a sales consultant for Lunn Poly on a minimum hours contract back in January 1993. Having a six-week-old baby meant I wanted a job that was part-time, and I naively believed the contract would give me that.
On little more than minimum wage, the reality was I ended up working much longer – and unsociable – hours than I was ever paid to do, and when I really needed the money pre-Christmas each year (as we all do), my hours were reduced to just 11 per week.
Although I will always be grateful for my introduction to travel, working in this environment didn’t do very much for my own self-esteem. Constantly micro-managed, scripted on what to say, what to sell and forever berated over targets, I never really felt valued or appreciated – even when we were doing a great job.
So I left to join a small independent travel agent, David Speakman Travel, which would prove to be the pivotal moment in my career – although I didn’t know it at the time.
David had just created a new business called Travel Counsellors, a concept that was based on letting great people do what they do best – look after their customers. The agent could work flexibly around the customer and their own life, ultimately letting the agent reap the rewards. At the time, people thought he was mad and that it could never work.
I soon found myself working for a model that today would be classed as a “start-up” or a “disruptor”.
This model would change people’s lives. I wasn’t particularly ambitious, if I’m honest. Like many people, I didn’t believe I was good enough to be anything special. However, when you are surrounded by people who believe in you, feel that you contribute and are valued, and when you feel safe, you start to believe in yourself. That, in itself, is life-changing.
The past few weeks have been one of the most turbulent in travel’s history, but none more so than for the Thomas Cook staff whose lives have been turned upside down. For many, this will be the pivotal period of their career.
It is fabulous there are so many opportunities now available in this amazing industry we love. For those whose careers and livelihoods have been impacted, if you can, take a breath and write down everything that matters to you in order for you to love your job, whether that be reward, recognition, flexibility, autonomy, security – every person’s list will be different.
The truth is, most of us will need to work for a very long time, so make sure you are doing it somewhere that makes you feel fulfilled – your mental health will thank you.
Losing your job is one of the most traumatic things that can happen. I want to remind all Thomas Cook staff that this failure wasn’t yours. Many of you have years of knowledge and customers who value you highly, and you have built relationships and friendships that span the years.
There are very many of you that are quite extraordinary. Please don’t ever underestimate yourself or what you can achieve. Your future will be what you make it.