The Chronicles of a Rep in Ibiza and Charlie the cat

 

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View of Santa Eulalia from the apartment balcony

My favourite destination in all my years being a holiday rep was Ibiza!

Prior to going, my only image was of huge nightclubs, dancing til dawn , Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs, Paris Hilton and tons of other celebs who frequented the island during the height of summer.

Ibiza is the one place that would be considered a reps dream destination! Who doesn’t want to drink and party until sun rise…or watch the world’s BEST sunset sipping sangria with hundreds and thousands of people from all over the world? Ibiza is pure heaven…and I recommend any newbie to consider a placement there at least once in their career.

All of that partying is truly wonderful…all of that sunset-watching is enjoyable…but there comes a point where all of that becomes monotonous and all you really prefer to do is rent a dvd and snuggle up with your cat….

As a rep you are definitely NOT allowed to have a pet in your accommodation. It is one of the rules that is clearly stipulated…right next to “No smoking” and “NO chewing gum” in uniform. But there are ways to get away with smoking in uniform, or chewing the odd gum or two…and strangely enough, there are ways to get around the whole “pet” thing too. *cue mischievous smile*.

During this particular season, I worked in Santa Eulalia in Ibiza and it was a great location that was a little bigger than a village, but smaller than a town. It was a mix of modern, contemporary and old. It had a great marina, cute little beach bars, fabulous restaurants from Thai to Italian, unique bars and overall, it had a wonderful feeling about it. Because there wasn’t anywhere for me to live that particular season, I had to share an apartment with the team leader in the area. For anyone who doesn’t already know this, the team leader accommodation is literally 1 step down from a manager’s accommodation…so yes…for the first time since becoming a rep, I was living in what most would call the “lap of luxury”. A 6th floor apartment overlooking the marina and the sea, within easy walking distance to all my hotels and amenities – and close enough to KFC/Pizza Hut so they could deliver!! Thats right people…KFC delivered!!! Talk about landing in paradise! My dreams had come true that season for sure – I got Ibiza as my placement (which, along with Cyprus, was damn hard to get), I got the area where I wanted to work…and as an added bonus, I got to live in a fabulously furnished apartment with a proper kitchen, comfy sofas, a TV and DVD player and the perfect view! Oh….and did I mention that the DVD rental store was 2 doors away from my apartment – right next to the little shop where my roomie and I bought all our snacks and drinks for our continual movie nights? Yeah…thats right people…I WAS IN HEAVEN!!!066

Finally having an accommodation that felt more like “home” instead of a prison cell, was certainly a refreshing change. But as anyone knows, a home never feels quite right without a pet. Do not get mistaken, I was definitely not going to go out of my way to break any rules by purchasing a pet…and I certainly was not actively looking for one under rocks and in bushes…but if one happened to stumble upon my path, I definitely wasn’t planning on thinking too hard or too long about calling it my own.

As luck would have it, this one fateful morning I headed to my usual duties in a hotel which had approximately 4 guests, and it was here that I simply sat and stared at the walls hoping and praying for the time to end. As I saw the time drawing to a close, I breathed a sigh of relief and quickly packed up and rushed out the entrance. Lo and behold, there he was! He was the sweetest, friendliest cat you could ever imagine. He was just sitting there, waiting for any random person to show him affection…so I obliged. Now of course, I did not immediately think about claiming him as my own since cats have absolutely no loyalty, and this cat probably wandered off because he was tired of his owners. I petted the little creature and I headed off in the direction of my next hotel – not giving it another thought.

After the usual afternoon siesta, I made my way back to the hotel where I had seen the cat – and as I walked up the stairs of the entrance there he was again. Just sitting there, looking all lonely and sad. I bid him hello, gave him a courteous rub on the head and walked into the hotel. My interest was piqued now…why was this cat hanging out at the entrance of this hotel that barely had any guests in it…especially any guests that would even give him the time of day. Strange I thought. And even stranger when I asked the reception staff if anyone knew who the cat belonged to and all of them said they didn’t know. Hmmmm.

Once my shift had ended I knew what I had to do…I was going to commit the ultimate sin…I was going to kidnap the cat! I knew that this was what I had to do…the cat was probably looking for a new owner…and I decided I was up for the task! I scooped the cat up, and since I didn’t have a box, I stuff the cat into my work bag…which was pretty tricky. The cat was very friendly on the ground…but funnily enough he did not take too kindly to being kidnapped and stuffed in a bag that was certainly not suited for catnapping purposes. Now this is where it got really tricky – the walk from that hotel to my apartment was a bit of a distance – about 20 mins to be exact. Try adding extra weight to that distance and having to fight with a wriggling bag and look normal in the process…that 20 minutes felt like hours! The other part of the plan I forgot to factor in was that I had to visit one more hotel before the end of my evening shift. YUP! A cat screaming from my bag, trying to act normal and praying to god that a manager didn’t decide to “pass by” had me on edge. I was obviously NOT about to finish my duties for the evening…instead I was headed back to the apartment with my furry captive and help him settle into his new home instead!

How I managed that 20 minute walk without appearing insane I am not sure…how I made it into my apartment building and in the elevator without encountering my neighbours I have no idea…and I have no clue what was going through my mind when I finally sat on the sofa and opened my bag to release my captive. All I knew is I was SUPER excited for my roommate to come home so that she could meet our new pet for the season!

Yeah…good question…how was I so sure how my roommate (my team leader, by the way) was going to feel about breaking the rules and having a cat…in an APARTMENT on the 6th floor?? Yeah…potato patato, tomato, tamato…who cared! What was there not to love about a purring ball of fluff!

