Well, what else can I say other than my first-ever Travel Counsellors conference in November 2016 absolutely blew me away! I have been to conferences before many times, in a past travel life. They’ve all been pretty great but somehow they have always felt a tad impersonal and it was still hard to shake off the feeling, especially in later years, that I was just a number. This TC conference of ours though? Wow! There was never a dull moment – we worked hard, we played hard! The company really means their strapline “With us…its personal” as conference felt exactly that. It proved to me the human-side of what we do is the most important thing to our success and I got so much out of the whole weekend.
My first huge wow moment came on Friday evening when all 1500 of us joined the ‘Village Fete’ aka Manchester Central’s huge conference room! After meeting in the VIP area to have champagne, my partner and I were ushered into a beautifully decorated fairground! There was a huge (and fully operational) carousel, a coconut-shy, fairground games, stalls, food, sweet treats and so much more. We took our seats beside friends and colleagues, and enjoyed a wine (or two!) Not long after, our host was revealed, riding the carousel - it was Vernon Kaye! Vernon has hosted the TC conference three years in a row (and pledged, on stage, to host year four) and was absolutely brilliant. He was the compere for the whole weekend and made it very special for all of us.
Then, we couldn’t believe our eyes when Jack Whitehall walked on stage! He made us laugh so much, telling us about the disastrous holidays he’s been on - he’ll now definitely be finding his very own Travel Counsellor and making those experiences a thing of the past!
Irish hip-hop improvisers, Abandoman, came next and showed us exactly what they're made of, ad-libbing their way through a rap live on-stage using ideas off the tops of our heads, they were great! All in all it was an excellent kick-off to the events that followed, we were ready to knuckle down the following morning early-doors to our fullest and biggest day of conference.
Over the course of the weekend, we had fantastic motivational guest speakers. Nadia Clarke addressed us on Saturday morning after a rousing wake up session from Sons of Pitches (they’re a very different ‘boyband’, so clever and very good at what they do!) Nadia is a beautiful 24-year-old who is deaf and uses an electronic wheelchair to get about plus an aid to communicate via, as she has Cerebral Palsy. I can only describe Nadia as full of fun and enthusiasm, she has a great sense of humour and she's truly inspirational and proves anything is possible. She told us all about her life in the 20 or so minutes she was on stage, during which time we laughed, we cried and were in complete awe.
We also heard from Jo Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black’s chocolate (yum!) and Dame Kelly Holmes, double Olympic Gold Medalist and ex-Army P.E. teacher (who knew?), who shared her story and what she’s had to overcome to attain her dream. She was very down to earth and brutally open and honest with her struggles with depression and self-harming. This made her very proud of what she's achieved and rightly so. She made us laugh out loud when she revealed the routines and superstitions she went through before a race and before winning those now famous two gold medals in Athens 2004 – Google ‘Kelly Holmes Athens Portaloo’ to see what I mean!
We had fantastic sessions from fellow Travel Counsellors, our brilliant head office team and the man himself, our CEO Steve Byrne. Each presentation was informative, motivational and upbeat. We learned about the huge £4.8million investment planned for 2017 in our technology alone and our new upgraded unique in-house booking system was unveiled to us. To me personally, the enhancements it has are the stuff of this long-standing travel agent’s dreams! So exciting! Our brand new training hub was also revealed. I can’t wait to get my teeth into it and stay ahead of the game on all things travel – new systems, new products, destinations and much more. As Mr. Byrne said to us during his captivating and honest presentation: “We care – great people and clever technology enable us to care more than anyone else”– I couldn’t agree more.
Saturday evening brought our black-tie Gala Dinner. Everyone was dressed to the nines, the room was a sea of posh frocks, beautiful hair and dicky-bow ties. Champagne on arrival then we settled at our supplier-hosted tables for gorgeous wine, scrumptious food and our eyes firmly on the stage. Vernon did another excellent job of hosting this evening, the first part of which was both rewarding and emotional. We had an awards ceremony for top performing TCs, much recognition for achievements in what we're best at - customer service, my little face even popped up on the big screen for my best-ever sales month, and our dedicated charity of this year’s conference, Reuben’s Retreat were awarded a sum of money, purely from us all donating money into envelopes, of £23,000. Then main the entertainment began!
First of all, soprano Laura Wright enchanted us with her incredible voice, singing classical and operatic music including the official anthem of the English Rugby team, she was fantastic!
Then we were entertained by the fabulous Ronan Keating, who I have to say is very good looking in the flesh and like a fine wine, has definitely improved with age! He never missed a note and hearing all the old Boyzone hits and his solo stuff really kick-started the party and got us well in the mood for plenty of dancing and more wine! To round the evening off, Madhen took to the stage and wow, they were brilliant! They're a very talented band who sang, entertained us perfectly and kept us on our feet until the wee small hours.
Surprisingly fresh as a daisy on Sunday morning (I know, after all that wine!) we headed to the closing of our conference which culminated in a video of the highlights from the previous two days. It was emotional and brought home just how much I’d enjoyed every single moment. I was leaving with an even clearer idea of who we are as Travel Counsellors and what it really means to be part of such a forward-thinking, caring, special company.
I'm more excited than ever now for the future of my little business. I'm so determined to make my customers, family and friends proud of me and look forward to utilising every tool I have at my disposal to personally create memorable experiences for my customers and continue to look after them every step of the way.
Thank you for reading! I will leave you with two more Steve Byrne quotes from our fantastic weekend:
“We take people on who are special, who share the same values and we work together in one direction”
“Better people make better Travel Counsellors”