A day with: We visit the Hays Travel branch run by ‘girl band’

Staff at the Hays Travel in Aylsham, Norfolk, tell Samantha Mayling about fun, fundraising and ‘staggering’ sales during peaks.

I first met Jo Dobbie at Hays Travel’s retail conference in Portugal last November, as she was on an agents’ panel talking about customer service.

She told delegates about ‘girl band Aylsham’ and how they’re involved in fundraising and generate a fun atmosphere – plus lots of repeat clients, recommendations and great Trustpilot reviews.

I spoke to 44 tour operators at the conference and was proud to see [Hays chair] Dame Irene

So I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them in action on a drizzly Norfolk morning. While apprentice Darcey gets me a coffee, Jo recalls how she shook with nerves before her conference appearance.

“I somehow nailed it. The cheers and applause as I walked off the stage made me feel very proud,” she says. “It was motivational to hear the other Hays success stories. I spoke to 44 tour operators at the conference and was proud to see [Hays chair] Dame Irene.”

Vision and positivity

The branch opened 12 years ago, as a small out-of-town shop with three desks.

“We were part of Hays’ Independence Group. I was headhunted to open it and left a management position at Co-op Travel, where I had been for 22 years,” says Jo.

Hays Travel later bought the branch and John Hays (the late founder) took the staff out for dinner.

“He said we needed to be in the town. But then Covid struck,” she recalls. “But Hays kept the vision and positivity that we would get through the pandemic, and we moved [to the town centre] in June 2021.”

Jo [attributes] the success to their friendly atmosphere plus Hays’ trusted brand and interest-free payment plans

Since then, the branch has become ever busier, and expanded to a headcount of seven. “We had staggering results in peaks. We were the regional branch and divisional branch of the month in January,” says Jo, attributing the success to their friendly atmosphere plus Hays’ trusted brand and interest-free payment plans. “One client booked a safari for 2026 and is paying £54 per month,” she says.

Even during Covid, they kept the fun going, with quizzes and cocktail nights on Zoom. Last summer, they won a day out on the Norfolk Broads with Rush Insurance, thanks to being the top-selling Hays branch during peaks. After their day of boating, the agents enjoyed an entertaining night out with Jeff Rush, chief executive, and Louise Bates, sales and relationships director at Rush Insurance.

Sam Antoniades-Cork tells me how they collected supplies for Aylsham food bank and asked customers to help fill suitcases with donations

They have also organised fundraisers such as a boogie dance class that raised £1,300 for young people in crisis – a total matched by the Hays Travel Foundation.

Assistant manager Sam Antoniades-Cork tells me how they collected supplies for Aylsham food bank and asked customers to help fill suitcases with donations.

Forex success

“We’ve seen massive growth in currency sales and took on a second member of staff for forex in November, Yas Murphy, who does a job share with Ele Dibble,” says Jo.

They both like to come out of the forex bureau to talk to customers and share their excitement about their holidays – and help seal more currency sales.

Ele recently visited the head office in Sunderland to be filmed for the chain’s new forex recruitment campaign. “I have been hitting my KPIs and won a place at the Golden Ticket Ball in June, which will be hosted by Dame Irene. It is nice to be recognised,” says Ele.

Apprentice Darcey White trains online two days a week, as well as in store – and helps consultant Elyse Hendry create the TikTok videos

When Ele started, three in 10 customers booking a holiday would also buy currency – now it’s eight in 10.

The current agent apprentice Darcey White joined in August 2023. She trains online two days a week, as well as in store – and helps consultant Elyse Hendry create the TikTok videos. “It’s completely different to what I was expecting; I thought it would just be selling holidays but it’s much more,” she says.

Rising star

Elyse had to do all her apprentice training during lockdown and passed with a distinction two years ago. Now one of the top sellers, she is on management development training programme called Rising Stars.

Hearing these stories of their personal connections with clients, it’s clear to see why the team are friends – and top sellers too

“My favourite destinations to sell are Disneyland Paris or New York. I can really bring the holiday to life and create excitement through my experiences,” she says. “One of my clients went to Mexico for her 50th birthday and was meeting her family there. She was so excited and cried because she was celebrating her birthday with her family.” Hearing these stories of their personal connections with clients, it’s clear to see why the team are friends – and top sellers too.


Sam’s day at Hays Travel

The agency’s location is ideal – yards from a supermarket, round the corner from free parking…and parking spaces right outside. I chat to manager Jo and peek behind the scenes upstairs, with a windowsill of awards and a dressing-up box of outfits used in TikTok videos, which Darcey and Elyse create in five minutes. On the shop floor, there’s a steady stream of clients – and at one point, Jo rings the ‘booking’ bell, which is rung to mark a big sale or amazing Trustpilot review. After the clients depart, consultant Lauren Willetts tells everyone how the customer had been nervous about travelling solo but ended up booking a Tui Blue all-inclusive holiday. Lauren has been in travel since school and has also been a trainer, so helps colleagues with learning and development, advising them to give the ‘hairdresser brief’. “When you go to a hairdresser, they ask you what you’d like. Before I touch the computer, I understand what the client wants; I ask ‘how do you want to feel?’. “I never ask for budgets; if I tick all the boxes, they get the right holiday.” It would seem the ‘hairdresser brief’ means ‘girl band Aylsham’ are a cut above the rest.


Up close and personal

Jo Dobbie, manager

Q. What is your most memorable booking?
A. A couple in their 80s asked me to book a holiday in Amsterdam so they could recreate their honeymoon from 64 years ago, with a canal cruise.

Q. What would you do if you weren’t an agent?
A. I’ve been in travel for 38 years; it is in my blood. If I wasn’t an agent, I’d like to be a tour rep in Australia. I went to Australia solo last year. I was inspired by a 94-yearold client who has gone there.

Sam Antoniades-Cork, assistant manager

Q. What would you do if you weren’t an agent?
A. I always wanted to be in travel, originally as an air stewardess but I couldn’t swim, so I did a diploma in 1989. If I were not in travel, I would be in interior design.

Q. What do you specialise in?
A. I love cruises, they are great value for money. I went on a lovely fam with Premier Holidays to Qatar, I took lots from that. I went to a Disney sellers’ convention at Disneyland Paris in November and also sell lots of city breaks.

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