Thankfully when my roommate returned home that evening she was so excited! We set about naming our new friend and eventually decided on Charlie. Charlie was our new pal and he accepted us as his new owners, friend and family. Charlie was a well trained apartment cat. He had no desire to run through the front door and make a bolt for the outside world. He was happy chilling on the sofa or perched precariously on the balcony ledge…which really made my stomach lurch. Even when the other reps came around, they were totally not bothered about Charlie either. It was as if Charlie was meant to be with us…and that was the routine of our summer season. 098

Now, the downside of any season is that it must come to an end…but before it does, certain things can occur:

  • Your roommate has an accident and the manager comes to visit
  • The owner of the apartment is selling it and must show potential buyers around

 

Ahh yes…the 2 most agonizing occasions, especially when one has broken the sacred commandment between rep and company, which of course means the company has broken that rule outlined by the owner of the property! I knew I was well and truly FUCKED! Now any sensible rep would probably have done the obvious…thank the cat for the happy memories and wonderful cuddles and then dump its ass on the street and hope that another kind soul finds it. Well, I did not do that…instead I bribed the cat with food and snacks and locked its ass in my wardrobe and prayed that it did not get frightened and start mewing. As my luck would have it, it started mewing and I started coughing! I think the owner of the apartment thought I was a frigging nutcase…or seriously ill…he did grab his potential buyer and bid a hasty retreat out of there before either of them caught my cooties.

Despite those 2 incidents, it was a happy occasion and Charlie was great comfort to me especially when my roommate had to return to Scotland for about a month and a half due to her illness. Charlie kept me company and for the first time as a rep abroad in a strange country, I finally felt like I was “home”. Saying goodbye to Charlie at the end of the season was VERY emotional, and my roommate and I made sure that he went to a good home. I still think about Charlie, and thanks to him, I will always remember my adventures in Ibiza. 068

 

Holiday Reps are humans too actually!! 

victims

R.I.P to the innocent, slain for just being human!

Considering what has transpired recently in Tunisia, I think it is only right for me to highlight the areas that guests do not see and definitely do not know about Holiday Reps.

Rep training is very basic – it teaches the principles of the company, the importance of customer service, the sales techniques, the do’s and don’ts of representing the company… and it touches very casually on the issues that could arise in resort – such as a death or a dispute.

At no point during the weeks training course does it cover terrorism threats, bomb threats, floods, gangs, mob violence, drunk and disorderlies, rapes, deaths (accidental or natural), delays, strikes, natural disasters – the list is endless and countless. I will be honest, on rep training I had no idea that anything bad could happen – and if it did, I naively thought that someone else would be handling whatever disaster would occur…WRONG!

Once that contract is signed, a rep is now the face of the company. They must wear that uniform with pride and they must take every form of battering, beating and abuse that is hurled at them about the company they represent. Reps are the ones who must paint a smile on their face knowing full well they are hated by the guests who have decided to go on holiday and moan about EVERYTHING! Each rep strides with confidence and exudes an air of authority (even though they are quivering in their shoes). They ARE the company – they must never for one second look frightened or shocked. Every incident is supposed to be a walk in the park, just another day in paradise…WRONG!

Yes, reps ARE the company…but they are human too. They too have emotions and they too can hurt and bruise easily. They too can be shocked, frightened…afraid. They too get tired, lonely and upset. Guess what – reps are superheroes! Each and every one of them – they must quell their own emotions, shut down their own feelings and don a mask that is professional, calm and reassuring. To you as the guest, they come across aloof and standoffish. They may even appear pompous and up their own arses – but guess what, they are scared shitless just as much as you are in a situation that is way beyond their control and the control of the company they represent.

Over the recent days I have read Facebook statuses from ex-reps who have mentioned being in resort during flash floods, terrorist bomb threats, island wide bus strikes, flight delays from 9/11, natural deaths etc. They have all shared a slice of their experiences in order to show the rest of the world (who have no idea what it is like to be in that position) what it is like to be responsible for the wellbeing of hundreds and thousands of VERY scared human beings.

I have also read various messages from holidaymakers ranting and raving about Thomson this, and Thomas Cook that. They have ranted about getting their money back and needing more information. Guests in the resort of Tunisia have responded by saying they can’t see any reps, and things like, “this is the worst service ever”. Family members of holidaymakers in Tunisia have cursed about the lack of communication, the slow response time, and how disgusted they are with all the travel companies for their complete lack of effort during a time like this.

I am appalled, disgusted and horrified at the people who have shown no remorse or concern for the team of reps, managers, hotel staff, cabin crew, ground crew, airport staff, bus drivers, taxi men, police personnel, hospital workers, random strangers – all working tirelessly to keep THOUSANDS of holiday makers calm, safe and secure. For one minute you haven’t thought that all those people are just as frightened, just as tired and just as shocked. You haven’t for one minute thought that those people would like nothing more than to go hide under their bed? Are you being serious when you are demanding answers from a team who can only work as fast as the information they are given? Do you honestly think holiday companies walk around with genies in bottles waiting for any sign of trouble? For God’s sake stop living in the ‘me,me,me’ bubble and look around! The issue in Tunisia has a knock on effect for every holiday maker whether in the UK or already scattered around Europe – planes have to be diverted, airports have to shift their ENTIRE flight plan, staff have to be called in, flights have to be cancelled, holiday makers in other resorts like Spain, Greece, Turkey etc, now have to be delayed in returning home so that their plane can be used.

It is not about YOU, it is not about ME…it is about the men, woman, children and ALL the staff involved in that incident, having to witness images of bodies shot in cold blood, strewn across the beach or lying lifeless in the lounge chairs. It’s the sounds of crying, screaming, wailing and moaning. It’s the weeping of a wife as she cradles the body of her husband covered in blood. It’s the child who will live the rest of his life having nightmares and being petrifiecebf58a4-24d9-45b7-975f-08c97507f652-620x372d of his own shadow. It is the mother laying face down in the pool of her own blood as her children search frantically for her amid the thousands of scared faces. It is the authorities who must carry away bodies with no identification – so that someone…anyone…can come and claim rightful ownership.

As you sit in front of the television and curse blue murder because Thomson won’t answer your call about the holiday you have booked for Turkey NEXT YEAR…stop being an arsehole and imagine how you would feel lying in a pool of your own family members blood screaming for help.

The only thing you should be cursing about is when will we, as a nation of human beings, put an end to the animalistic treatment of the innocent. When will we – as a thinking, awakened people – stop believing that religion is still the answer! Look at what ‘religion’ has caused!

Airport duty as a rep…it’s all about “tits and teeth”.

fuerte team

No amount of preparation ever prepares you for that first airport shift, that first coach transfer, or that first complaint. You are even surprised that an entire village/town that was shut for 6 months can miraculously reopen and be prepared for a deluge of pasty white holiday makers eager to see the sun and drink cocktails.

