Your Stories: How Andrea Smith turned her passion for adventure and wildlife into a business

The Holiday Village homeworker Andrea Smith tells Samantha Mayling about how she came to specialise in touring and adventure.

Q. How did you get into travel?
A. I’ve been an agent for about 25 years – before that I was in hospitality. I left the sector to backpack solo around the world for two years, and when I returned I married and had kids. I went to my local Lunn Poly in Marple, Cheshire, and asked for a job. Manager Christine Parker took a chance and hired me because I knew a lot about destinations.

Around 20 years ago, I became a homeworker to have more flexibility and to work for myself. I started with Instant Cruise, which morphed into Co-operative Personal Travel Advisors, Future Travel and then Freedom Travel. When Thomas Cook and Freedom collapsed [in 2019], my customers stayed loyal. It was incredibly important that I moved them to a company with integrity, a strong sense of community and management in whom I had faith. A Freedom colleague suggested the Travel Village Group and I found all of that with them.

I went to my local Lunn Poly in Marple, Cheshire, and asked for a job. Manager Christine Parker took a chance and hired me because I knew a lot about destinations

Q. How did you develop your homeworking?
A. Initially I sold mostly cruise and was part of Freedom’s wedding and honeymoon team – some of my best customers are parents of couples I met at wedding events. I now sell more long-haul, tailor-made and touring, which are more my own passion. I love active holidays and wildlife. My clientele seems to have developed in line with that, so I have single travellers on tours, adventure-loving couples and families, and luxury clients.

Q. Have you booked some unusual itineraries?
A. I sent a solo gentleman aged 79 on a Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya tour with Intrepid as he had a gorilla trek on his wish list. His neighbour told me I’d given him the holiday of his lifetime. A honeymoon couple asked for five nights in Iceland to see the northern lights, followed by somewhere hot in January. Luckily, Icelandair had just started flying UK-Iceland-Florida so I could add a Bahamas cruise to their Iceland trip.

Initially I sold mostly cruise and was part of Freedom’s wedding and honeymoon team – some of my best customers are parents of couples I met at wedding events

Q. You also run a smallholding. What’s life like?
A. Four years ago, we bought a derelict farmhouse with crumbling outbuildings in the Peak District National Park. We lived without central heating for three years, sometimes with no electricity. Having never kept livestock before, I am now a shepherdess to 15 pet sheep, two horses, two pigs, two dogs, five hens and two pygmy goats called Pepper and Percy. We have bees and grow our own fruit and veg. Many of my customers have become like friends and it’s not unusual for me to pick up a call while I’m feeding sheep or mucking out stables.

Having never kept livestock before, I am now a shepherdess to 15 pet sheep, two horses, two pigs, two dogs, five hens and two pygmy goats called Pepper and Percy

Q. How did you cope with Covid?
A. We raised our first orphaned lambs, and with our children home from university, it was a great bonding time. We converted the old milking barn into holiday cottages and I marketed them through Cottages.com so they were bookable by agents. The Holiday Village was amazing. Paula Nuttall [Holiday Village managing director] and Phil Nuttall [chief executive of parent Travel Village Group] were there for all of us despite what must have been a devastating blow to their own family business.

They were emotionally and financially supportive to their homeworkers and there were no redundancies at head office; they navigated it with a selfless determination to keep their business and team together. Sales were slow during the first year after Covid restrictions began to lift. Many of the destinations my clients would choose were some of the later ones to come back on sale. However, 2023 was a good year – back to business as usual.

Paula and Phil Nuttall were there for all of us despite what must have been a devastating blow to their own family business

Q. How important is sustainability?
A. Since taking on our smallholding, we’ve become more aware of the impact we have on the environment. We try to live sustainably, using only environmentally friendly cleaning products. At the Association of Touring and Adventure Suppliers (Atas) conference, I won the TTC Tour Brands sustainability pledge competition. I pledged to plant five trees, one for each of its brands, and [marketing executive] Alice Boden from TTC came to my smallholding to join the tree-planting. It also meant I won a trip to India with the Luxury Gold brand.


Why have you focused on touring and adventure?

When I started, I was hardly ever asked about adventure travel and touring; now it’s one of my best-selling sectors. I also have a great interest in sustainable and ethical travel. Over the years, I’ve seen a rise in solo travellers, particularly women, and more midlife cruisers have moved into river cruising, expedition cruising and adventure touring. In October, I went to my first Atas conference, which was motivational. I also won a spot on the Atas Experiences trip to Lake Como in March. And I was inspired by adventurer Alice Morrison, who talked at the conference. She spoke about how midlife women, termed ‘queenagers’, are using their extra time and financial stability to seek out more immersive and exciting holiday experiences. It struck a chord with me. I recently started The Travelling Queenager Facebook page to help people, particularly midlife holidaymakers, push their travel boundaries. It’s not a sales page, and I hope fellow agents will share it with customers to get them to try new things. I hope to get input from other agents and clients as well as tour operators.

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