Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The joys and disasters of offering students a placement!

Students at Cashel Travel in 2019

In the eighteen years Cashel Travel has been in existence we must have had over a hundred students and interns working for us.

We normally have around six every year mainly from continental Europe but a few from the UK and further afield too.

We don’t accept students who want to come for less than six months.

This means they have time to learn the job and become useful members of the team. It also means that if they don’t work out it is hard to ask them to leave without damaging their chances of obtaining their degree.

Usually, we look for students who are studying tourism but we have made exceptions in the past.

We usually receive applications from about forty students a year and we try and interview on video calls around ten and pick the most likely looking candidates from those.

We treat the students from the day they arrive as employees so they work in exactly the same way as everyone else and are included in all the events and different areas of the business.

They are expected to pick up the phone and speak to people from day one which can be daunting for them but it is amazing how fast their confidence grows no matter what level of English they have. Within a few weeks they are very useful members of Cashel Travel.

We pay them a contribution to their expenses but they usually cover their own rent and costs.

Some have been wonderful and a few terrible.

The terrible first. Names have been changed for obvious reasons.

Mona came to us from Holland. She was studying at the university there and was with us for six months. To this day in Cashel Travel we talk about a Mona moment, meaning when you go blank and your head is empty. This was Mona’s normal state. Every day was a new day for Mona. Everything she had learned the day before was gone.

She was a sweet girl but as dim as they come.

We used to know when she had made a mistake as she would go round the office and ask everyone if she could make them a tea or coffee. Once everyone was feeling warmly towards her then she would confess her latest idiocy.

After a few weeks we came to recognise the pattern and just say immediately “what have you done this time?”.

I took her to the coffee shop next door to the office for a fatherly chat after one particular idiocy to try and explain what I saw as her failings.

It took a while.

Once she came back she whispered to a colleague in a voice the whole office could hear, “what is common sense?”.

One Monday morning I mentioned to her that she looked tired and she told me she had cycled along the canal from Edinburgh to Glasgow but it was further than she thought as no one had told her it was 45 miles. Apparently, it had never occurred to her to check.

I spoke to the university in Holland who admitted that they didn’t know what to do with Mona but thought we were such a kind company we would help her.

We had a client from the US who was concerned that not all the hotels they’d had hairdryers in the rooms. So Mona was given the task of phoning the hotels to check. A task we figured even she could do. Two minutes later we heard on the phone to the first hotel “Do you have a hairdresser in every room!!”.

We have also had a French student who spent their entire time in Scotland attempting to seduce as many Scottish girls as possible and another one who I had to explain that it was acceptable to have a shower more than once a week.

Then we have had really good students.

I think we have had around ten over the years that we have taken on as full-time employees once they had finished their studies.

One whose name is Frederic has been working in a public sector tourism agency in Scotland for a few years now. He was very shy when he arrived and we weren’t sure what to do with him but he really improved over the months. He then returned to France and once he finished his course he struggled to find work.

About six months later one of my staff said they had been contacted by Fred and he was wondering if I would consider him for a job.

I said, "sure ask him to send me his CV”.

When it arrived under work experience it had one employer “Cashel Travel”.

So he came to work for us but after a couple of years he resigned to travel the world.

About six months later I heard again that he was looking for his old job back but was too embarrassed to ask, apparently he had managed to reach France on his world tour then ran out of money and was unemployed again.

He was back at his old desk a couple of weeks later and was with us for about a further two years before leaving for a senior role in a hotel and is now in one of the Scottish tourism agencies.

A picture of Giulia who works for Cashel Travel
It may surprise people to know that one of the owners of a major incoming tour operator in Britain I took on as youth opportunity scheme employee back in the eighties. That was a way the Thatcher government reduced the unemployment and was only open to people who had been on the dole for over six months. It was his first job in tourism.

Currently, in Cashel Travel we have two full-time employees who were students last year who have come back to work for us full time. Giulia and Roxana. Both are wonderful at their jobs. They have been trained and know what to expect from the job. For us, it means we also know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are.

A picture of Roxana who works at Cashel Travel
We also have three students in Edinburgh and a couple more are joining us in Manchester and London.

What the students receive is an introduction to the industry unvarnished!! In a few cases it puts them off for life but for others, it is the start of a love affair with the travel trade that lasts the rest of their career.

So to all you tourism employers out there I would say welcome students with open arms and give them responsible jobs they will charm you with their enthusiasm and energy and remind you why you went into the travel business in the first place.

At a time when we are all concerned about finding employees with languages and skills, students can help fill the gap.

At the very least they will give you a few good stories.

Brexit and tourism - Glass half full?

Big Ben, House of Parliament and Westminster Bridge, London, England

We have just had the best first quarter ever!

Our bookings and profit are more than double the same period in 2018.

What does that mean? Is Cashel Travel the exception, it certainly doesn't appear to be. Talking to colleagues in the industry everyone is very busy and the much discussed drop in numbers does not seem to have materialised.

Certainly, some markets are under pressure but it is nothing like the feared collapse a lot of operators feared.