Regardless how many seasons you may work, it will still baffle you why the locals wait until the last minute to tidy up, open up and repair things. As you bring your first coach load of guests into resort you close your eyes and get prepared to make excuses for the mess – until you see that Miguel or Giannis has somehow waved a magic wand and the bar or restaurant or hotel lobby has been transformed into something majestic.

You spend your first 2 weeks trying to communicate with your hotelier by sign language because apparently he doesn’t speak English…until those first guests arrive and you realise that he speaks better English than you do!  All these things are what make a reps life a fascinating life…an envious life…a dream come true.

Life as a rep is about balance. With so many potential reps signing up every season, the turnover can be quite high as the demands of the job increase. But nothing gives you greater satisfaction that lying in the sunshine on a day off and looking out over the ocean and realising that this is your life. This is the life that people want to live every day.

However, once you have acknowledged that an airport shift is par for the course as a holiday rep, you soon fall into a steady routine. On departure days you pick up your flight manifest and check the time of your transfer, look for your pick up point and check the list of hotels that you will pick up on the way to the airport. As you look through the manifest you offer up a silent prayer that you are NOT picking up the miserable sods who spent their entire holiday complaining…because you knew that during your departure speech about csq’s there might be heckling or VERY loud murmuring about how useless you were, how awful their holiday was and how shit the company was….NOT GOOD!

Departures were often times where the most frustration occurred. Panic mode set in at least 5 days before guests were due to leave. They stalked the departure board in the rep area checking flight times and coach pick up times. They asked the same questions everyday they checked…

“Any flight delays?”

“Will the coach be on time?”

“Will we be picked up first?”

“Will there be a rep on the bus?”

“How will we know where to go?”

“What numbers are the check- in desks?”

Guests had this amazing ability to forget they had a rep on arrival, but upon departure they suddenly became needy and frightened. Nearing departure time even grown men had a look of adject terror in their eyes as they tried to act as if they knew what they were doing in front of their other halves.

While the guests turned into frenzied creatures, reps simply became very nonchalant and would often times would reply…

“You only just arrived…yesterday…go enjoy your holiday”

“I will call ahead to the pilot and see if there are any delays penciled into his calendar”

“No! Reps don’t go to the airport in this resort…we prefer to simply wave you goodbye”

“You will be picked up depending on how the driver feels…just be ready”

What would amaze me on departure days was the guests mode of dress. They were heading back to 2 degree weather, but here they were in tank tops, shorts and slippers. There was never any sign of a coat or boots…considering that’s how they arrived…dressed like eskimos!

Upon arrival at the airport it was imperative that you stand clear of the door, the baggage compartment … basically just move very far away from the bus and the guests. They somehow believed that if they didn’t make a mad dash inside the terminal (hitting over everything and everyone in their way) the plane would leave without them. On one occasion I saw a young couple trying to sprint to the check in desk when the trolley got jammed and sent the young man flying over the bags. I must admit I had to stifle a small laugh…before I ran to assist him. Thank God he was Ok, but he was angry as hell that he didn’t make it to the front of the queue. *sigh*.

Departures was either emotional or gratifying. It was emotional to say goodbye to guests who had become friends, but it was gratifying to say goodbye to the ones who had spent their entire holiday whinging and moaning.

Love it or hate it, airport departures was the last ditch attempt to secure high csq scores (if any at all). It was the last moment to make that final impression with your guests in the hope that you could get that end of month incentive. It was here that you patrolled that departure line like a policeman with a grin plastered to your face like a raving lunatic. Its here that you had to remain the most calm as guests howled they weren’t sat together on the plane and cursed you that their bags faced an overweight fee. Curses that overweight fee! In that moment you knew you could kiss that csq incentive goodbye. *face palm*.

If you were a newbie doing your first departure it was like torture. Guests asked questions about the duty free area that you knew nothing about! You had no clue what was on the other side…so you just made it up and made a mental note to ask a senior rep later…

“Oh yes! There are plenty of shops and a great food place”

“Yeah, just check the board for your boarding gate” (you hoped to hell there was one, and not just a Pablo shouting the boarding call)

As the last guest bids farewell and heads through those departure doors you wait with silent trepidation…you pray that you don’t hear those terrifying 4 words…”the flight is delayed!”

What…the…hell…happens…next?? This is the only thought you have. You hope and pray its not a ‘technical fault’ which cannot be fixed until they fly a technician in on the next flight…because that would only mean one thing…and one thing only…organizing overnight accommodation for over 200 guests at extremely short notice!

I can recall dealing with 2 overnight delays as a rep, and numerous longer-than-expected delays. I swear that I would take an overnighter any day of the week over having to go through to departures and face 200 pissed off guests! The one and only time I went behind those sacred doors I was faced with the angriest mob…I was encircled with no way of escape. They demanded compensation, they demanded food, medicine and answers!
Nothing will ever prepare you for a delay…but it is inevitable in at least one season abroad.

No two days in the life of a holiday rep will ever be the same. Its full of moments that either make or break you. But one thing is certain…those of us who hung up that clipboard and moved on, look back on those days with the fondest memories…and we wouldn’t have changed the experience for the world.

How to spot a holiday rep

You csuitcasesould always spot a holiday rep at the airport. They were usually pushing an overloaded trolley which had 2 grossly oversized suitcases, a brand new duvet, a small television and more often than not, a George Foreman grill perched precariously at the top of the pile. We took the term ‘creature comforts’ literally – especially if we were newbies. I can guarantee by the end of the season however, that TV was being used as a table, and the grill was probably holding up something that had fallen down…like the bed.  By the end of the season we realized that there was no need for half the things we brought – including the 20 pairs of shoes ‘just in case’. Every season that ended we vowed to NEVER carry so much stuff. Inevitably every season that started, our suitcases were heavier than before – and instead of 2 – they suddenly multiplied to 3 or 4. I don’t know about anyone else, but I envied the reps who were doing second seasons in the same place – why? They had left all their stuff behind knowing they would be back, and there they were, breezing through baggage claim with a cute little hold all. Curses my overloaded trolley and my blistered fingers!!

