Travel Coach Weekend Thought WANTED: Time to Create

Dear Travel Coach

Q. The good news is that my classic-car rental business, that I began during the recession, has done well. The difficulty is that as it has grown, I spend more time being the administrator and less time coming up with new ideas. Also, I get loads of emails requesting internships and money requests from needy charities. I believe in CSR but it’s all too much. How can I address these issues?

Sid, Northampton.

Dear Sid,

A.  It looks like you need a ‘right-hand person’. You will need an assistant that shares your passion and knows everything about the business. This will help in two ways. Firstly when you need to brainstorm and bounce thoughts around, it’s good to do it with someone who reflects your normal self, allowing you to play devil’s advocate. Secondly, you need a trusted person to be able to step in either when you take a well-earned break or if you get run down by the proverbial bus or more likely, a dose of the ‘flu. Invest time in selecting the right person and be prepared also to invest substantially in their wages. You are appointing a professional and not just someone to fill a gap.

Hertz advert

Once your ’emissary-on-earth’ is in place you can shut yourself away and get back to developing schemes, meeting creative talent (designers, web-builders, young tech experts etc). Your team will soon get used to arranging their own lunch breaks, sorting appointments and returning forgotten baby-seats and roof-racks without having to disturb you at all.

Forward non-urgent e-mails to a second, secret (known only to you) mail box that you can look through in your own time. It’s good to support students needing work advice and it’s important to consider the needs of various charities, but do these things on the way home or indeed at any time that you choose.



If these strategies are designed to show your team where their interaction with you halts, you need to do something that allows you to engage with them too. The best way to achieve this is to hold a weekly scheduled meeting. As always, it needs fixed start and finishing times and has to be structured. Although this may initially feel a little too ‘bossy’, a viable agenda is to allow your staff the chance to ask advice and opinion and for you to answer their queries and to agree their goals and strategies.

Ensure somebody takes notes of what has been agreed and make it clear that there ought to be no reason to revisit what has been said unless there are problems. Remember, the aim here is to empower each person to have total control over what they do, in order for you to be free to do what you want to do. These strategies are for everyone to benefit and that in turn will benefit your business. apple advert

Many artists, creatives and innovators find their idea gets swamped by their business admin – don’t let it happen to yours!







(originally featured in Travel Bulletin’s Travel Coach /Ask Renato-October 2009)



Photo credits:

Hertz: q=Vintage+cars&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjCjJPtnurTAhVnLMAKHdwNAYgQ_AUICigB&biw=1094&bih=487#tbm=isch&q=Vintage+car+rental+advert&imgrc=d5EyWNKrvHUqFM:
Apple advert:


What Now


Travel Coach Weekend Thought:

Q. I am a student on work experience with a travel agency that is set to merge. What is the point in starting a career in travel when the future looks so bleak for me and the other members of staff?

Dorothy, Nottingham

A  Dear Dorothy,

There is no quick answer because despite all the changes in booking patterns in the trade, nobody really knows where our industry is heading. The speed of change is rapid and many of us find it hard to keep up with, let alone get ahead of the game. As a coach however it is my duty to focus on the positives, so here goes


Youth equals choice. Being a student means you can still select your career direction. If you develop I.T. skills, you will be in great demand because the industry uses technology a lot. Previously being a computer person meant being a background figure, but now and in the future, you have the chance to be much more centre stage.

A White Star passenger list cover from 1930


If you fancied front-desk work in a travel agency, why not use the same skills in a hotel or a conference centre? When I coach agency staff that looking to change career, I emphasise the great range of prospects in Hospitality. If you start at reception and become good at it, you can soon be on the route to management. The same applies to Food & Beverage and restaurant work. There are some really fantastic jobs in the Conference and Meetings side of the business and the support provided by organisations like ABPCO ( is way ahead of what has been available to retail travel.

Experience also equals choice. Your more experienced colleagues can take a similar view, because even if they may not have your exuberance and youth, they still have gravitas and know-how. Loads of people are achieving great success with the excellent satellite travel agencies (the term home-worker is being used less because many do not now work from home.) This way of working suits those who enjoy being their own boss, have an entrepreneurial spirit and are content with being alone for long stretches – it is not for everyone.

Travel agencies will not vanish completely. They will however become more specific in whom the serve and in what they offer. Your senior colleagues should focus on their individual skills and strengthen them. An example would be someone who is very good at selling a particular product such as cruises, or a destination such as Florida. They need to home in on what they are good at and become as indispensable as possible.

