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Independent Design Ltd (also T/As Pure Image)

Contact: Glenn Henderson
Address: 29 Hillrise Avenue, Sompting, Lancing, West Sussex, BN15 0LX
T: 01903 610078 | M: 0778 999 0268
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We offer fully comprehensive photographic service  Commercial photos for your business catalogue's, web sites and advertising campaigns , family portraits,…

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What you don’t know can’t hurt you right?....Wrong…

With the rise of hotel websites and booking online, the ‘miracle’ of the web knows no bounds right? Let me tell you an interesting story…

A few moons back I was asked to go out on a trip to another country to help our Contractor with getting new hotels on board for our programme. Quite excited, as it was going to be another string to my bow and with only office based business experience behind me, my expectations where quite high.

And the contractor, a very forth right northerner soon quashed any delusions I may have. “it’s going to be hard work” she said on the plane over, “We’ll be seeing around 5-10 hotels a day” And that was pretty much it for the trip, very few laughs and little time to even recollect which hotel I’d been round, save for our entry into the country, which resulted in her luggage case being turned out and her very seriously telling the immigration guy doing it, that he “Only wants to see my knickers”. This gave me a valuable insight into her approach and the confidence she had in herself. 

On our first night we met up with our chaperone and after a few drinks at the hotel bar, we all agreed to meet up for breakfast. At 8 am the next day, I found myself eating croissants and jam, with a pot of coffee to the side, surrounded by birds coming down to the table in the restaurant.

Now, this hotel had not been contracted for the UK market, despite appearing available to book on the hotel websites at the time and as it was, we were having a proper look round in the morning to see if it was one we wished to use for our holiday brochures and website. 

Being a bit green to it all at the time, but suited and booted, we met the director of the hotel and he was surprised that we hadn’t called ahead. However he politely sat us down, as we were the largest tour operator coming into this country at the time, and pound signs had appeared in his eyes! (We’d also agreed to put five flights a week into the local airport – unheard of!).

Over the usual orange juice and grenadine, a staple hospitality drink the world over, we discussed rates with him – me only being used as a foil to help her get the cheapest rates possible with her occasionally referring to me with questions like “Do you think this matches your customer profile”? And I giving the nods and shakes of the heads in all the right places.

After about 10 minutes, she asked the director if we could inspect the kitchens and we were politely told yes, however “please another drink” We agreed readily as it was hot however after the drinks arrived, she suddenly stood up and said, “Right, let’s see the kitchens” to which even I sat there slightly embarrassed by the energy with which she said it!

With directors and managers being cast asunder, the contractor powered off into the kitchens, with all of us following in her wake (me like a smartly dressed Oliver Twist). Bursting through the doors, she kept going, as all around us men in white hats and kitchen porters where furiously scrubbing every inch of the kitchen, the noise a cacophony of pots and pans clashing together and almost every one of them with a scouring pad, furiously scrubbing every inch. 

It became quite clear to me this was a tactic she had used before, and why we hadn’t been obvious in our arrival, as a white glove was produced and like a Navy Wren and she placed her hands in all the places that had not been cleaned, finding them immediately. The dirt obvious on the white glove that soon found its way into the bins.

It was truly an eye opener as this hotel, an extremely well known worldwide brand appeared all marble floors and wicker chairs. It gave an outward image of the calm colonialism style that many crave. But, it was anything but, behind the doors that said ‘staff only’ in several different languages.

It was pointed out that ‘if’ we were to use the hotel the birds be removed from the indoor restaurant, something I had taken to be some quaint local thing, however they were according to the contractor, “harbingers of doom, who only spread disease”…(Point taken by me!) and that standards had to improve in cleanliness and quality. 

About an hour later, after the friendly goodbyes and promises to catch up by email, the first stomach cramps started…knife-like shooting pains and the inevitable rush to the loo. I can truly say that visiting three major cities and two large holiday resorts and some 30 hotels later…I wanted to die. Even a polite glass of wine with local suppliers (after it being insisted that I should have one) dropped into my stomach like cold water hitting hot oil. I had been in this massive country for 5 days and can honestly say that I have never felt so ill.

Which kind of leads on to my title of this piece…

What I did learn was the following; Tour Operators take themselves very seriously when it comes to our safety, Balconies are measured, both for height and bar width (children squeezing through). Door handles must be made of non-heat conducting materials in case of fire…Imagine, you don’t want to touch an aluminium door handle in the event of a fire.  Health and hygiene are taken very seriously and are paramount when a tour operator decides to offer a hotel to the general public.

The list goes on and on, even the amount of steps around the hotel are counted. An unbelievable amount of work. And Me? Well, I learned the importance of making a proper assessment of where to send people on holiday, because I was still ill from a stomach complaint 3 months after I got back. 

My only thoughts now, when I hear about people booking on the web and that it was ‘so easy’ to purchase unsolicited hotels and excursions, it just makes me wonder further if they would purchase a car off the web or indeed something that should have an element of tried and tested.

