Excellence rewarded: Part II

Date Posted: 25/01/2012

In the second of a four-part series featuring our 2011 Excellence Award finalists, we chat to Ramblers Worldwide Holidays’ Dawn O'Farrell.

Name: Dawn O'Farrell
Title: Private Groups Assistant Manager
Company: Ramblers Worldwide Holidays
Number of years working in group travel: 12 years in groups, 31 years in travel
Favourite holiday destination: Turkey

The Excellence Award recognises the commitment and dedication of an individual within the 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. You can also read other interviews as part of this series, with winner Richard Woolliss of Encore Tickets and Lesley Terrell from Historic Royal Palaces.

Group Leisure: Congratulations on making it to the final four of the 2011 Excellence Award at last year’s Group Leisure Awards. Could you tell us a little about your role and how you became involved in group travel?
Dawn: To start with, I went to the career’s office on leaving school, and I was really good at admin and typing. A vacancy came up at Ramblers Holidays, as it was then, and I liked it so much that I worked my way around the company, ending up on reservations. All of our holidays are for groups, but then we decided to offer out to walking groups, and my manager at the time asked if I’d like to join him in booking walking groups. It’s just gone from there really, so I must have been working with groups for 12 years now.

Group Leisure: What was it about the groups side of the business that really appealed to you?
Dawn: The fact that you’re dealing with the organiser. You get to know them, their likes, dislikes, expectations etc, so the minute that they ring up to book this year’s holiday, you know roughly what they’re looking for in terms of leaders and grades. I love the fact that I can remember it all, or bring up their records, and I can suggest to them. They feel special and it’s lovely to be able to make them feel like that. At the end of the day, these organisers are booking a dream for 20 or 30 people, and I’m part of that.

Group Leisure: What would you say are the main highlights of your job?
Dawn: The main highlights are giving groups what they want; every time I’m able to say ‘we can do that for you’; the fact that we’re so flexible; clients going away really happy and then coming back year after year. It’s really upsetting if anybody doesn’t get everything they want, and I take it personally. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, putting it right is a really good sense of achievement.

Group Leisure: How do you think the group travel industry has changed in your experience?
Dawn: From my own personal point of view, I think people are scared to book so far in advance now. We still get groups booking ahead, but we also get those who want to book a holiday for this year instead of the next. I think the industry is affected a lot by interest rates at the moment too, from our clients’ point of view.

Group Leisure: What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Dawn: Getting back to people when I say I will! The phone is always ringing, so the challenge is making enough time to spend on each booking.

Group Leisure: Do you find that you have to be quite flexible in your approach to different types of groups?
Dawn: Yes we do – although we’ve got a brochure of holidays we offer, and group organisers can take any one of those, we pride ourselves on being able to adapt length, grade, number of leaders and so on. We try to be as flexible as possible, but obviously with this type of holiday, safety is of paramount importance, so we’ll only change a holiday if aspects allow. A number of organisers comment on our flexibility, and I like working for a company like that. I can actually hear myself say, practically every day, that we’ll be as flexible as you want us to be.

Group Leisure: How does booking a walking holiday differ from booking a regular group trip?
Dawn: Well because we’re so specialised, we do only get like-minded people wanting to go on our holidays. Some people will want a sightseeing trip, and we’ve got hundreds of those, or others want low grade walking, and again we’ve got hundreds of those. Every one of our organisers gets access to the brochures and the website of course. The new site is wonderful, and I feel quite confident in helping choose the right holidays. Though I don’t specialise in grading the walks, I do have top expert help here when I need it.

Group Leisure: Could you highlight any destinations which you have found to be particularly popular with groups?
Dawn: Spain is very popular, and to be honest, the UK has become very popular too. Every year we seem to be getting more and more for the UK, as groups will often take two holidays – a short trip in the UK and a longer holiday in Europe. We don’t sell too many long-haul breaks, though cruise and walk is doing well, and that’s a fairly new product for us.

Group Leisure: Were you surprised to be nominated for The Excellence Award?
Dawn: Surprised isn’t the word, I was totally gobsmacked. In fact when I got the e-mail, we had a lot of spam coming through and I nearly deleted it. I was over the moon. I’ve never been nominated for anything like this before, and I’m still very proud of it.

Group Leisure: Is there anything you would like to say to all the organisers who voted for you in The Excellence Award?
Dawn: I just want to thank them from the bottom of my heart, and I promise that I’ll continue with that level of service at the best of my ability. So a real big thank you to all of them, they’re great people who deserve the best. So hopefully they’ll carry on travelling with us.

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