“As we prepare to enter a brand new year, 2013 will be another benchmark one for us personally. Our small hotel celebrates its fortieth birthday and my wife and I enter our collective one hundred years in the hospitality industry.”
I owe old copies of National Geographic magazine to my first interest in tourism, while spending prolonged time in hospital as a child. Even five decades ago the images were outstanding, and to me, captivating. I knew that with my limited formal education I was never going to be destined for a ‘normal’ job or career.
Even before leaving school I worked as a waiter in the Bath Hotel in Lynmouth, North Devon and later training as a Commis de Rang, at one of Britain’s historical hotels; the Old Ship in Brighton which opened it’s door in 1559. Not for a moment did I think waiting on tables was a demeaning task and would genuinely take great pleasure in ensuring diners had the very best possible service and experience. Surely that’s what we all want.
Most of the monies earnt were spent travelling. My first big trip was hitch hiking to Istanbul, along the way stopping in many cities, towns and villages. I vividly remember visiting Paris for the first time and marveling how beautiful it was and so different to London – yet geographically, so close.
Among the many ‘adventures’ that followed was reliving an old television series Route 66, across the United States and even now, recalling the amazing hospitality of the American people. One example was while waiting hours for a lift in a small Texan town called Whitesboro, its Sheriff, driving one of those huge Ford police cars, pulled over and told me to get in.
Flashes of the part Rod Steiger played in the film ‘Heat of the Night’ went through my brain, thinking that he was arresting me for jay walking or some other infringement. As it was late in the day, he took me to his office, let me sleep in an unlocked cell overnight and the following morning, his wife brought me the first ever Texas breakfast that I had experienced.
By this time tourism had become my life and the only industry that I wanted to be part of. Money soon ran out, but I was lucky to land a job in a small travel agency based in Winnipeg, Canada. This was the solution; work in the industry, get paid and learn every aspect of what makes it tick.
Later I joined a Swiss company, Globus Gateway, based in Lugano as a tour director escorting coach holidays across Europe and North Africa. My very first tour, 47 days long, visited 17 countries, four of which I had never previously visited. I met the group in London and flew with them to Madrid, where we joined our European motor coach and driver for the remaining six weeks. Manuel spoke only Spanish and had never driven outside Spain, so you can imagine what a defining learning curve this was.
I will be eternally grateful to Globus for having the confidence in me, to entrust that not only would we survive that first tour intact, but go on to direct many others successfully. Along the way gathering the knowledge needed to get better and better at the job.
Returning to the UK, we started our own tour company, but that is part two of the story for another week.