The Rookie Rep

Whether you like skiing holidays, trekking in the Andes, or lying on a beach there’s always a rep to help you get on. Spare a thought for them though. They may be staying in the same hotel and eating in the same restaurant but they are most definitely not on holiday > themselves.

The Rookie Rep takes you behind the scenes as our eager new starter quickly has to contend with everything from broken ankles to broken suitcases, and from drunken guests to irate bar owners. Holidays may vary wildly, but the same can’t be said for holidaymakers. Over a year in her life she travels the world and has to deal with the same issues in Peru that she does in Devon. There’s only one person who can solve the problems of these hapless travelers and she’s a short, bubbly, blonde Englishwoman who’s determined to do the best for her charges whether they like her or not.

Here is a taster …

Chapter One – July

I was so excited I could not concentrate on the task in hand. My bedroom resembled the aftermath of a jumble sale. Every light in the house was switched on and most of the cupboards and drawers were open. It was midnight already and I was leaving in two hours yet my suitcase was once again empty on the floor. I had lost count of the number of times I had packed and then unpacked. The travel ‘experts’ suggested that all the items I intended to take should be laid out on the bed and then half these items should be packed. I kept packing the wrong half.

By the time my taxi rolled into the drive I was snapping shut the last lock on my bag. During the five minute journey to the station I babbled excitedly about my forthcoming trip to Crete. I had never been there but it had been a long held ambition to visit Greece. But first I had to get to Gatwick. When the driver asked me which platform my train would leave from I realised I had no idea. It was many years since I had travelled on a train and this was my first visit to my local station.

I told the driver I would check the platform when I bought my ticket. He roared with laughter as we swung into the car park in front of the station. The glass and steel construction that housed the ticket office was shut. Outside was a row of machines that sold every variety of ticket for travel in the next twelve months. But they did not make announcements regarding the relevant platform.

Fortunately my driver was an expert on these matters and instructed me on the use of the appropriate machine. He waited and then drove me over the bridge to my platform and unloaded my bags. I was still shouting my thanks as his rear red lights receded in the darkness. He must have thought I was an idiot. Clad in my company blazer with my name badge on my lapel proclaiming to the world that I was a holiday rep and I did not even know how to buy a ticket for the train.

It was two in the morning and the platform was deserted. I sat on a bench to wait. My stomach was churning. In two hours’ time my adventure would begin when I arrived at Gatwick and took charge of a group of twenty tourists who would be depending on me to organise their holiday. I was glad when the lights of my train appeared in the distance and I was soon on board. I was surprised to find there were already several people on the train. Most of them were sleeping but I dared not relax for a second in case I missed my stop even though it would be more than an hour before we got there. At the next station a breathless young man fell into my compartment and immediately began punching numbers into his mobile phone. I was curious to know who he could be calling at such an early hour.

I listened intently. He was talking to the friend who had just dropped him off at the station. They had been out all night and now he had to concoct a story to appease his wife. He was already on a yellow card so it had to be good. I could not help listening and smiling at the thought of him arriving home to find he was locked out and his belongings were scattered on the road. I would never know, it was a snippet of someone else’s life and this would be my one and only episode.

“Tickets please.” I woke with a start and fumbled in my pocket. I had only slept for a few minutes but I felt refreshed and wide awake. I took out the information pack my manager, Aimee, had sent me. Aimee was responsible for all the Hosts and Hostesses at New Company Travel. I had already devoured the contents of the bulging envelope but I pulled them out and began going through them again. I perused the list of names. Soon these names would have faces and personalities. Would I remember their names? Would they like me? The thought that all these people would be depending on me to make sure they had a great holiday was nerve wracking. I read through the notes of my colleagues, Hosts and Hostesses who had already done this trip, and a source of valuable information. I had tried to memorise every detail, as my guests would expect me to have all this information at my fingertips. Could I meet their expectations? Should I be here? Why was I here?

Fate had sent me on this trip. I had been pursuing a career in the law and after teaching the subject for several years I had decided to take the final exams and become a solicitor. It was hard work doing a full time job and studying as well. I felt I deserved a year off, a chance to travel. As I did not want to travel on my own I wrote to a tour operator in the hope of being employed by them on a freelance basis. I had travelled with this company and was familiar with the role of the Hosts and Hostesses who accompanied their groups. It seemed they spent their days going on excursions with the guests and their evenings dining and disco dancing. I felt I would be adept at both these activities so I was delighted when they called me a few days later and invited me to attend an interview. My enthusiasm more than made up for my lack of language skills and experience and I was invited to a training weekend, in Bournemouth, two days hence. My final exams were imminent and I packed some books just in case I had a few spare hours.