None of these ideas are guarantees of job tenure but it is important to remember that although there will be fewer jobs as a travel agent, the broader travel business will actually offer more prospects than ever before.  Opportunities are out there, but not as you knew them.


Originally published in Travel Bulletin – What Now? Travel Coach 28 March 2007

©Renato Fantoni


The Overview Effect, (the manifesto anteprima*)

Ever heard of Spacex?


I hadn’t until I was recently struck by an audio bolt from the radio blue and learnt from the excellent presenter@NickyAACampbell that it is a private company at the vanguard of commercialising space travel. It aims to launch, literally, within months.

The radio discussion then morphed onto the Overview Effect which seemed so interesting…I had to learn more.

The Overview Effect appears to be a new(ish) awareness. It is a combination of thoughts and feelings around looking at Earth from space and realising:

  • Our planet is so small, it is probably only significant to the organisms that live here.
  • The only divisions on the globe are the ones of physical geography e.g. mountain ranges and water (lakes, oceans, rivers). Any political or national or human interventions are false constructs that despite the best efforts of ancient China or Hadrian are basically meaningless.
  • The human species’ desire to build fences and stake out ownership of land walks hand -in-hand with our communal actions of abusing land by chopping down oxygen giving greenery, melting polar ice caps, exploding/testing nuclear warheads and challenging animal species to cope with whatever we feel can be thrown at them.

The effect can probably be summed up; the planet in space is fragile and beautiful and perhaps godly. Yet ‘we’ prioritise other things and take it all for granted, probably because there is no such thing as ‘we’, just me plus me plus me…

This blog however is not a pro-eco clarion call. You can read that kind of thing anywhere (although if you want to cut out the chaff go straight to

What I’m writing about is more akin to the exclamation (though neither the film nor its sci-fi context; “In SpaceNo One Can Hear You Scream.” (Alien dir. Ridley Scott 1979 sci-fi) and how, in effect, Space is the last quiet place. Alien

Some of my blogs over the last year have dealt with my Silence Project. It is something I find myself constructing piecemeal and it’s like building a jigsaw puzzle with no guarantee that the all the pieces are present and the box top picture is almost certainly a different scene from the one I am making.

Two weeks ago I went in search of silence in London. My plan was to visit an obvious silent place and then find a less obvious one in its shadow. I began at the British Library (my thoughts from there are at the foot of this page) and although I found a lovely art book on the topic (which I then bought online) my doubts about the existence of silence were confirmed as soon as I explained my project to a librarian called Ulmila. Her unprovoked reaction was something like ’Silence? In a library? You’re joking. This place is full of background sounds which are amplified by the voices of complaining people who want quiet.’

I left the magnificent building with every intention of going to at least one nearby park but my ardour was so dampened by the angular London rain, I returned to the Library and had Silence IMG_2387a coffee and high-sugar bun until I went home. It was in this café however that I had a mini revelation in the form of a flashback reverie.

I thought back to six days before when I had attended a wedding in a deconstructed brewery in the City of London. I recalled the moment my wife and I ambled towards the bar to say ‘hello’ to somebody and somebody. The bar was by the wall and the whole area was bathed in purple lights that jumped to this sick beat (so sue me Swift!) of the darkened vibrating room. The noise was nauseating and I didn’t hear a word that ‘we’ uttered to somebody and somebody, nor what somebody and somebody said back to ‘us’. Acting under previously dealt instructions not to abandon my spouse, I took a sidestep shuffle and propped up the once keg-lined wall. Seeing that somebody and somebody and my wife were merrily gesturing above the noise to each other I grabbed the moment by the ears, tipped my head forwards and shifted my gaze down at my non-dancing feet.

Aah…silence. Of sorts. In a room with 220 people competing with the pumping line of the hellish bass thumps I managed to crawl into the snail shell of my mind. I timed 26 seconds of respite. I snapped a mental photo of my shoes atop the light wood dance floor and although the music was present, I managed to subdue its relevance by allowing it to become wallpaper. Sure my ear drums were still being struck towards terminal deafness and no doubt any observer would have thought of me as a sad loner but I had stolen some hard-to-find thought time against the odds and in a throbbing environment to boot.

