Meet the top travel agent who’s one in a million

The Holiday Expert Jason Tuatara - home work has distinct advantages

The Holiday Expert Jason Tuatara - home work has distinct advantages

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There’s a brand new hot tub out back near the koi carp pool. A rather smart car with tongue in cheek, rather than personalised, plate is parked up front.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Jason Tuatara, one man million pound holiday selling machine.

Small wonder he’s just been shortlisted for a top award by the bible of the travel industry - Travel Trade Gazette.

You won’t find him on the high street as more are breaking free from high rentals and dwindling footfall to set up business online - or escape altogether.

Jason is a Home Based Personal Travel Agent - under the wing of Co-op Travel.

Working from his home in Anchorsholme and styling himself The Holiday Expert (www.theholidayexpert.co.uk) Jason cuts overheads at a time when many high street holiday shops are closing. Customers get personal service and the protection that goes with a big name brand.

So why not just book our own holiday online? Many do. But more are returning to agents after coming undone with DIY bookings - arriving to find transfers awol, or rooms double booked, or few safeguards for cancellations.

Jasonsays: “It takes the pressure off searching for hotels and flights and transfers or car hire - because I have all the search engines and technology and knowledge at my fingertips.

“It’s not just about a holiday but getting to the nitty gritty of what customers really want. What do they like to do, or see, or experience? How mobile are they? Are they celebrating an anniversary or birthday?

“I dot every i and cross ever t. I remember all the add ons. It’s not just about booking the first hotel you find on Google or via Trip Advisor.”

What’s more, it’s clear he’s got it down to a T.

He’s just been nominated for a prestigious TTG award.

The awards are regarded as a benchmark of quality within the travel industry, the rigorous judging process involving over 30,000 agent ratings combined with judging from the industry’s elite.

“I feel really honoured to have got so far,” says Jason.

The winners will be announced at a glitzy event at the Odeon West End, Leicester Square, next month, with an after show party at the Savoy Hotel.

But for a man with a posh car, posher fish, and nice line in bubble baths, Jason takes it all in his stride.

He set up stall at home 18 months ago with the support of the Mid Counties Cooperative. He’s since chalked up commission on £1m sales this year alone making him one of the most successful agents on the Co-op’s Home Based network.

His business development manager Carol Blackburn admits: “He’s done fantastically well. The technology is portable so working from home is easy - and you can make a nice living if you know your stuff and Jason certainly does.

“ More shops are closing and this is one way of keeping people with a vast experience of travel within the trade and providing service which is still needed. “And Jason is really passionate about people and wanting to find them the best possible holiday for their budget and needs.

“People tend to want a lot more for their money these days.

“Yet he’s already getting a lotof repeat business and word of mouth referrals.”

Jason lived and worked as a rep abroad for many years before returning to work in high street holiday selling - and then setting up independently.

“It’s not easy, my home is my office, which is why I keep an exercise bike by the desk so I can work out while working. It also means I can go into the garden to work. Even in the hot tub. If my phone rings at half eight in the morning or half ten at night - it will get answered.”

He owes his exotic surname to Kiwi roots, his late father was the entertainer known as the Mad Maori, Junior Johnson Tuatara, a big hit in Blackpool and in Spain, and who hailed from New Zealand’s North Island.

His mother was entertainer Jean Bennett. known as the Blackpool Belle, a show stopping clubland singer who started out as a child sensation, billed as the Little Girl With The Big Voice.

“You need a theatrical streak to make people’s holiday dreams come true and I think I owe a lot them,” says Jason.

Not surprisingly his own dream trip would be a long haul tour of New Zealand to discover more about his father’s roots.

“It’s one of the few places I haven’t been to. And that’s because I’d like to make it more of a pilgrimage than a holiday, a proper voyage of discovery.”

As for his hot tips for this year’s great getaways - with the peak sales season about to start?

Jason says the Costa del Sol still has its place in the nation’s heart - and was where he started out as a holiday rep.

“ I know it like the back of my hand but got fed up with it - and moved to Rhodes where I ended up becoming guest service manager. Again for Thomson Holidays.

“After that I moved to Benidorm for five years - in the Lepante - which was great as my father worked out there a lot when he wasn’t at North Pier or other places.

“He’s passed away now. I still miss him like hell.”

Benidorm still tops the list for many Blackpool holidaymakers. “We still get a lot asking for the Sol Pelicanos - the Solano of the TV series Benidorm!

“I went out again last year on holiday - hired a villa up in the mountains - but there are some new hotels in Benidorm which I visit to check out for guests.

“What’s more, it’s not a bit like Blackpool. In all honesty, I don’t get customers asking to holiday in Blackpool even though I could sell it if they wanted...”

Jason occasionally holidays with his customers.

“I took two of my regulars on a cruise with me by way of a thank you to them.

“All too often you don’t get to meet customers because although it’s a personal service it’s at the end of a phone line or computer - and my customers come from all over the country.”

Jason tired of living abroad and put down roots in Lytham as an assistant manager of a high street holiday shop.

“I got itchy feet again after that, and worked cabin crew for Jet2 out of Blackpool.

“Jet2 has been a real advantage to Blackpool. Ultimately I’d like to set up a Blackpool Airport holidays website.

“I like to be independent, and it’s nice to be able to handle the whole journey for the customer from start to finish.”

His favourite retreats include Ronda on the Costa del Sol: “a very beautiful lovely old place.”

For much the same reason he recommends the island of Rhodes. “And for me there’s only one place to stay and that’s in or near the Old Town because you really do step back through time when you visit there. I love Lindos too, as a beach resort - but a beautiful one.

“It’s just a shame that the issues with the Eurozone in Athens are affecting the smaller islands, too.”

One of his more adventurous customers requested a holiday - up in the canopy of the trees in Borneo.

He’s also booked round the world trips.

“Some customers are very specific. They want to see America by camper van. Or a certain room on a certain floor of a hotel.

“It’s all about taking customer service to the next level.

“I think that’s where we tend to fall down in Britain - and locally. We really need to up our game, offer more, ensure people come back time and again.”

He faces some challenges. “Some tour operators and flight operators are reducing capacity. I often find the secret rests in thinking out of the box. I often find I can get a cheaper price for a seven night rather than four night break.

“At the moment the very best value for money are cruises. Tunisia is also great value. Bulgaria too. Madeira is beautiful. Dubai is great for shopping - and you can’t beat New York. I tend to have busman’s holidays, educationals, to see places and judge for myself.

“But my dream is that big New Zealand trip...”