A newbie rep is fresh and green. Totally unaware of the perils that lie ahead. They are innocent and naïve, and they honestly have no idea that the moment they walk through the arrival doors looking all giddy and excited – their fate is sealed. No amount of training will ever prepare you for the doom that is ….. AIRPORT SHIFT!!!

A newbie rep turns up to their first airport shift looking all smart. They open the cellophane packets that have kept their uniform pristine and neat. Excitedly, each item is unfolded and put on in a sequence. The final piece to complete this fabulous look are the shoes – the oh so wonderful court shoes! Shoes on, ensemble complete, feeling great! Board the coach to the airport and the shift commences….

..… 12 hours later those same newbie reps look like they were steam rolled, bulldozed and then scraped up and thrown in the garbage. No amount of prep could have prepared them for the reality of an airport shift.

Every season we were instructed to wear a specific style and shape of shoe as part of our uniform. We were told the heel should be a specific height – and yes, the height and the style of that shoe does make you look more like Daisy Duck instead of Daisy Duke. But it’s the company policy for a reason. The reason is not quite clear until you have your first airport shift and you spend roughly 12 hours…standing! Those sexy spike heeled shoes or the ones with extra length in the heel ARE NOT SUITABLE SHOES!!! At the end of the shift feet would curse obscene language, refuse point blank to take another step. Blisters developed…and mutated into at least 3 more! If you dared to make the mistake of taking those shoes off for only a second – forget it! Those feet would fight to the death to go back in. As a more senior rep at the time (after having my first, and ONLY, shoe-catastrophe), I would see the glances from the newbies as they eyed my rather unstylish and hugely unflattering footwear. The joke was on them though, because I knew they would be begging for mercy in another couple hours – *cue evil laughter*.

Airport shifts were hit or miss… and most of the time it felt like sheer chaos and mayhem! Depending on the resort and the country, it would be more senior reps trying to coordinate buses, drivers, flights, delays, guests, reps…total mess! However, if you had the pleasure of working in Tenerife, you had fallen from hell into heavens playground! Tenerife airport was managed with precision. It was structured, orderly and efficient. Every shift – even if there were delays or long hours – was a pleasure to work. The airport was a nice comfortable size. It wasn’t horrendously humongous like Mallorca airport and it wasn’t a tiny tin can like Thessaloniki (Greece). It was an airport that was easy to get from point A to point B, and not feel like your feet were waving the white flag of defeat. Tenerife was by far the BEST airport to work in, and the team that operated there were amazing! The whole process was seamless. We turned up, we were assigned a specific area, once we were finished with that one, we were assigned another, and in short order the shift was over and it was time to head back to resort. And the BEST part about the Tenerife airport the year I worked – the company FINALLY decided that we came across looking too stuffy and unfriendly looking wearing our formal uniform – so they decided to trial the casual look at the airport. Trainers, polo shirts and cargo pants were the order of the day!  As you can imagine, that guinea pig project made airport shift the best experience of our lives that season! Instead of hobbling from point A to point B, there was much laughter and skipping gleefully in the sunshine.

Aaahhh yes…the sunshine. The sunshine that we go in search of. That wonderfully intense heat that could dehydrate a donkey and leave him dead on the edge of the road. That was how reps felt wearing the full formal uniform…like a dehydrating donkey. The summer heat was unbearable and the sweat that flowed was unstoppable. Can you imagine, we would have to endure that heat and then present at our welcome meetings and hope to god that the sweat stains on our shirt were not off- putting to our new guests. I remember many occasions when it was time to turn the flip chart, I didn’t! I knew if I raised my arm I would only be endangering my safety. The guests sitting there in their bikinis and shorts made us look like sweating pigs in a meat shop. As lovely as that glorious sunshine was, and as much as we craved its warmth compared to the bleakness of the UK, we knew our limits when we were scared of our own sweat.

With the heat of a blistering summer sun beating down on us as we stood in the coach park directing guests to the right buses, we could feel that first bead of sweat form on the brow and start a slow descent down the forehead. Once that first sweat bead was formed it acted like a signal blower to the sweat bead army, because within seconds the entire body goes damp. But that sweat bead army had an alternative agenda. They knew we could handle a little body odour, but they knew that we couldn’t handle one thing in particular…stink shoes!! Oh man!! Rep work shoes were to be handled with caution…preferably wearing a hasmat suit. No amount of spray, sunning, baking soda or stockings/socks could rid those shoes of the funk that emanated. I remember I had a pair that were so stink – I felt embarrassed talking to guests. The stench was so bad it was like a big old elephant was sitting there staring at us. Granted, the guests did bid hasty retreats mid conversation when that elephant decided it wasn’t moving…I guess the stink shoes did have its merits after all (SMILE).

Irrespective of the burning shoes, the sweltering heat and the stink feet – Airport duty was kinda fun. It was an escape from sitting in the hotel dealing with complaints or listening to some of the guests moaning about the breakfast and why the bacon and sausage weren’t English. It was also a chance to catch up with other reps based outside of the resort. Above all it was a chance to scope out the ‘fresh meat’, potential hotties, and suss out which guests were going to be big spenders, tight wads or whinging gits.

As I had mentioned before, most of the new arrivals were gormless and lost. They confused their name with the hotel they were staying in, and they thought their name was the airport they were coming from. They were confused little creatures in need of great assistance. Problem was, reps had a practical joke side – and instead of assisting the gormless lost fools – they would often send them on a wild goose chase looking for non-existent coaches.

As the new arrivals started to come through, it was ‘’tits and teeth’’ (chest out and BIG smile) time. We were poised and ready for action. With clipboards high in the air, loud voices boomed through the airport as eager holiday makers pushed and squeezed to get to the first rep they saw. They were like prisoners making a mad dash to freedom. It was there in the arrivals hall that outlined the rest of the week for the reps. It was the arrivals hall that determined whether or not the preceding week or two, were going to be shitty. It was here that the inevitable issues would begin – and if it started with lost luggage then forget it… simply be resigned to the fact that the rest of the week was going to be a total nightmare.

No matter which flight came through those doors, the questions were always the same…

“How far is it to my hotel?”

“Will we be dropped first?”