I have long argued that silence is more a state of mind than an absolute and now I have experienced it. I suppose my version of silence is a subjective truth rather than an unequivocal one but I am confident that with this rather muted revelation I have found a way forwards with the Silence Project.

Perhaps this is the birth of an Inner/Under View Effect or maybe it’s simply the overview as seen from inside. Either way, it’s no less valid.

True silence is impossible to find. Experts confirm this and add that even in a scientifically silent place you can hear your own blood careening through your system.

My staring point therefore is that silence is impossible. Extreme quiet however is possible and can bring about similar benefits. I’d actually go on to say that it’s preferable because it is natural and more comfortable for thinking beings to deal with.



Alien Poster:


15 / 02/ 2017 Rough notes

Facts: 11. Feb 2017 British Library, London 10.16 am. 22 degrees C Humanities 1. Thirty Two fellow readers, 65% female.

SOUND: A/C hum, padded footsteps on looped carpet. The soft slide of my borrowed pink pencil (TATE: [not sweet}). Low female voice with a non-local accent, brief punctuated coughing. Key board clicks. The low ecru suspended ceiling swallows bigger sounds and bounces them out through its holes.

SMELL: Cool tinge to a bookish musk

FEEL: Deep paged paper (this book!) smoothly springs up against my writing right hand. My own unshaven face.

SIGHT: Blanched people moving at slow pace and purpose. A woman breaks into a march and a bald male (professor?) follows suit. He slides to his chair, positions four books at jaunty angles (Blue one on the top) and flicker/reads the pages. Broad wide room, up lights shine up and move the white to grey.

Light wood modern desks consume the floor. A library, this one too, a centre of knowledge. These walls house data, opinion. Old news and accidental history (when I write now I’m not thinking of becoming the past).

My own concentration — as ever — is fragile and waning and the SILENCE is only a truth in outer space and earthling death.

Realising upon flickering and reading (flickerding?) that SILENCE (Kamps, Said Menil collections 2012) turns phrases of non-sound to pictorial art. Once concept represents another and my problem with (love of) art is that it borrows its stabilizers from philosophy and intellectual impulse. My project needs to come in at a non-intellectual level.

Person I met: Ulmila, female library assistant who once worked in ASDA and the library in Colindale and at once misses the buzz of retail yet appreciates the calm of the British Library. She also -now that she is older -likes the detail of handling book loans. She agrees that true silence is an unrealistic concept, even in the BL. People complain about human generated sounds, but it is futile.

Love, lost past and loneliness.


In 1975 I had a Saturday job in a North London travel agency called Frames Travel. It wasn’t so great because all I did was rubber stamp the holiday brochures and put them on the shelves. An exciting day was when I took the old brochures off the shelves and threw them away. Such fun.

During the ensuing forty years and as I grew up, that branch of Frames became a Thomas Cook travel shop. Since my own business transferred to North Finchley in 1990 I have walked past this shop every working day and every working day therefore has offered a connection to my past.  nostalgia

This week Thomas Cook closed the shop down. The building is still there but the erosion begins instantly. The interior colours will fade, the furniture has already gone and my personal connection will wither from a time spanning umbilical cord to a frayed thread of rain sodden parcel string.

I’m not complaining about the past being cut away from me. After all, it’s not necessarily desirable to be in daily contact with one’s yesteryears and it can be argued that being surrounded by your youth can hold you back as it offers the comfort of familiarity that may in fact be a false friend.

On the other hand, I recently visited the hotel in Rome where I worked and lived many years ago. The changes to the locale had been so total and complete that it left me feeling abandoned. There was nothing recognisable at all. Although the upper parts of the buildings were, I presume, the same the street level shops and office fronts were all new and nothing was familiar. The sadness from this experience was sharper than the slow evolving changes that occur daily in North London.

People have different levels of nostalgia. I suffer from it quite deeply and am one of those who looks for his own past and scratches the surface of time in the vain hope of finding small ways to re-trace what once was. My suffering however is a philosophical luxury. I have always had freedom to live where I wanted and have only every moved when I elected to. I imagine that refugees and people that move around because of their work e.g. army personnel, develop an immunity to nostalgia as pragmatism and survival instincts take over. The sub-conscious probably kicks in knowing that if you cannot be sure of where you’ll be tomorrow why upset yourself by connecting to the now and the past?

