As a husband and wife duo running a fourth-generation family business, the professional challenges of the Covid-19 crisis don’t touch much closer to home than for Phil and Paula Nuttall.
“We couldn’t have asked any more of the team – they’ve got us through it…without them we just wouldn’t have a business,” said the Travel Village Group owners during TTG’s latest Face To Face interview.
A Blackpool institution, the company celebrated its 60th anniversary last June, but since March, like many, it has faced a battle bringing immense professional and personal pressures.
Phil said a decision early on to invest in admin and customer care has helped protect reputation and client confidence.
“We had a choice – we could shut the shop down and furlough everybody [but] that would have put even more pressure on. We’re a family business where customer care comes first. [So] we put our hands in our pockets and kept everybody on.”
Paula recalled: “I was taking calls late at night to take the pressure off the team. We put that investment and time in and it’s paid off.”
Known for its speciality in cruising, the company’s ocean sales have understandably stalled amid the sector’s sailing suspension.
Phil admitted seeing Paula and her Holiday Village division of more than 60 homeworkers bearing the brunt had been difficult.
“It’s usually been Paula getting it in the neck. From a husband’s point of view, it’s hard for me to sit and see her have to carry that burden. We look after each other but it is tough, and best-laid plans all of a sudden go pear-shaped.”
One such recent occasion – the Foreign Office’s advice change for Spain on a Saturday evening – transformed a dinner at home with friends into a long night of warning customers not to go to the airport.
“That was going on very early into Sunday morning, but that’s what we do,” said Paula.
With a number of family members working in the business – the demands of the job are understood but can still be tricky to cope with.
“We’re not dissimilar to lots of other families in the travel industry – it’s that realness where it impacts on your family life. It’s been really tough, no doubt about it,” said Phil.
“I’m on the phone speaking to someone and my grandson is pulling my arm asking me to go and play football – that’s the real side.”
Travel Village Group staff are also very much part of the family.
Phil described the huge amount of paperwork being worked through by the admin team from Carnival UK bookings: “When I look back at my 37 years in travel, I’ll remember that day. I was speechless for about 15 minutes. I couldn’t believe the burden they were carrying.”
Company payment plans have been put in place to help agents who have little or no income on commission coming in due to refunds.
Despite all this, the couple’s resilience is clear.
“We want to instil belief [in our team] that we will get there and the industry will get there,” said Phil.
Paula is recruiting for The Holiday Village, believing “there’s never been a better opportunity to get into homeworking”, while Phil has revamped the company’s Southampton Cruise Centre brand – bringing Cunard’s Richard Cross onboard as manager.
Phil had a simple request: “If I could wish for anything, it would be for the team to have a break.”