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I think this sums up guests and their incessant questions

“We are staying on a platinum package. That means we HAVE to be dropped second! Will you make sure we’re dropped off second?

“How long do we have to sit on the coach and wait on other guests?”

“Does the bus driver speak English? Does he know where I’m staying?”

“Does the coach have air conditioning? We need to sit at the front”

No matter the resort, no matter the country, no matter where in the UK the guests arrived from – they ALL thought the same, spoke the same and behaved the same.

The airport was where every season started and every season ended. It was an integral part of our lives, and if we weren’t in a hurry to escape a particular hellhole, then it was also the place where the most tears were shed as we said good bye to strangers who had evolved into our closest friends.

Repping in Benidorm felt like the pits of hell! 

Benidorm…sigh. What can I say really? First impressions?… I had clearly made the biggest mistake of my life by turning down Egypt for such a complete shit pit! It was a far cry from Costa del Sol or even the Canaries. My first thought was that karma was a bitch and the company was punishing me for turning up my nose at my original placement. Don’t get me wrong…Egypt is lovely, but at the time they were having a little issue and I really didn’t want my mother to get a call saying “there’s been a slight accident…”

Once again I was the lonely old rep heading to resort late. I was travelling on my own but this time I was better equipped to face the challenges. On this occasion I really didn’t want to talk to anyone on the plane…considering that when I looked around the metal tube I saw NO one under the age of 65. My next clue as to what to expect , was overhearing snippets of conversation flowing between couples…

“This is our 43rd time here. I hope Pablo has our usual room ready”

“The last time we came we went to that market…do you remember Bob? The one that had all those gypsys. Robbing little bastards they are”

“I wonder if there are any new trips? I hated Gibraltar. That bus made me feel sick”

“Do you think we will see Sandra again. She was a nice rep. I hope she’s there. Such a caring girl…not like the other one”

I slowly slipped my headphones on and sank deeper into my seat. Clearly this was NOT going to be the easiest or best season if this was what I was facing.

Now please understand that being in a plane with nearly 200 passengers over the age of 65, i was clearly going to stick out like a freakishly giant sore thumb. It was only a matter of time before the whispers started and I could hear …

“Aye, Barbara…do you think she’s a rep? Looks a little young don’t you think? I hope she’s not ours. I want to see our Tom again…I liked him. Such a good lad”

All I knew was that I just needed that captain to step on the gas before there was an all out lynching…because once they had sussed I was a rep for sure, there was going to be no escape. I would have to listen to every complaint, every issue. I would have to nod politely, smile graciously and try to evade as many personal questions as possible.

Don’t get me wrong…I loved the older guests! They all had fascinating stories to share, full of wonderful insight and often times were the only type of guest who gave nice little gifts and relieved themselves of all their toiletries, books and magazines when they were leaving. The older guests…most of them… were totally precious…but the other half were pompous know-it-alls who were a complete pain in the arse to be around.

I finally landed in Alicante unscathed…thank god. The drive into Benidorm was not pretty. The skyline was a far cry from what I was used to. It was a jungle of skyscrapers and huge concrete structures. I couldn’t even see the beach…I wasn’t even sure where it was or how far it was. I know I had said it before…but this was NOT what I had in mind. Where were the one story buildings with cobbled stone streets? Where were the little local tavernas with old local men sat outside? Where the hell was the sea? Where was the breeze? Where was I???? Somehow I  had landed in some kind of hell.

Arriving at night definitely did not prepare me for what I saw in the day. What I saw at night was actually pretty compared to the greyness that existed. Getting my bearings was difficult at first until I realised that the entire layout of the resort was a grid system. But it felt a lot like being in a small town than it did being in an actual tourist resort. I felt more like a business woman going to work each day, instead of like a ‘holiday’ representative. That being said…the initial impression was not great and I vowed I would do my time as a prisoner and make a hasty retreat as soon as the warden set me free.

During my first month I had a stint in a little office that we shared with our German counterparts. Our company had decided to trial a new concept. For all the hotels that barely had any of our guests in there, instead of wasting man power by having a rep in these hotels, these guests could make their way to this central office and speak to a rep or they could call . Office hours were the usual repping  hours (including the break for siesta). Let’s just say that this little concept did not sit well with a huge majority of guests. You see, as I mentioned before, guests are funny creatures. They need to have their hands held and they NEED to complain about something to someone. So imagine their disgust when they arrive (for the 43rd time) and realise that Sandra the rep is gone and they are left with no one! Instead they are left with a phone number and a long walk to an office! Catastrophe!

So not only had I arrived in visual hell, but I had arrived as the guinea pig for some crazy idea…and even though I had escaped unscathed from the plane…here I was now face to face with the same blasted passengers I had tried to hide from! This was NOT a good start.

Our German counterparts in that small office kept laughing at me and my colleague. Every day they would shake their heads and  ask us why British holidaymakers were so loud and why did they complain so much…what was I supposed to say? I would just shrug and answer the phone to yet another screaming guest.

The bosses soon after moved us from that position, and moved me to another side of the ‘town’. I was given control of 3 hotels. All in walking distance and all relatively small compared to the monstrosities that were around. I was now starting to settle into life somewhat…I never had a choice though…I had to remain longer than I thought! I was trapped in this prison for another 3 months…I intended to make it bearable.

The guests in my hotels were really nice…only downside (not really)…all the guests were returning guests which meant if there was nothing new to offer them then they were not coming to my welcome meeting ,and they refused point blank to buy any trip. As one guest said,

“I could probably teach you everything you need to know about this place. I’ve been coming here 50 years…”

Once I had established that I was off the hook with having to sell, I just turned up the notch on my customer service…because old people LOVE to fill out questionnaires! I was attentive, understanding, talkative and I was a listening ear. The oldies quite liked me actually *smile*.