At a time when the media has ‘moved on’ from reporting on migrants in Northern France (and presumable elsewhere in Europe) it makes me wonder how people from stable and rooted lives are coping with reality of being cut adrift. It also makes me wonder that with President Trump appearing keen on shutting the door on people flying BACK to the USA how they cope with being told on arrival that their country is now in their past. The human timeline is a fragile thing.

I recently learned about the condition of ’separation anxiety’ and this week I felt it vicariously when I saw this story about the kidnapping of baby chimps to be sold as pets, my primal reaction was disgust towards the ‘nappers with subsequent thoughts that their lives are actually worth less than the monkeys’ and the planet would be better off with fewer useless hunting humans and more cuddly animals. This however is not the point. monkey

The point is that we feel so much for the little chimp because we can relate to his loneliness and isolation from his tribe and his home.  Very shortly, maybe even today, you will see a homeless person or somebody meandering with symptoms of dementia and remember that like the loveable chimp, everything about them before this moment has been smashed and effectively deleted. Judge them after you have helped them and I shall try to do the same.


b/w photo;

Travel Coach Weekend thought; How to handle a client

The following is one of several letters I have received on the theme, namely “How to handle a client”.

Dear Travel Coach

My late winter-sun and early Summer ’17 booking season was quite good, especially with the specials. Many clients saw the e-mail offers and just booked them. I am still busy with people contacting me but now they are not booking. Some are even showing me deals they have collected from competitors and are simply trying to beat down the price. Do you have any suggestions?

Pat B, Birmingham

Dear Pat,

My first thought is that you are allowing the price of the holidays to dictate whether people book or not. Without doubt price is very important and customers are ever more conscious of the choices in front of them, but there is more to booking a holiday than cost gives her a loving heart

If as you say people are actually making the effort to contact you then you and your colleagues are missing out on more business. When someone pushes open your door, walks over the threshold and sit opposite you, they are giving a very strong buying signal. It is up to you guys to read that signal and make a sale. The same applies to phone calls and email requests.

When you meet a customer face to face you have a great advantage over on-line systems and telephone sales operations; you have the chance to build a one-to-one relationship with another person. The old saying “People buy people first” still applies. Try using this four-stage “Random Romance” model:


When you meet a potential customer why not go to the door and open it for them?  Sit them down and ask how they are. Even if the shop is busy a few old fashioned courtesies will not go amiss and the client will be struck by your friendliness. Most importantly, remember to smile! Engaging with the customer also means making it clear to them that you are prepared to listen. Nod your head as they talk and make eye contact.


Being a travel agent can be a bit like being a detective. People seldom say exactly what they want as they frequently don’t know it. The Discover phase is the chance to actively listen to them. Start with open questions like “What kind of holiday do you fancy” or “Which kind of city would you prefer”? This will help you continue to give a good impression while simultaneously getting important information. Take notes as they talk, it looks professional (like a doctor) and enables you to capture vital data such as their names and contact details.

Pair off.

Only when you have reached this point do you demonstrate your product knowledge. By this stage you will know a lot about the client and can match them to the best trip for them. I would suggest making a maximum of three alternatives. While describing each one inform them how this will benefit them. For example, if they enjoy eating local food tell them that “this hotel is near typical restaurants where many locals eat-this means that you will be able to have a true gastronomic experience of Rome”.



Once you have presented your three options ask the client which is their preference. If you have done sales training you will recall that this has the effect of saying “So, which one shall we go for” rather than fatal “Do you want to book then”? In reaching this stage you have put in a lot of work so you don’t want to blow it all away with one clumsy question. Likewise, you cannot afford to let the client leave with all your great ideas.

Good luck with using these four stages.

FOOT NOTE. Thinking of joining a networking group? If so, take time to pick the right one. My first tip is to find one with a florist, gift seller or stationer as they are the people the sell the lowest ticket products. These groups feed off the guilt felt by people that don’t have a referral and because they are so desperate to be seen to be referring, they will always come up with a low-value lead. If a florist is present, he/she will pick up the dregs and you’ll be spared the wasted time. I have nothing against florists, but they are used to £10 here and £15 there. As a travel professional you need to hold out for much better than that.


Cutting off the Sharp tongue (how to handle rude customers)

Dear Travel Coach

One of our key clients is always rude to me, how can I deal with her and keep her business?

