From baker to cruise agent, the travel consultant reveals what inspired his career change
Michael Hughes' career began in a bakery, but now – having joined Hays Travel as a homeworker operating as a personal travel consultant in 2019 – he's enjoying selling life on the open seas as one of the company's top cruise sellers. Here he shares his story.
Q. Why did you leave a career in hospitality?
A. I needed a change. When I finished school I worked in a bakery full-time. I was working in the bakery cafe, then moved to the shop and became manager. I was there for 10 years. While working there I always used to plan our holidays. I planned a trip to Sicily in 2018 for my partner’s birthday. After that, one of my friends asked me to plan a trip to Barcelona. I just fell in love with doing it and thought I could do it as a career.
Q. Within months of starting out, the world went into lockdown. What was that like?
A. Even though it was slow in my first year, that helped me in a way. I didn’t know how to cancel and amend a holiday, so I learnt [during the pandemic] and it gave me time to find my feet.
Q. What did the homeworker training involve?
A. I joined Hays Travel Personal Travel Consultants and went on the two-week Travel Academy programme in November 2019. I was taught about the systems and how to approach customers. There was loads of role play and learning airport codes. I had no experience of using the phonetic alphabet so I struggled with that!
We learnt about social media and how to use Facebook to generate business. We were each given a mentor and I came back ready to go. Our social media pages went live on the last day. I just wanted to start putting posts up straight away.
Q. What was it like starting out?
A. I was panicking a bit when I took my first booking. I took the deposit and my mentor loaded it for me and sent all my confirmation details so I could see how it was done. My previous shop experience really helped as I had customer service skills and was used to talking to people. As soon as I got back from the training I put loads of business cards in the bakery and thanks to the staff there I gained lots of customers. My first week as a homeworker was quiet and in December 2019 I only took two or three bookings, but things changed in January.
I was wondering if I’d made the wrong move, but as soon as January peaks came along I was flying
Q. What inspired you to sell cruise holidays?
A. In July 2021, I went on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas on a fam trip around the Greek islands. I had never been on a cruise or sold one before. I didn’t know what to expect. I was speaking to people on board and they were saying they’d been on 18 cruises or went on four cruises a year. It clicked that this was a really good clientele to have. In the past I’d had cruise enquiries but didn’t know where to start or how to talk about cruise. After the cruise I was talking to customers about my own experience. I was uploading pictures of the Greek islands and that drummed up interest among clients. I took two or three big bookings and it snowballed from there.
Q. How have your cruise sales developed?
A. I just sell cruises now. I've had loads of training on Zoom; Hays gets people from the cruise lines to talk to us about the product. After the fam trip, I started to look at P&O Cruises out of Southampton. The line had an offer of a 5% deposit and that really helped to get bookings. My top sellers now are MSC Cruises and P&O Cruises.
I’ve just been on MSC Virtuosa, which MSC invited me on because I’d been selling so much of the cruise line
Q: How many cruise bookings do you make on average each month?
A: In May, I booked 327 passengers on cruises, worth a total of around US$189,000. In the first week alone I booked 100 passengers on P&O Cruises and then in the following three weeks I sold 227 passengers on MSC Cruises’ sailing to Spain and France in October. MSC put the cruise on Virtuosa out of Southampton on sale with a kids-go-free offer. For a family of four it was about US$830. I put it on social media and it went nuts, I was taking so many bookings!
I am trying to beat myself each month; it makes selling more fun.
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