On one occasion I got a call from the emergency hotline to tell me that my guest was in a terrible state. She had lost her husband and needed help finding him. Naturally I wasn’t the least bit panicked. Guests have a tendency to exaggerate (known fact). I was sure when she said “lost”, she really meant he was around the hotel exploring. Well…she was half right. He was “lost”. He had ended up in the hotel bar during the night and had fallen asleep. But after finding him there he had no recollection of where he was or who his wife was. His alzheimer had kicked in and he thought his wife was some sort of temptress. He kept telling her to go away and leave him alone. He kept shouting he needed to go back home to his wife. Oh boy! That was my first encounter with something like that and it was awful. It was frightening to see the sadness and confusion in his eyes. There was nothing I could do except be gentle and try to explain that he was with his wife and everything would be Ok. Needless to say, the following day she had to book an emergency flight home. The condition had deteriorated rapidly and she knew she couldn’t manage.

Of course the wonderful Benidorm was filled with the strangest people and even stranger situations. After a rather hectic arrival day I got a call from the airport rep telling me I should expect a guest and I was to keep an eye on him. Hmmmm…ominous I thought. Well, this guest turned up and on further inspection things were a little out of character. It was an elderly gentleman travelling on his own without any suitcase. His only bag was a black supermarket shopping bag. In it, he had the following – a comb, a brush, underpants (1) and his passport. I kid you not! He had been standing at the baggage carousel until all the bags were gone and the reps had to go get him. He had forgotten that he didn’t bring a bag. When they tried to question him he kept saying he needed to get away. As you can imagine his family was called immediately and he was admitted into hospital until they arrived. Its common knowledge that Benidorm has the highest incidents of natural deaths…it is where the geriatrics go to take their last breath. Luckily I didn’t have any incidents, but my colleague did. The guest called him up to the room because she needed help waking her husband. The man had died in his sleep while she was sleeping next to him. Poor woman!

Amid all the geriatrics, deaths, “robbing gypsys” and the slips and falls (old people are frail and break easily), we had an active social life. Benidorm is one of the cheesiest resorts I have ever worked. It caters to everyone and every mood. The nightlife is active and entertainment is on every corner. There are live sex shows, comedy shows, musical acts. There’s dancing and singing performances. There’s magic acts and there’s impersonators….and then there is the infamous Sticky Vicky. A visit to Benidorm is not complete without watching a grandma completely naked, pulling things out her hoohaa. That’s right folks…this lady can create electricity with her hoohaa when she inserts a light bulb! Good old Vicky!

I learnt  a few repping tricks in Benidorm…getting home early in the morning and the shift starts in a couple hours? Put on your uniform! That way you can jump out of bed (after you’ve pressed the snooze button on the alarm at least 10 times) and head to work without being (too) late. Want to go home early from the bar but all the reps won’t let you leave? Tell them you’re heading to the bar to get a round of drinks then sneak out through the crowd.

Benidorm was the one resort where there was no tension or rift between rival companies. Every rep knew they were in hell and we all couldn’t wait to get away. Some made their getaway quicker than others…via the backdoor…under the cover of darkness. Yup! Some reps just ran away in the middle of the night. No goodbyes, no warnings, no nothing. It takes some guts to do it…(he knows who he is)…but the urge to escape was too great, and could any of us blame them.

I had served my sentence well, and with dignity at the end of winter 2. I received my badge of merit and I was renounced of my past disservice. I was free to leave the highrised ,geriatric hell hole.

As I drove away in the bus – back to the airport – I stared out at the skyline and thought about the experience. I was glad it was over, but I had learnt to deal with far more issues than I ever thought possible. I had been pushed to my limit countless times. To me, I had  completed another level in the University of Life, and for that reason I would be forever thankful to the home of Sticky Vicky.

Backpacking vs being a Holiday Rep

tenerife view from apt

View from my apartment in Tenerife

I am truly overwhelmed by the amount of reach that my blog “what is a holiday rep and what does that mean” has made across the world. It has pretty much gone viral at this point – from the UK to Russia, from Mexico to South Africa – everyone is connecting with a simple post that has so much meaning to people spanned across the globe.

I know that I wrote about what would seem to be the darker side of repping – but it is important to highlight the lighter side. The lighter side of being a holiday rep and even a club rep, far outweighs the tedious complaints, sore feet and long days. It is filled with endless sunshine, romance and above all it is filled with total security.

There are hundreds and thousands of people (young and old) who crave adventure. Who yearn to throw in the towel and jet off into the sunset forgetting about everything they left behind, in search of a new life on faraway shores. But not everyone has the nerve to do it because the idea is daunting and even frightening. The thought of having no control, no idea what to expect and the deep rooted fear of leaving security for insecurity.

Anyone who has backpacked off the beaten, or not so beaten path, will attest to the fact that it involves a lot of research and prep. You have to pour over Lonely Planet guide books, trawl the internet and talk to as many people as possible to figure out the best and most suitable options. It takes time to plan, budget and create a rough itinerary of where to stay, how to get around, where to go and where NOT to go. Once in your desired destination you then have to consider work options depending on the time of year – be it olive picking in Italy, fruit picking in Australia, teaching English in Burma or maybe bartending in Spain.  There are those who simply don’t care – they pack their bag and turn up in a country and pray that they can last for even a few months without calling home to beg for funds to return. Whichever category you may fall in, the one thing is sure, nothing you do is totally secure.

…That is why millions of people across the world go on holiday! They crave that adventure but they want to ensure that their every move is planned and they can be guaranteed that whatever they do, they are safe and comfortable.

I have to thank the Travel Gods for having the hindsight to tap into a market of creating holiday packages that provide that sense of adventure for the more discerning traveler. These Travel Gods tapped into an unlimited supply of human beings who crave the freedom to explore and engage, knowing that they are protected by the very company they have put their trust in.

These same Travel Gods then realized that there were even more eager and willing young people (and more mature), who wanted to experience this limitless freedom on a more permanent basis – hence, the birth of Holiday Reps!

Working under an already established company, with footholds in almost every part of the world, means that the options are vast, the freedom of movement is inhibited and more importantly – every basic need is met. As a rep you are provided with flight tickets, accommodation (NO BILLS), food, transport, phone (depending on your position), uniform and a little stipend each month. After that is established, it is then up to the rep to work hard (make more money), prove their worth, and take care of everything they are given. There may be rules and regulations – don’t chew gum, no drinking or smoke in uniform, don’t steal company money (duh!), wear the uniform correctly, be at work at least 15mins before start…and the list goes on. But it’s nothing that would be deemed as difficult to adhere to. One thing though… with all the rules, there is one thing they do promote – WORK HARD, PLAY HARDER! …And that has to be the singularly most awesome mantra you could tell a rep…believe me when I say, you will never find anyone as sociable and more fun loving as a rep! We know how to dance until sunrise and go straight to work – the key was always to fall asleep fully dressed in uniform (especially if you were only going to get an hour ‘nap’ before the morning shift started).