Helena P

Dear Helena

Under other circumstances, you could rightly complain this woman is bullying you. However, because you (think you) need her business-you feel obliged to put up with it. I hope these strategies help.monkey

Discover why. Get the courage to pick the bull up by the horns (or cow in this case) and ask her why she takes this tone with you. She might actually not see herself as being rude and once she knows how she behaves, ought to respond positively. You will gain self-respect and hers for dealing with the subject. This is not easy – but really worthwhile if you can manage it.

See the bigger picture. Evaluate how much of your time is really spent in dealing with clients’ rudeness. If it happens with each customer, the problem probably lies with you (sorry about that). Years ago I was a tour guide for a bus company. In my first tour, four clients continuously bullied and berated me and took my focus away from the rest of the busload. It was only when the trip ended and loads of other clients thanked and tipped me that I realised that I should not have judged fifty-two people on the behaviour of four. The lesson: don’t let something small become bigger than it should. ‘Bad vibes’ occur-try to see them as an inherent part of the job. Nobody has it easy all the time.

Don’t be a doormat. If this one customer takes pleasure in upsetting you, change your reaction to her. If you are seen as accepting her behaviour, face it head on. If you currently let your upset show -be seen to be shrugging it off like a duck on the water. And always smile-it shows you are in control.

Time out. Take a breather and a change of scene. If you know when the customer is due to come in, diarise a session in the gym, swimming pool or as we now at HPS, a punch ball, for later that same day. If physical activity is not for you-select whatever helps you to re-balance yourself.boxer

Time in. If your angry reaction also makes you panic and fluster – slow down your contact time with this client. If she phones, put her on hold while you are searching for what she wants (and ensure she gets some pleasant music-on-hold). If she comes in, slow down the pace and give her a cup of tea (don’t offer it-just give it to her.) These actions might seem odd, but they put you in the position of being a host (staking out your territory) and allow you to set the psychological agenda.

Share the pain. Discuss this issue with colleagues and friends-it is quite likely they will have dealt with her too. One of my colleagues suffered from a bullying client-but when the members of staff started mimicking her (in her absence naturally!) the whole thing became humorous and much more bearable. Not the most grown-up of approaches-but one that worked.

(Culled from my own work: Rude B'stards 29 ‎May ‎2007)






Dear Travel Coach

I work for a tour operator and have been promoted to department leader. I get on really well with most of the people there but one man in particular is really bad at time keeping. Although he makes up the minutes when he gets in late he actually uses this against me and says that as long as he gets his work done it does not matter when he’s doing it. I feel that this undermines my position.

C. M (Edinburgh)

The Travel Coach says…

Dear Claire

One thing going on here is that your colleague possibly resents your position of responsibility. This needs to be addressed soon and before he damages your reputation within the department and other people begin to share his opinion.

Hand him a typed memo advising him that he will be having a meeting with you and your immediate superior. Ensure a time and place is specified and of course make sure your line manager is on board with you. The idea is for him to expect a warning. melting-clock

When you start the meeting however begin in a formal but positive tone. Do not refer to him undermining you and do not bring your feelings or sensitivities to the table. Appeal to his professional side by explaining the importance of time in the travel business. He will be grateful that he is not being warned and will warm to you because you are talking to him on an equal level. Stress these points:

We are a company of travel experts – If we don’t know about good time keeping – nobody does.

(Successful) travel is all about timetables, routes and connections

Understand your time and where you are in the scheme of things.

As a tour operator or a travel agent you are one thing; a conduit, and a co-ordinator. Time management in the travel business is harder than in other jobs. This is because suppliers and customers all make demands on you and even if they get it wrong…you get the blame. If a client misses his flight you should have warned him about the traffic problems en-route to the airport. If the transfer bus doesn’t show up – you ought to have arranged for a fleet of taxis to have been there –just in case.

Your wayward colleague must also understand that because of these pressures, coupled with the fact that you are a service company, his (work) time is not his own. It belongs to his clients and his company.

The department counts too.

It is also important to explain that bad time keeping is unfair on his colleagues as they have to cover when he is not there. Making up for lost minutes is a step in the right direction, but the Company and head of department specify working hours for a reason.

Put it to bed.

Another reality is that travel is not a 9 to 5 occupation. The truth is that many of us turn up early and leave late. It is this extra effort and giving of time that ensures clients get the service they demand. Successful travel people hate half finished invoices or “nearly done” itineraries. They get satisfaction from a closed file, a despatched set of documents, a final full stop.