Why is this? - no one seems to be sure.

Could it be no publicity is bad publicity?

Certainly there has been no lack of journalists and TV crews in the UK recently and presumably, once the main topic is exhausted they must be looking for some light relief. I was doing a sales presentation in Mexico a couple of months ago to about forty agents and showed a spoof video of our Prime Minister to explain the state of play in Britain. I have to say it fell completely flat. Most of them hadn't even heard of the EU never mind any problems Britain may have with it.

Maybe we need to bear in mind that 90% of the world couldn't care less about our passing problems with Europe. I know we think Brexit is fascinating and horrifying but for people outside of Europe, it is really not that relevant in making holiday decisions.

I suspect the drop in the value of the pound is of more interest.

What about the mass exodus of European staff heading home with their kids and belongings. Well, I certainly have seen no sign of it. Out of our twenty EU staff members, not a single one has mentioned returning home and in fact we just welcomed back an Italian colleague after nine months.

So here's to a royal baby and a record-breaking 2019!!

Friday, 5 October 2018

Tightfisted hotels blight Scotlands tourism industry, but the future looks bright.

A panoramic picture of a Sunrise over the Quiraing on the Isle of Skye in Scotland
Sunrise over the Quiraing on the Isle of Skye in Scotland

The negative perception of quality and poor value for money in Scottish tourism is real and persistent.

When selling Scotland to overseas tour operators this is a constant refrain. So where does this reputation come from?

Well, to take an example from my personal experience about five years ago I was on a site visit with a French tour operator.

The hotels we visited went from poor to terrible the further north we travelled from Edinburgh.

I remember visiting a hotel on Skye where we were gagging when we were shown a filthy bathroom in a two-star hotel.

We then visited another hotel a few miles along the road which was in the midst of renovating. They had a courtyard in the middle of the hotel and had decided that would be a good place to store all the toilets they were ripping out of the rooms. They had produced a ten-foot high pile of toilets like some grotesque modern sculpture. This was what half the rooms looked out on. I took it up with the manager who was surprised I thought it unacceptable.

Another hotel in Oban had an area of waste ground which for years we had complaints about. I spoke to the hotel about it and they told me the council owned the site and asked if I could complain to them directly which I did. I heard back from that they would look into it but a year later we were still receiving complaints.

These standards were so poor it was embarrassing.

I know one UKinbound member used to hand clients letters of apologises on arrival at the airport blaming the famous Scottish trait of tightfistedness on the standards of hotels.

These issues go back to the legacy of the terrible saga of Swallow hotels which still blights the industry. (Swallow hotels purchased a lot of hotels throughout the UK and then collapsed leaving the hotels in administration and without investment for years).

The problem is the reputation of Scotland was really tarnished by these hotels and overshadow the excellent work being done by the majority of our professional hoteliers and suppliers.

However on a more positive note, I am pleased to say that the standards have improved markedly over the last few years and we don’t have these horror stories anymore.

There in now an increasing number of excellent restaurants, visitor attractions and greatly improved infrastructure all of which improves the quality of the visitors experience of Scotland.

Further, a combination of government support and private sector investment has raised standards throughout the industry

More work needs to be done training frontline staff in customer service but overall the picture is very positive.

I am happy to be a proud ambassador of Scotland once again.

James Aitken
Managing Director

Monday, 11 September 2017

Archeology themed incentives

A view of Skara Brae, a stone-built Neolithic settlement on the Bay of Skaill
Skara Brae, a stone-built Neolithic settlement on the Bay of Skaill, Mainland Orkney.

Scotland has a plethora of ways to theme events, Clans, Whisky, Movies and in the last couple of years we are being asked more and more frequently to devise programmes based on the incredible archaeology the country has to offer.

Orkney is now becoming one of Scotlands most popular visits with tourist numbers up from 36,000 to over 120,000 last year. They go to see Skara Brae a perfectly preserved village from 3000 years ago along with Maes Howe a pre-historic burial mound, the Ring of Brodgar and the standing stones of Stenness.
All of it makes up the neolithic landscape of Orkney which is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Norwegians, in particular, are interested in Orkney given the shared Viking heritage.

In addition to the archaeology, there are whisky distilleries to visit and amazing hotels to stay including Balfour Castle an exclusive use property, perfect for small groups.

For archaeology incentive themes closer to Edinburgh there is the National Museum of Scotland where you can have drinks and a gala dinner surrounded by the amazing finds that have been made over the years.

Picture of the Archaeologist Neil Oliver standing by a yacht called Tiger II
Neil Oliver

Scotlands most famous archaeologist Neil Oliver from the BBC programme Coast and A History of Scotland can be arranged as a guest after dinner speaker.

Another option is to travel in time on a visit to the beautiful Isle of May in the Firth of Forth, visit the harbour, lighthouse, beacon, wartime remains, the bathhouse and St Adrian’s Priory. You will be met by an expert who excavated some of the archaeology on the island and will give his insight and experience too much of the island 4000+ year history. On top of all that, the wonderful birdlife and seals will be all around.