I barely had time to eat and sleep that weekend. When I arrived at the Highcliff Hotel Aimee, my trainer and a very experienced Hostess, was waiting in reception for me. It was an embarrassing start when I requested a room with a sea view and Aimee stepped in and cancelled this request. Our guests were allocated the best rooms and the Hostess would be allocated a room the hotel considered appropriate. Unabashed I accepted my small room with an uninterrupted view of the dustbins below and a bathroom that was bigger than the bedroom. There was just time to take my case up to this room but no time to unpack as Aimee had scheduled a meeting with the duty manager.

Within minutes I was back downstairs following in their wake as they checked function rooms against our itinerary. I scribbled notes on my own copy as we moved from room to room. I noticed that Aimee did not take any notes at all just flirted charmingly with the young manager. I was not surprised when I was given a job to do while Aimee went to her room to ‘freshen up’. My role was to keep in touch with reception regarding last minute cancellations and to check the Welcome Drink was laid out properly. Just before dinner I had to confirm final numbers for the meal so any extra covers could be removed before we took our places.

Some of our guests had arrived before us and as soon as our meeting finished Aimee asked me to find them and introduce myself. I had been so focused on the travel I had forgotten this aspect of my new role as a holiday representative – the people. Naturally very shy as a child I had hated running errands to the local shop as it meant I had to speak to the shopkeeper. I had resolved this problem by bribing my younger sister with comics to do it for me. Supermarkets had been invented for people like me, the silent shopper. Reluctantly I made my way back to the bar and was surprised to find that our guests approached me. I had not realised how conspicuous the blazer and the badge made me. Then I got over-confident and approached some people who were nothing to do with my company. I was left in no doubt regarding their views on package holidays. Embarrassed I retreated into my shell.

Our first official function, when the whole group would gather together, was the Welcome Drink. Following Aimee’s advice I dressed down for this occasion and pinned my Trainee badge on the pocket of my demure shirt dress. I made my way to the bar fifteen minutes before the first guest was due to arrive. My brief (and it had been brief) was to be early for every function during the weekend. I suspected being late was probably a sackable offence, along with topless sunbathing and getting drunk on duty. As we were never off-duty the latter was easily achievable.

When I got to the bar five guests were there already and hovering by a tray of drinks. I greeted them, requested their names, handed them a glass of wine and wished them a happy stay. This calm efficiency did not last long. Ten guests arrived at the same time. They pushed past me and grabbed a glass of wine ignoring me and my list of names. I could not even be sure they were in my group. Each guest was allowed one drink but it was difficult to enforce this rule – especially when some people were pleading for a second drink before everyone in the group had arrived. It was hard to refuse these pleas as I was so anxious to ensure our guests enjoyed themselves. A helpful barman recognised my dilemma and discretely replenished the tray of drinks. I smiled my thanks. Already I was discovering a camaraderie that existed amongst everyone who worked in this industry. A band of people united in the struggle to please the tourist.

When Aimee joined us she looked stunning. Tall, slim and slightly tanned she was wearing a stylish cocktail dress and heels high enough to suggest the most activity she would be undertaking that evening was the short walk from the bar to the restaurant. Clearly she did not take her own advice regarding the attire of the Hostess. Aimee was everything I was not and I gawped in admiration as she slid into her role as the charming Hostess and effortlessly ushered everyone into the restaurant.

It was a very sociable dinner – I hosted one of our two large tables and Aimee sat at the other one. My companions were very friendly and the conversation flowed as freely as the free wine. Uncertain about the closeness of Aimee’s scrutiny I was careful to concentrate on the water rather than the wine. When the meal was over it was time for our disco. I loved disco dancing and I was keen to strut my stuff but I did not know if this would be allowed. Did I join in with the dancers or follow Aimee’s example and maintain an elegant distance. I glanced across to her table as I jiggled to the music on the side lines. Aimee nodded her consent and I took to the floor and encouraged everyone else to join me.

When I stopped to sip some water Aimee said she was going to bed and was leaving me in charge. It was an exhilarating feeling and I took advantage of my position to slip in a few requests for my favourite tracks. I danced until the disco finished at midnight and then joined the late night revellers in the bar for a last drink. I was not sure if I was supposed to stay up until the last guest fell off his or her bar stool. I added it to the list of questions I was compiling to ask Aimee.