Even though we danced til sunrise and drank crazy concoctions like ‘Red Sh*t’ (you know who you are), we did everything as a unit…irrespective of the different companies out there. I had friends from so-called ‘rival companies’ – but there really wasn’t any rivalry. You had the few who were snobbish, maybe a little off-handish I guess, but all in all, we were in this madness together regardless of the uniform we wore. We were a team – a team that was responsible for the well being, safety and security of thousands of holiday makers that arrived into our hotels every week.

Being a rep teaches you a lot about yourself – who you are, what your strengths are, how you truly handle situations you are in, what you want out of the experience and where you see yourself in the future. When placed under extreme stress there are some who totally cave, give up and go home. They realize that they can’t handle being away from home and the home comforts. Some turn from meek and mild and become the most outspoken and vivacious character to ever grace the planet. Some realise their potential to sell just about anything – whether ice to Eskimos or Bob Marley to Jamaicans. Some discover they are dive enthusiasts – and go on to get PADI certified and spend the rest of their days teaching scuba diving in the Mediterranean. Some even move up the ladder within the company and become managers and area managers. For me, I tried my hand at everything – from scuba diving to being a team leader. I learnt about power point and how to use it, the fine art of public speaking, how to write articulate and engaging pitches, how to manage my time effectively, how to train and motivate team members and how to do accounting. Most importantly, I learnt that I am ideally suited to customer facing roles and I am unafraid of any challenge.

My holiday company made it part of their philosophy that there should be team bonding sessions in the form of what we called ‘jollies’. We had mid-season ones. We had end of year ones and we had tons in between. Jollies had many forms, from fully inclusive boat cruises to see dolphins to evenings out watching fabulous shows. Whatever the form, it was a chance for every rep to catch up – because depending on the resort we were placed in, we could guarantee that reps would be located in every corner and crevice of that resort. This meant that when jollies were had, it was a chance to come together, gossip and rekindle the friendship that was established from the first week of training. It was during these jollies that I witnessed romance blossoming between reps. Let’s face it, we are away from home, we weren’t supposed to interact romantically with our guests (yeah right *wink wink*), and we were human after all! The end result was that romance was inevitable – some lasted and some didn’t. But I know first-hand a bunch of reps that are now happily married – and it’s those love stories that make you realise that the gateway to travelling (whichever avenue you decide to explore) can be filled with a few potholes and a number of stumbling blocks, but it sure can lead to that possibility of the ‘happily ever after’.

So if you are currently feeling stagnant, looking for an adventure, hoping to have life changing experiences – all the while feeling secure and comfortable – check out your local travel company and apply to be a holiday rep… I guarantee that it could be the BEST decision you ever made.

Don’t just take my word for it – check out this article I found – http://www.gapyear.com/articles/90421/work-as-a-holiday-rep

What is a ‘holiday rep’ and what does that mean?

holiday rep

Final goodbyes before taking them to the airport

There has always been some misconception with the term ‘holiday rep’ and the type of lifestyle they lead. Thanks to TV shows in the UK, such as ‘Club Reps’ – holiday reps were thought to be drunken disorderly reprobates who worked overseas fueling alcoholism and debauchery among the youths who vacationed in groups during the summer season.

When I first told my friends and family I was going to be a rep their initial reaction was a stifle of laughter and a look of concern. They asked if I was sure I thought it would be a good idea since they didn’t want to see me on TV. Naturally I was a little taken aback, which just proves that the media only highlights what they feel makes for good viewing. I knew from talking to a number of past reps that the job I had signed up for was a FAR cry from what was seen on TV. I knew I was not going to end up on a TV show caught in any compromising situation.

A Holiday Rep is rather boring by comparison to a 18-30’s Club Rep. The club reps are the lively, crazy social butterflies whose only task is to ensure that their guests have the most amazing week or two weeks of their life. The concept behind club reps was to try and separate the boisterous party loving youngsters from the families and older guests who were simply looking for something quieter and more relaxed. Being a club rep involves a LOT of partying, late nights, early mornings and lots of mishaps. To be a club rep it takes a certain kind of mentality and strength to keep nearly 100 young people entertained, yet safe. And as most of us are well aware, once alcohol is involved, then just about anything can happen.

A holiday rep on the other hand, is someone who is responsible for the well-being of everyone else that hasn’t booked a boisterous party filled week away. The holiday rep is the one who has to contend with moaning old people and miserable families who hate their hotel. The holiday rep is the one who has to deal with the most bizarre situations and complaints with a polite smile stuck to their face. The club rep, because they are dealing with only young people, can deal with them just as they would if it was their friends. So for a club rep, even if the days and nights merge into one, and life is a constant party, at least if problems do arise, they don’t have to grit their teeth and bear anything with a smile…they can say exactly what’s on their mind.

Despite having tons of perks, like free food and drink from various businesses that want to be recommended, outings on boats or shows to build team spirit, being treated like a VIP 100% of the time (depending on the country and the resort), a reps life can be tedious. The hours are long and irregular. There is no such thing as public holidays – every day is just one big work day with a day and a half off once a week. Depending on ones position and location in resort, they could be issued with the ‘emergency’ phone – which is on rotation each week. This phone is the bane of anyones’ existence. It is the one implement that will give you night terrors and cold sweats. I’ve convinced myself it is the reason I can’t sleep at night anymore, and why every time the phone rings, I jump out of my sleep as if I was being chased by a herd of wild rhinos.

