The best way to prepare for life as a holiday rep is to have some idea of their workplace – which is why many reps have holidayed with their employers before as tourists.
Jack Kimber works as a Youth Rep for 2wentys in the Crete resort of Malia – he was inspired to apply for the job after going on holiday with them. He said: “I applied for a job when I got home – I have always wanted to work abroad and I love partying.” 2wenty’s application process is quite simple: after applying, Jack attended an interview and had a weeks training before flying out to his resort at the start of the summer season.
He loves his job, and is quick to sing its praises: “It’s the best job in the world – a once in a lifetime opportunity! I spend my days looking after the young people who come on our holidays and organising excursions, and it’s very social as you spend all day and night with the guests.”
Daily flexibility is vital: it is not unusual to stay up until 5am seeing customers safely on their plane home, only to be needed at 10.30am welcome meetings for new guests. This grueling schedule makes days off a chance to relax. Jack said: “We can get very tired sometimes, so spend most of our time off sleeping or chilling out, but with one and a half days off a week we could do sightseeing.”
The unique demands of catering for adults under 30 make the role of Youth Rep both rewarding and challenging: “The best bit is getting to meet loads of new people and entertaining all the guests. The worst parts are the long hours, late night airport pick-ups and drop-offs and being really tired.”
Luckily, staff perks compensate the “low basic wage”: free accommodation and transport, as well as the opportunities for good bonuses and commission.
But the social side of the job does not only apply to the resort – reps and guests can keep in touch after a season ends via the social networking site 2wentysworld.co.uk, reliving the good times, organising reunions and planning out next year’s holidays. Youth Rep is rarely a job for life and most reps see it as casual employment, but it is possible forge a career with the company if you are determined.
Outdoorsy types might prefer campsites to hotels. Jim Rideout joined Canvas Holidays as a Camp Courier in 2005 after hearing about vacancies during his holiday. The role is similar to a holiday rep as your main concern is customer care, such as meeting and greeting, visiting them regularly, providing local area information and reception duties. You are also responsible for cleaning accommodation between customers and basic maintenance and administrative work on the site. The camping season runs from March to October and Canvas have sites in nine European countries including France, Italy, Holland and Sardinia.
At season bookends, teams of couriers are involved in ‘montage’- setting up campsites at the beginning of the season, and cleaning and preparing tents and mobile homes for the first customers. ‘Demontage’ means getting the sites ready for winter by emptying and disassembling tents and storing equipment over the closed season.
Camp Couriers usually start at 9am, staffing reception for the first half an hour or start cleaning straightaway. Cleaning can last up to five hours depending on how many customers arrive. If you are on arrivals duty you must meet and greet customers between 4pm and 8pm, and in the evening you visit customers to see if they need anything. Night shifts are occasionally necessary but this does not involve staying up all hours – just being the first point of contact for any customer in trouble.
Canvas employs workers of all ages for a minimum of six weeks, and Camp Couriers can work alone or in pairs, making it ideal for a couple who want to work abroad together. Jim said: “My wife and I intended applying after retiring but we decided I should try it on my own first. I wouldn’t have missed my two seasons for anything – it was an experience never to be forgotten.”
Wannabe Camp Couriers can contact Canvas through their website http://www.canvasholidays.co.uk/jobs-with-canvas-holidays and successful applicants are invited to a group interview. You must be over 18, with a UK bank account and national insurance number. Any previous customer service or travel industry experience is useful and language skills are definitely a bonus. Accommodation (a tent or mobile home), equipment, gas and electricity are all provided so your wages only need to pay for food and leisure. You get one day off per week plus an extra day off each month, so there is plenty of time to explore the surrounding countryside.
Jim said: “The best things are making new friends, meeting and getting to know customers, being abroad and learning a new language, or improving existing language skills. If you enjoy cleaning there’s plenty of opportunity for fulfillment!”
The downsides are coping with customer complaints outside your control and the European heat!
Again, the roles are seasonal and some people return every year, working the winter ski season in between. Jim, who now works in Site Operations for Canvas, said: “People do make a career of it and Canvas Holidays is always happy to promote people who make the grade within the company either to more senior courier positions (ultimately to Area Manager) or to head office.”
Holiday reps are usually employed in short-haul package holiday resorts, but it is possible to work in long-haul destinations too. Kuoni specialises in exotic, luxurious and activity holidays and although most reps are employed locally, they have a small team of British Overseas Travel Reps too.
Because the resorts are long haul, potential reps need to be experienced at working alone and away from their families for a long time. Jemma Purvis, Kuoni’s PR Assistant, said: “At Kuoni we pride ourselves in customer service, and look for applicants that portray a professional image, whilst taking care of our clients needs. Resorts are often in remote locations and reps need to demonstrate the ability to think on their feet, respond to problems quickly and effectively. They will be required to make informed decisions based on their own initiative. Sales experience is beneficial, and someone that has lived away from home before is also desirable.”
Kuoni recruits in January and February and reps are employed seasonally but tend to stay for several years so there is a low staff turnover. As a result, they accept CVs throughout the year and keep candidates on file for when a vacancy arises. The summer season lasts between four and six months depending on country and the winter season is split into two three-month blocks. Reps choose to work one of these blocks and have the other three months as holiday.
Overseas Travel Reps have similar tasks to all holiday reps – they are the first point of contact for their customers. Meeting and greeting, welcome meetings, assisting with enquiries, airport duties and transfers, problem solving and checking bookings with agents and hoteliers are everyday responsibilities, as well as dealing with emergencies and crises as they happen.
You would be on call constantly with this job, but arrange your own time off around arrivals. As you would expect, accommodation is provided, but with Kuoni so is food, flights and visas! Reps attend a week long training course in the UK then two weeks training at their destination, as well as regular sessions throughout the season. Working for Kuoni is not suitable for inexperienced applicants, but seasoned reps who want to see the world could thrive on new challenges.
Jemma said: “I would recommend the experience of being a representative overseas to anyone that enjoys being around people and wants to make a difference to our clients’ overall holiday experience. You will meet some wonderful people, visit some fantastic destinations, and really open your eyes to the world.”
Using holiday rep work as a stepping-stone is a great way to build up contacts and experience for a long-term career. As it is easy to burn out after an exhausting few seasons, many reps move into less hectic roles. This does not mean returning to Britain for a desk job – far from it. As we have seen, skilled reps are eligible for more demanding and responsible roles further afield. Resort management or PR roles abroad need experienced applicants to fill them, and a few seasons repping gives you an edge over others.
Alternatively, UK-based head office jobs are often filled by ex-reps who want a stable lifestyle, so the choice is yours. One thing is for certain – in a role renowned for its long hours and repetitive schedules, no two days will be the same!