Aimee was not in the mood for questions the next morning. She did not appear at breakfast and arrived in reception just in time to greet our local guide who would be leading our tour of local attractions. Aimee joined the guide at the front of the bus while I observed from the back. Swanage was our lunch stop and it brought back a lot of childhood memories for all of us as we strolled along a seafront that was peppered with fish and chip shops and ice cream outlets. Most of us succumbed to the taste of freshly fried cod and chips and sat outside on benches at large wooden tables to eat them. After eating we were given the option of taking the steam train to visit Corfe Castle and I decided to go as well.

My decision was very popular with Aimee and our local guide. Both of them had done the trip several times already and were happy to amuse themselves in the town. I arrived at the station with fourteen guests in time to watch the steam engine chugging from the front of the train to take the lead at the back. We had a short ride across beautiful countryside before the impressive ruins of Corfe Castle came into view. We dismounted at the end of the line and then walked back to Corfe Castle where we explored the ruins before returning to Swanage.

It was my first introduction to the marshalling of a group to ensure everyone arrived in the right place at the right time. As we left the station the group scattered in all directions tempted by shops, bars or a tour of the castle ruins. Innocuous phrases took on new meanings. “I am just popping into this shop” translated as I am going to spend an hour in there looking for a suitable present for Aunty Mary as I always take her something when I go away. “I need to get a drink, I’ll be quick” was a code for I am going to sit down at a table and order a snack and a drink and stay there as long as I can. By the time I had flushed people out of souvenir shops and dragged them away from tables outside bars and cafés there was no time to join the sightseers in the castle before we had to board our train. I felt a sense of triumph when I fed the right number of tourists into the flock clustered around Aimee waiting to board our bus.

When I volunteered to organise the Bubbly Quiz that evening Aimee accepted graciously and I accompanied her to her suite to collect the lists of questions. I supposed that her suite came under the definition of ‘a room considered suitable by the hotel management’. Once I had been acquainted with the rules of the quiz I raced back to my room to cut up strips of paper that were essential for the conduct of this game. Aimee would not be joining us as she felt I would be inhibited by her presence. She was probably right although I suspected the real reason was the chance to stretch out on her plush settee sipping a glass of the cold white wine I had seen chilling in an ice bucket in her sitting room.

The Bubbly Quiz was hilarious. As people arrived in the function room I put them at one of several small round tables. Each table formed a team and when a member of that team answered a question correctly they were given a slip of paper and once they had ten slips of paper they could swap them for a glass of champagne each. My sympathetic barman was on duty again and he raced around topping up glasses while I asked the questions, handed out the slips of paper and dealt with disputes about the correct answer. Fierce arguments raged between opposing teams in the race to consume as much sparkling wine as possible. I accepted different versions and awarded strips of paper indiscriminately. The barman kept topping up my glass as well and I giggled my way through the last few questions.

We were all very relaxed when we joined Aimee in the restaurant for dinner. I hoped Aimee would not notice my flushed cheeks and the wisps of hair escaping from my attempt at an elegant arrangement of my long blonde hair. I had been experimenting with a smart tortoise shell clip purchased earlier that day. Aimee retired to the bar with a few guests as soon as we finished eating. I was left in charge of the disco. We had a very enthusiastic DJ who taught us the moves of the Macarena. I scribbled them down on the back of an envelope in my bag so I could teach other groups. I was really enjoying my new role and desperately hoped there would be a future for me as a Hostess.

It was difficult to remain calm the next morning as we said our goodbyes to departing guests and handed out feedback forms. I viewed these with suspicion. Never before had I been subjected to other people’s opinions regarding my ability to do my job. Aimee was very encouraging regarding my performance that weekend. She also had a few cautionary tales to tell as she went through our role on the more demanding trips abroad. She drilled into me that I should never dress as though I was on holiday, I should never behave as though I was on holiday and that I should never wear jeans.

After a few days I settled back into my old routine and the buzz I had felt over the weekend fizzled out. Even in such a short time I had become used to the constant company and the busy lifestyle. I should have been concentrating on the exams ahead of me but my thoughts kept straying to the fascinating destinations in the glossy brochure I had brought home with me. The trilling of my phone roused me from my reverie. It was Aimee. My heart was thudding as I listened to her congratulate me on having successfully completed my training. She then offered me a trip to Crete immediately after my last exam. It was perfect timing and a good incentive to make sure I passed my exams at the first attempt.

