We spoke to Lee to find out how the duty office helped him during a time of crisis, and how the support he’s received from Travel Counsellors since starting his business has meant he has “no regrets” about becoming a franchisee.
Could you start by talking about the situation you were faced with on the day of the air traffic control incident?
I had a group of about 170 customers who were in Budapest for the World Athletics Championships. I’d also gone out there with them, as some were coming with me to do a post-championship tour of Vienna afterwards. Everything had started well!
After seeing off those who were heading straight home after the championships, my customers and I hopped on the train to Vienna. It was during the journey that my phone started pinging with WhatsApp messages and calls from customers at Budapest Airport, advising that their flights had been cancelled. They weren’t getting much assistance locally from their airline representatives at the airport. I soon realised there was a major issue at play, and once I found out it was an air traffic control issue, I knew alternative options would be limited.
I’ve built up a lot of trust with my customers over the years. So, I told them to go and grab a coffee while I made some phone calls to a fellow Travel Counsellor who was covering my business back in the UK, and to the 24/7 duty office. When I logged into Phenix, our in-house booking system, I was notified that I had 95 cancelled flights affecting 163 customers!
Duty office were incredibly helpful in helping to book customers into hotels, arranging transfers, and eventually rebooking flights as soon as they were able to. One by one, we got everyone sorted and my customers really appreciated the communication and levels of care shown. Our amazing tech and systems came into play, and we got through it.
Why is the duty office so valuable to Travel Counsellors?
As a Travel Counsellor, it’s having the reassurance that when you’re sleeping and customers are overseas in their resort, they have a point of contact with the duty office staff. It gives both me and my customers peace of mind that there’s someone who can respond quickly if things don’t go quite right. It’s vitally important.
Aside from round-the-clock support for Travel Counsellors and your customers, what else do you think sets Travel Counsellors apart from other franchises?
When I first spoke to the recruitment team, they put me in contact with three Travel Counsellors – one had only been a business owner for a year, one for five years and the other for about 20 years. It was important for me to speak directly with them before making a decision. That made a massive difference to me. You can read about life as a franchisee, but you don’t know until you’re actually in it (and are committed and confirmed), what the reality is. Is it really what it says on tin?
So far, it’s surpassed all of my expectations - both in terms of support for my business, but also personally as well. I started at a tricky time. It was Covid and a personal, life-changing event happened in my life at exactly the same time. I tapped into the resources that are available to Travel Counsellors very early on. I’ve definitely made the most of all the wellbeing support available for various reasons. All I can say is that I’ve got no regrets.
What’s it like being part of the Travel Counsellors community?
It’s reassuring that there’s somebody there if things go wrong. Or, if you just need a helping hand – whether it’s another Travel Counsellor (wherever they may be in the world) or knowing how accessible head office staff and senior management are. In my career, I haven’t known any other business where they make themselves available – and it’s not just words.
I also facilitate the regular coffee mornings that take place, and I’m part of the wellbeing committee. Because of what I’ve gone through over the last few years, I now want to give back. I’ve just started mentoring as well to help new starters. The community is everything. I think if I didn’t have that support when I first started, I’d be in a different place.
What makes your job so rewarding?
It’s the testimonials, the reviews when customers come back, the telephone calls. I think just enabling people to go away and see this big world of ours is amazing. You can be instrumental in making sure they come home with the best memories possible. That’s why I do what I do.
Do you want to be part of a franchise where you and your customers will be supported whenever, wherever you venture? If so, we’d love to have you on board. Get in touch and we could be welcoming you into our caring and inclusive community of travel experts.