The ‘emergency’ phone was meant for guests who had a problem in the middle of the night and needed emergency assistance…notice the word ‘emergency’. I wish guests had taken note of what that meant. The amount of phone calls I received which were utter nonsense was ridiculous. There was one night I got a call at about 3am. This couple had just arrived at their hotel (their flight was delayed), and they were not happy with their room, the location and the general look of the hotel. They wanted to be moved immediately! I calmly explained that nothing could have been done at that hour in the morning – the companys reservation centre was obviously closed, and all the hotel reservations departments were closed as well. They would have to wait until morning when the rep on duty would assist them with their issues. I assumed that was the end of that when I hung up. 30mins later the phone rang and I thought that it was going to be a long night if this kept happening. Turns out it was the same couple. I had spoken to the husband first, who was totally fine with my explanation and was quite happy with my response. However…this time it was the wife! She on the other hand, was not so understanding. The blood curdling scream which emitted from the phone was eye watering. The foul language interspersed with crying, screaming and coughing, was more than enough for one person to handle at 3.30am. I hung up the phone mid cough and turned it off until 6am. Wrong I know…I wasn’t supposed to turn it off…but that crazy bitch would have spent the next 3 hours of my precious sleep tormenting me with her devil scream. No thanks! I had put up with enough crap during the day…I needed my rest.

The days, weeks and months all flow into one as a rep. Yes, each day is different, but there is no such thing as a weekend or a holiday. Each day is the same – the only day recognized on any reps calendar is that singularly most precious day – the day off! I shouldn’t be so cruel – we all had siestas every afternoon. We followed the locals with that ritual – every afternoon from about 2pm to 5pm we got to have a little rest. Rest being the operative word – because if we had stuff to do at the office, or got stuck dealing with a complaint with a guest – we could kiss that siesta goodbye. Don’t even mention airport shift day – especially if we were pulling a double shift. By the time we got home late in the night, after being there from 8am, everywhere ached – included our throats, from talking so much.

Reps are hilarious creatures though. When it came time to select the preferred destinations for the next season, everyone looked at the flight plans for the various resorts. If we had a particularly bad summer with airport duty almost every day – or having to face late night flights and/or early morning flights – we definitely didn’t want to endure that again. So I would try to find a destination I liked, I wanted to work, but had the least amount of flight days… This leads me to my next topic…Presentation days.

The day following a flight arrival day is the most crucial day of any reps career. It’s the day that ‘fresh meat’ pass by to say hi. Eager, excitable holidaymakers who might not have been to that destination before, look forward to meeting the person who they will complain to, annoy with ridiculous queries, and ask probing questions  – and if they are feeling up to it, they may consider going on a few trips. Bright and early the morning after a flight arrival, the meeting room is prepared with welcome drinks and information packs highlighting the trips that are on offer are laid out. This is either the worst or best day of any reps life…and for me…it was the WORST! I HATED selling trips. I hated trying to convince people that they had to buy trips otherwise their holiday wouldn’t be the same. I just wasn’t a hard seller, or a persuasive seller. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all the trips on our itinerary and I would recommended all of them, but I just couldn’t force anyone if they told me point blank they weren’t interested. I always put myself in their shoes – and I knew that if I was on holiday I wouldn’t want to be harassed about going anywhere if I didn’t want to. I was definitely not considered a top selling rep – but when it came to a crisis, I was definitely up for dealing with the challenge – like the time the little girl ran straight through the glass patio doors (which had no identifying sticker on it). Yeah, that was a great start to their holiday, and a great start to my welcome meeting day.

There may have been downsides to the job; the long hours, the sore feet, incidents and accidents, just to name a couple – but as any rep would tell you – which job doesn’t? One thing for sure though, when we all got together as a team, we would regale each other with the most outrageous antics our guests had got up to, disturbing sights we had faced, and the most stupid questions that were ever directed at us. It was common knowledge that once a holiday maker closed the door to their house, they left every ounce of their brain tucked up in the kitchen cupboard until their return.

On separate occasions, in different countries, there were guests who complained that the holiday brochure lied – it didn’t mention there would be fish in the sea. In Rhodes (a Greek island), a couple accosted me in the dining room of the hotel and demanded to be moved immediately! Why? They had no idea it would have greek people staying in it. One day I was selling a trip in Tenerife (one of the Canary Islands) to go into the mountains to stargaze, and a lady asked me if the island had ever had a full moon. She was curious because she had been there (all of 2 days) she hadn’t seen one. There was a young family in Benidorm (Costa Blanca, on mainland Spain) who had hated the apartment they had stayed in, so right before they departed, they left a huge pile of sh*t in the microwave – yes, yes. You can imagine what happened after they set the microwave for 3mins…that microwave had to be thrown out and the apartment fumigated (for a few days).

It baffled all of us how half of these guests ever made it through the airport and boarded a plane. By the time the arrival doors opened and a sea of pasty white descended upon us, every single one had either the ‘gormless lost’ look, or the ‘haughty know-it-all’ look. Whichever one we were greeted with, the response was always the same:

“Where are you staying?”

“UK”

“Excuse me sir? We don’t have that hotel on our list. Can you repeat?”

“I just landed from the UK”

“No sir. Which hotel are you staying in?”

“Mr. Jones”

…And that was when we would look down at the fabulous little tag on their bag (god bless whoever came up with that lifesaving idea – utter genius)which had their name and the hotel they are staying in. I would sigh in indignation, shake your head and direct them to the coach waiting outside to take them to the resort – all the while hoping and praying they actually make it to the coach and didn’t get lost.

Every guest on holiday has to have their hand held, they have to be spoon fed information and common sense disappears. I am sure it remains at home tucked up beside the brain. There were a number of occasions that a guest would complain that they had their wallet stolen. On further probing, I found out that he had stopped to play a betting game on the side of the promenade…he had to guess which cup was hiding the ball. *Shakes head*. Why oh why oh why?? We tell these people at the start, in the middle and at the end of their holiday – “don’t do what you wouldn’t do at home. Stay away from the street side con artists”. What do they do – ignore every word that is said, get their wallet stolen and then make a formal complaint that the rep was rubbish, she didn’t tell them anything, she didn’t care…blah, blah, blah. As a rep, our skins had to be thick and our backs had to be broad.

Rep life was hard work, but it was full of memories and lots of laughter. The friendships that were cemented are eternal. There is something special about sharing a journey with a set of complete strangers, thrown together in the middle of total chaos. We united as a team, we drank as a team, we partied as a team, and as a team we were an unstoppable force.

reps

Our mid season outing – my DREAM team