By the time my train slowed to a halt at Gatwick airport I had read and re-read all the information in my bundle of papers. There were rooming lists, flight manifests, requests for special diets, rooms with views, double beds, single beds, top floor and ground floor. This was one of our most popular destinations and the company had been going there for several years. There was a lot of detailed information such as where one could buy an English paper, postcards, stamps and the location and opening times of supermarkets and pharmacies. Enough to pretend I had been there before. But did I dare or did I just confess to being a rookie rep?

I had to admit my inexperience in order to complete my first task on arrival at the airport. I had to get a TOD from the Pin Stripe Representative for a member of my group but I had no idea what it was. I did a quick tour of the check-in desks which were already surrounded by crowds of holidaymakers looking for someone dressed in pin stripes. Stupidly I expected that this person would also be looking for me. I laughed at my own naivety when I asked at the Information Desk and discovered that a TOD was a ticket on departure and the Pin Stripe Representative was a company and not a person.

Ticket clutched in my hand I set off to find my client Mr Right. There was no one at the appointed place, the luggage shop near the check-in area. Neither I nor Mr Right could check-in until I had found him and given him his ticket. I strolled slowly up and down the fast growing queues around our check-in desks looking for a solitary male with our distinctive luggage label on his case. After each sortie I went back to the luggage shop but I could not find anyone who fitted my bill. As I hovered uncertainly in the check-in area I heard raised voices at one of the desks. Naturally curious I moved closer to see what was going on.

A harassed girl was dealing with an angry passenger. There seemed to be some problem with his ticket, the lack of it. When I moved closer I noticed that he had three of our luggage labels tied to his case. I soon understood the problem. The passenger was insisting the girl had his ticket and was pointing at his itinerary spread on the desk in front of them. The girl was pointing across the check-in area towards the left luggage office. When I intervened and asked if I could help I was greeted with a smile of relief from the girl and a scowl from the passenger. I introduced myself to the passenger, Mr Right, and gave him his ticket before retreating to the back of another queue. The instructions on his itinerary had been quite clear. Was this a sign of things to come?

I caught up with Mr Right and several other passengers in the Departure Lounge. They all crowded round me their eager faces alight with curiosity as they bombarded me with a variety of questions – simultaneously. I was as excited as they were but I tried not to show it by adopting the persona of the experienced traveller. It proved impossible to remain cool and aloof and I was soon caught up in their chatter as evocative names like Knossos, Spinalonga, Elounda and Santorini rolled off their tongues. I wanted to visit all of them and when I admitted to never having seen any of these places I immediately formed a bond with my companions. They did not seem to mind that I was not an expert; they just wanted to have a good holiday. As I led them to our boarding gate I resolved to do everything I could to ensure that they did.

On arrival at Iráklion airport I immediately lost one of my passengers. I was certain that Mr Right had been with us when I did my first head count. When I did a recount to make sure I had everyone he had disappeared. Had I imagined his presence on the first count? Wild-eyed I scanned the crowds surging towards the exit. Did I leave the group and go looking for him, did I wait and hope he came back or did I take them to our bus and hope he found us there? As I stood there in a quandary I felt a re-assuring hand on my arm. It was The Duchess, named for her stately appearance. “Don’t worry dear,” she said, smiling down on me, “I expect he has gone outside for a smoke.” I seized on this explanation gratefully. She was used to travelling with a group whereas Mr Right was not. At that moment he appeared in the doorway and grinned apologetically while I beamed back at him in sheer relief. Now all I had to do was find our transfer bus. I marched confidently ahead of the group, company sign held high.

Our bus driver had abandoned his post in the Arrivals Hall. I suspected he had also gone off for a cigarette. However, his absence was not totally unexpected. A thoughtful Hostess had noted in our resort information that the drivers often did not bother to meet the group and would be in the bus in the car park. Relying on this snippet of information I led the group outside and asked them to wait while I raced up and down the lines of stationary buses. I was beginning to appreciate that the role of the rep was fraught with difficulties and wondered what I would do if there was no bus. Just as I was running out of buses I found ours. As our flight had been delayed our bus driver had snatched the opportunity to snooze in his bus and was still sleeping when we arrived. Thoughtfully he had propped our company sign up at the front of the bus and I hammered on the door to wake him up…

Author: Valery Collins, © 2014