Strictly Business: Tickets Travel’s Diane Coleman

I got into travel… when I decided to do my business studies dissertation on the travel industry at university. I went through the telephone directory until I got to Tickets Travel and finally Paul, one of the partners, offered to help me.

Over time, I ended up answering the phones and booking holidays while Paul was at the typewriter telling me what he was writing - if I'm honest, he wrote more of my dissertation than me!

I started my business… after a couple of years at Tickets Travel. I opened an agency and called it Going Places. It was doing well until Hogg Robinson Group and Pickfords Travel decided to use the same name after their merger.

They paid me to change my name and I went into business with my old boss at Tickets Travel, Norman Billingham. Norman was ahead of his time. As a 21-year-old, I was horrified when he told a client he wouldn't book something for her, saying 'you won’t like it'.

He told her what she would like, booked it and of course she came back year after year. Sadly, Norman passed away suddenly in 1995, but he'd instilled in me the importance of customer service and honesty.

I’ve grown the business… on those foundations. I've been lucky to have a good team around me and we've seen the business go from strength to strength. I'm so proud of where Tickets Travel is today. I was determined to make it a success for Norman.

I also owe Karen Rondan, formerly of Classic Collection Holidays, for getting us into shows. She dragged me to our village hall one day and told me I was putting the Bexley Travel Show together.

This grew each year, thanks to [my colleague] David Celino-Stock, culminating in our biggest show just before the pandemic. We took thousands of pounds worth of bookings, only to refund them all due to Covid.

What I’ve learned from the crisis is… how people value our service. I'd wanted to change Saturdays to open by appointment but wasn't brave enough.

Covid made us close initially and though we aren't fully open yet, Saturdays will have been by appointment for the best part of the year.

My proudest career achievement is… Being commended in Bexley’s ‘Love Your Local Business’ awards, and seeing my daughter, Lauren, come into the industry and take to it like a duck to water, with the guidance of our team.

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