The face of excellence: Glen Thomas

Date Posted: 26/02/2013

Glen Thomas | Finalist - Travelsphere

Pictured: Glen with GTO Lin Wilson and his Travelsphere colleagues enjoying a familiarisation cruise last November.

We conclude the Excellence Award series by chatting to 2012 finalist Glen Thomas, sales manager - groups for Travelsphere, who explains why working in group travel can be just like holidaying with friends.

Name: Glen Thomas
Title: Sales Manager - Groups
Company: Travelsphere (part of All Leisure Holidays)
Number of years working in group travel: 4 years
Favourite holiday destination: The west coast of America or India

The Excellence Award recognises the commitment and dedication of an individual within the travel trade supplier sector, highlighting those who truly go the extra mile to provide an outstanding service. Nominations and votes are cast by group travel organisers, before the winner is announced at the annual Group Leisure Awards.

Congratulations on being voted one of the finalists of the 2012 Excellence Award. How did you become involved in group travel?
I’ve worked in travel for the past 20-odd years, starting off doing what most people do, as a travel rep. I was working in the ski-side of the business, when the company sadly closed as the business was being wound down due to the ill health of the owner.

I actually worked across the road from where the Travelsphere office is, and I knew they had a vacancy coming up working with the group/VIP customers. It went hand-in-hand with what I was doing previously, and although it was a different type of holiday, it was still a similar sort of client.

How did you react when you found out you’d been nominated for the Excellence Award?
Humbled, thrilled; it’s nice to know that you’ve ‘made your mark’ if you like. I had people e-mailing me saying, ‘I’ve nominated you for this’, and I didn’t know quite what to say actually - it was fantastic.

Glen Thomas with GTOs on  trip to Russia.

Pictured: Glen (far left) with GTOs at Red Square, Moscow, during a fam trip to Russia.

What is it about the groups’ side of the business that really appeals to you?
I like the interaction with the group leaders. The GTOs we work with are passionate about their groups and passionate about travel - as I am. To be able to talk through holiday enquiries with an individual who is so excited about what they can offer their group, just works for me.

What do you enjoy most about working in the travel industry?
I’ve never worked in any other industry; however friends and colleagues that have moved away from the industry have rapidly come back again because they’ve missed it so much. I like everything about it; it’s fast-changing and there’s the fun factor of producing a holiday that people will get excited about - it’s really enjoyable.

Can you take me through a typical day at the Travelsphere office?
A day is never the same [laughs]. That’s probably one of the attractions of travel. Usually I come in and check the overnight report (Travelsphere has a 24-hour service which updates us every morning of anything that’s happened overnight with people on our tours). So if something has happened with a group in China during the night when we’ve all been in bed, I can come in the next morning and will immediately be brought up to speed.

And presumably you’re in regular contact each day with group travel organisers?
We speak to them daily, weekly - very rarely monthly. It’s a regular discussion and we tend to find that groups will have more than one booking a year, and then they’re always forward planning. Plus the amount of tailor-made holidays we organise far exceeds what is in the brochure - and they’re not the sort of holidays that will take a couple of minutes to book. We need to get the contracts together from the airline, arrange the tour manager, deal with any special requests; so actually piecing it together for the customer takes quite a bit of time to get right. And of course everyone has different requirements or wants to do different things.

Glen Thomas with GTOs on a trip to India in 2011.

Pictured: Glen (centre) pictured with GTOs on a fam trip to India in 2011.

Do you find you’re able to inject some personal insight into the tailor-made holidays for groups?
Yes absolutely. Especially if somebody is keen to book an American-based holiday, because I’ve travelled quite extensively in America, so I can say well you’ve done this, this and this, why not consider that? Things like doing a rail journey from Seattle down to San Francisco, which is such a nice add-on for people, but not necessarily one they would think about. So it means you’re able to give them that alternative.

As well as speaking to group travel organisers on the phone, you also do a lot of face-to-face interaction with GTOs and spend a lot of time getting to know them and their groups. How important is this personal touch?
Yes, we’ll go out and visit them in their homes or in their local community centres if they want a presentation given to the group. I think it’s vital that people can see you face-to-face. They get a feel for you as a person. My most important role is to make them feel that they’re important, and that’s what I hope is the service that we give.

Absolutely, and I know that you’ve said to me in the past that running a fam trip for example, is just like going on a holiday with friends?
Yes, I do get wound up on a constant basis that I’m going on holiday with my mates; people like Chris Taylor, Janet Spooner, Lin Wilson - I consider them friends. We have such a good time when we go away, so it is like going on holiday with your friends.

Have you ever had any unusual or peculiar requests from a group travel organiser?
There’s not one in particular that springs to mind. One of the best ones we’ve had in the past year or so was working with Deaf World Travel, which had its 20th anniversary last year. We had 186 people booked onto a cruise, and there were a lot of special requests on that one - we had birthdays, anniversaries, everything going on in one go. So it was quite a challenge, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Glen with Rebecca Dance at a group travel exhibition.

Pictured: Glen with colleague Rebecca Dance at a group travel exhibition.

How do you think the group travel industry has changed in your experience?
I think that the customer has changed a considerable amount, and is becoming (quite rightly so) more demanding and more in-tune with looking at other parts of the world, as opposed to doing the bulk standard trips.

They want to do something different, something that sets them apart from other holiday makers if you like. Whereas before you would have got those who would have quite happily jumped on the coach at their local pick-up point and had a trip round France and back again, they now want to try something completely different - different cultures from what they’re used to. So the customer has become more demanding in that respect, which in turn makes the whole job more interesting.

How do you like to spend your free time?
Travelling! We do travel quite a lot. We tend to go away for three weeks at a time, and we’ll go out and travel America normally. Although this year I think we’ll go to India because I fell in love with the place when we went out there on a familiarisation trip.

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