Rewarding excellence: Part II

Date Posted: 13/10/2010

In the second of a four-part series featuring our 2010 Excellence Award finalists, we chat to The Travel Adventure’s Jayne Kerr.

Name: Jayne Kerr
Company: The Travel Adventure
No. of years working in group travel: 16 years
Favourite destination: South Africa

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.

Group Leisure: Hi Jayne. To start us off could you tell us a little about your role and how you became involved in group travel?
Jayne: It’s a family-run company, Ian’s (Jayne’s husband) been in group travel for 50 years. I was an English teacher, and I was getting a bit fed up of teaching so I asked Ian if I could come into the business on the education side, to write and prepare project work for teachers, as part of the business is schools, colleges and curriculum-led tours. So I came in and I found a niche, even though I’d had no formal training.

Group Leisure: Did your teaching experience help you in selling the educational tours to schools and colleges?
Jayne: I suppose I could see it from the teacher’s point of view - I mean it’s a big responsibility when you’ve got kids aged 11 to 18 and the parents are trusting you to look after them.

Group Leisure: So when you became involved in the group travel side of things you must have felt like you’d ‘switched sides’ as it were?
Jayne: I did, I did. I could see it from the commercial side, and that was interesting. It also helped in terms of sales. We’re very much a company that relies not just on brochures and e-shots and that kind of marketing - we have to pick up the phone and call. Getting past the school secretary is a bit like getting past the medical receptionist to speak personally to a doctor! But because I’d been a teacher, I knew the terminology, so you can wheedle your way in.

I find that when you’re selling on the telephone, for me it’s about psychology. Someone said to me once: “Jayne, you’ve got a top degree, you were a brilliant teacher, you’re wasted just selling.” Well actually you’re not, because when you speak to somebody on the phone, psychology comes into it and within a few minutes you have to determine the kind of person you’re speaking to. It could be someone who’s straight down the line - they’re only interested in museums, culture or something like that, whereas the next group might only be interested in shopping - you know, groups of ladies. Every group has different requirements and so you have to quickly adjust your conversation to suit that person.

Group Leisure: What would you say are the main highlights of your job?
Jayne: People and places. I love the whole world and there’s a big wide world out there! What’s that saying? The journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step. And I want to see every destination. I’ve got a little ‘bible’ at home - 1,000 places to see before you die, and I’m ticking them all off with a pencil!

Group Leisure: So which has been your favourite destination?
Jayne: I’ve loved them all, but if I had to choose one it would be South Africa. I loved the cosmopolitan feel, the friendliness of Cape Town. The people were just amazing. Going up Table Mountain, visiting the beautiful hotels and then the winelands, it just kept changing. You’d turn a corner and the scenery and the landscape changed. The scenery was just so vast.

Group Leisure: Can you describe the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Jayne: The biggest challenge we’ve ever faced is getting a coach within two hours, to get a group home from Florence, with the ash cloud disruption in Iceland this year. We got the group back within three hours of what it would have been had they flown. We didn’t wait for them to say all the airports would close, we quickly put into position emergency procedures straight away.

Another challenge was when one of our group organisers had booked some Robbie Williams tickets from an agency that went into receivership. Ian and I came into the office on New Year’s Eve and we managed to get all the tickets online and she got her tour.

Group Leisure: How do you think the group travel industry has changed in your experience?
Jayne: I think that the saddest part of the industry for me is that a lot of the group organisers who work within our establishments are getting older, and they can’t find younger people to take over. That’s the biggest change I’ve seen. I speak to some GTOs who say: “When I retire, it’s just going to fold up, it will just cease.” We need younger blood.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times. People have a choice now, with cheap holidays on the internet and being able book online. Group travel relies on a group price that people aren’t going to get anywhere else, and that’s very often not the case now.

Group Leisure: What steps do you think could be taken to try and resolve this issue?
Jayne: I don’t think people can sit back on their laurels and wait for the new group organisers to come to them. I think that workshops are needed - workshops whereby major companies need to be approached, and we say to them: “This is an ideal opportunity for your staff to get to know one another, would you like to let one of them become a group organiser?” Then we have a nice little workshop where they meet other GTOs to find out what it’s like, to find out how exciting it can be, and how they too can travel the world.

Group Leisure: Have you enjoyed any personal holiday experiences that you’d recommend?
Jayne: I just love Cyprus. I love the people. There’s one hotel I go to when I really want to crash out, when I call myself a chicken on a spit - my husband’s job is to keep turning me, to get the colour even! No excursions, just a chance to crash out and recharge the batteries. We go to the same place every year because I’ve never yet met any staff as superb as at that hotel.

Group Leisure: Could you highlight any destinations which you have found to be particularly popular with groups?
Jayne: Paris is always popular with our groups, especially with Eurostar now, you don’t necessarily have to go by coach. With a coach you really need a group of 40 to make it viable, whereas the minimum group size for Eurostar is 12. We’ve found that the number of groups remains the same, but the numbers within the groups are slowly going down. So things like air travel and Eurostar satisfy the smaller groups better than coach travel.

Group Leisure: Could you name any up and coming destinations which you would recommend for groups over the next few years?
Jayne: Istanbul. Definitely Istanbul. And the other one that I’d love to see everyone going to is St Petersburg. When I was in Moscow I felt very threatened. I found the Muscovites quite abrupt to the point of being rude. When we got to St Petersburg there were all these beautiful buildings and the people were so friendly. It’s lovely for a weekend group break. So for those organisers that have done most things, Istanbul and St Petersburg offer something a little bit different.

Group Leisure: Do you find that you have to be quite flexible in your approach in respect of the different types of groups?
Jayne: Absolutely. The age-old service criterion is right - the customer is always right. And they have a right to demand the best service. If you’re going to start up as a group tour operator, what’s the main criterion? You’ve got to be better than the next person, and that means personal service. We don’t have press one for this, press two for that - I’ll never do that. After all, how many companies can you call and speak to the owners? You have to be approachable.

Group Leisure: What would you be doing now if you weren’t in this role?
Jayne: Retired, travelling the world, seeing all those wonderful places I want to see! I couldn’t imagine going back to teaching now, travel is in the blood. I couldn’t sell anything else - insurance or double glazing or advertising space - I just couldn’t. With travel, you never get bored. We’ve been selling Disneyland for example, for 16 years and you never get bored of it because the groups are so different. Someone will always ask you for something different.

Group Leisure: Were you surprised to be nominated for The Excellence Award?
Jayne: Absolutely! Because the majority of my people are schools and colleges, they’re not really readers of Group Leisure. I honestly didn’t think there would be enough readers who could vote for me, so to be a nominee was absolutely amazing!

Group Leisure: Is there anything you would like to say to all the organisers who voted for you in The Excellence Award?
Jayne: I’d like to say a huge thank you to all those who voted for me. And all those who don’t know me… give me a call!

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