Or what about lunch on an Iron age lake dwelling with demonstrations of the life and food our ancestors lived.

For more incentive information:


Friday, 8 September 2017

Cashel Travel invests in major destination management presence in London (Press Release)

A picture of the Millennium Dome (The O2) on the River Thames in Greenwich, London
The O2. Just one of the many incredible venues on offer in London.

Cashel Travel, the specialist UK Destination Management Company (DMC) and luxury incoming tour operator with offices in Edinburgh and Manchester has announced it is significantly bolstering it’s presence in London, with a specialist events team based in the Capital.

James Aitken, Founder and Managing Director of Cashel Travel said: “We view at least the short to mid term as a time of unrivalled opportunity for London. Despite Brexit, or perhaps as an indirect result of the current favourable exchange rates against the Euro, the US Dollar and other key currencies, the future for increased tourism business for the entire UK and especially London looks extremely bright. With Cashel’s recent appointment as the euromic member for the UK, we have the
opportunity to attract even more business and leisure tourism visitors to London as a direct result of our proven creativity and knowledge and our wealth of experience; this is an opportunity we intend to take”.

A recent Tourism Vision for London survey supported by the Mayor of London projects:
  • Tourism numbers in London are set to rise sharply, with more than 40 million people expected to visit the city by 2025, an increase of 30 per cent on the 31.2 million visitors who came to the capital in 2016
  • Visitor spending to grow by almost 50 per cent to £22 billion a year, up from £14.9 billion (2016).
  • Some of the fastest growing markets for visitors to London by 2025 are China (103 per cent growth), India (90 per cent growth), the USA (43 per cent) and the UAE (43 per cent)

Gerry Manser, who has more than 30 years experience in the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events) tourism sector is consulting on the London specialist team at Cashel Travel, who will provide major event support services for companies, organisations and associations across all sectors.

Manser added:  “Our team are passionate advocates and experts when it comes to events.  From conferences to exhibitions, incentives to experiential marketing – we know the business of events, we know the best venues and have the right contacts in London.  We are looking forward to delivering our skills at the highest level to both existing clients, and those who recognise the difference we make and the value that we can deliver for their event in London”.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Great British Trips become part of the Cashel Travel family.

Cashel Travel DMC UK & Ireland - Great British Trips Logos
Cashel Travel DMC UK & Ireland - Great British Trips

Cashel Travel this week purchased the Manchester based Great British Trips.

Great British Trips specialise in self-guided holidays and independent travel in the UK and in Ireland under Great Irish Trips. They are a family run, privately owned tour operator just like Cashel Travel. Founded by Ruth and Andrew Lancey in 2010, Great British Trips is a highly innovative tour operator specialising in the B2C market as well as offering services for FIT’s and ad hoc group tours for tour operators.

Since the purchase of Great British Trips it has been operating under the Cashel Travel banner and will continue to trade as normal. The addition of highly experienced staff in Manchester strengthens Cashel Travels position to deliver a better range of services across the UK & Ireland to their many clients.

Cashel Travel is having its best year ever on the back of an exceptionally strong marketing and sales drive over the last few years. It employs over 30 staff in its Edinburgh office and the purchase of Great British Trips will add a further 5. Cashel Travel is projecting a turnover this year in excess of £6million.

James Aitken, Cashel Travel Managing Director said, “We believe the ethos of the two companies match perfectly and we are delighted to have everyone in Great British Trips join our very busy team. Cashel Travel is one of the largest privately owned Destination Management Companies in Britain and having an office in Manchester with such an experienced team will really strengthen our UK and Irish business. 2017 has been an exceptional year due in part to our investment in sales and technology not to mention an extremely favourable exchange rate. ”

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Cashel Travel are euromic members

euromic - the power of local knowledge

Who are euromic & what does this mean for Cashel Travel? 

In 1973 euromic was founded as a non-profit association to promote & develop the top DMC's in each country around the world. It has a one-member-per-country policy which means they only seek out the very best & most professional Destination Management Companies. Membership is by invitation only.

All members strive to be the best & stay the best at what they do. Members develop co-operation, exchange information and leads. euromic holds seminars to educate, train, exchange ideas & the latest techniques for the staff of the member DMC's. This is all to ensure and maintain the quality of service provided by euromic members.

"Recognized for its experience and expertise in meetings, incentives, conventions and high-caliber special-interest programs, euromic stands for quality, security, stability, sophistication and the highest standards of professional conduct, as well as success. euromic strives for top quality and the best professional service in the field of group travel, meetings, incentives and conventions."

This is the next step forward for Cashel Travel as a leading & experienced DMC in the UK & Ireland. Covering two key meetings, conferences & incentives destinations, the doors have been opened to the best locations on offer in Great Britain & Ireland.

These are very exciting times for Cashel Travel & the future looks very bright indeed. With our highly professional, experienced & multi-lingual staff we aim to deliver the best service & experience to all who come our way.

If you didn't see the press release last month you can view/read it on our site here

Below is an article on page 2 of IMEX daily about the membership being officially announced also