As business people, we won’t spend our company’s money easily until we have absolute proof of a products reliability and that trust has been built, so why book our holidays so easily and in such a carefree manner?

To most of us these are the two most important weeks of the year, yet people book on the web at the toss of a coin.

And as if to read your mind, (Cause that’s another power us travel agents have!). “What about Trip Advisor?” I hear you all cry… That’s another blog for another story and soon I’ll definitely take you through some of the pitfalls of trusting other holiday maker’s opinions on this website.

After-all, just because you like wine and can type, it doesn’t make you a master wine maker.

The Secret Travel Agent….Only booking tried and trusted hotels… (With a safety check too!)

Anytime Anyplace Anywhere

01273 978321

Beware the celebrity endorsement..not all is as it seems!

Fascinating isn’t it?

Even I, a battle weary 40 something can get wrapped up in this cult that has been growing over the past few years, whether its celeb big brother and seeing how z listers get on with A-listers all in one house or seeing some other big breasted woman casually walking along some beach that we’ve never heard of and feeling just that tiny weeny bit jealous that it’s not me. (Not the boobed bit..but you get the picture)

Seems today, anyone can be a celebrity and Andy Warhol was so right in his comments about 15 minutes of fame, it’s just that with a few exceptions our current celebs don’t seem to fade off into the realms of anonymity. They appear to only get more and more exposure as the more cynical of us wait for the bubbles to burst on the front of the tabloids. (Is there more than 15 minutes of fame these days?....)

Now we have people famous for nothing in particular apart from being quite obviously thick (yet still we celebrate them??!?!?). Not only that, but the thickest even get their pictures taken with a potential Prime-minster. At least Blair invited Noel Gallagher to Downing Street and yet these days we have Jimmidy Mcthicket posing for selfies with politicians who think it’s all so groovy!

Most of this has been down to the ‘celebrity’ endorsements on twitter, TV and social media. Need an example? Just how does a twenty something afford a £100,000 Range Rover? And more pertinently, how the heck can they afford so many holidays?

The answer lies at the rise of the reality soaps and twitter and the power of the ‘Twitter Mention’ and gets us doing nothing else but worshipping other people’s lives that contribute nothing to our daily schedules but end up with people neglecting their own.

The truth is that most of these endorsements are free and the media leads us to believe the hype around the shows they appear on, thinking that by the magic of TV contracts they must be able to afford them..NOT!

Over the years working in this industry, I’ve come across many things that quite rightly would make you very angry indeed and the sheer belligerence of these celebs is quite astounding. How about the celeb that rang up a colleague of mine and asked for a free holiday?...and upon being asked what the travel agent would get out of it – (Brand awareness or perhaps a mention on twitter?) , was told, nothing I just need a holiday!

Yes! they actually call us up and ask for free stuff,... Yes…PERSONALLY…. thinking that their sheer belief in their own PR (Full on arrogance) it will mean that we all came up on the slow boat and that we’ll fall over ourselves to help them self-promote at the cost of a £4,000 holiday.

Open up the pages of any mid shelf type magazine aimed at women in general and you can bet your bottom dollar that the couple sitting on the beach were given a freebie. And guess what - you’re next holiday has the costs of sending them away all nicely tucked into your final price and there’s nothing you can do about it (apparently it’s called marketing).

I went out to a destination last year that all these reality celebs had been photographed at and can tell you I was distinctly underwhelmed, however open any magazine or tabloid and you’d think this place was the new Mauritius…Not so, but guess where everyone wants to go……and my omission of this destinations name, tells you that no, I really don’t want any of you to go there, because its dire.

However, it’s not just z listers that are free loaders, the TV companies are just as bad, if not worse. You don’t think that the image of two cheeky presenters, loved by the nation are actually giving away holidays that they and the production company paid for out of their own pocket…Oh no.

These companies have full time (usually) unpaid researchers whose job it is to call round people like me and ask for free stuff, free holidays, free cars and all the rest. Yet as consumers, hypnotised by celebrity, we’d rather believe that it was all down to the ‘magic of media’ with the cheeky presenter giving it away all in the name of entertainment and out of the kindness of their own hearts.

I was personally led a merry dance by a production company that promised the earth and delivered nothing – “Yep, you’ll get top billing”, “yep, we really want the product” and “yep its literally a done deal” and yet, when it came to sealing the deal my phone calls went unanswered and a very embarrassed me had to report to my staff that No, we would not be appearing on prime time (as big as it can get) national TV, with not even an apology forthcoming from the production team. The next time they called, I wasn’t so helpful.

Yet still we want to believe. And this follows on to a point I found out in Sharm El Sheik when my hotel was descended on by gorgeous young couples. I don’t recall seeing any of the ladies dip their hair under the water for fear of spoiling their make-up and hair…just like the z listers they wished to emulate and that was until one drank too much and threw up in the pool of course, in which case not even the pool boy could get in the pool for 48 hours.

So, as they say ‘all that glitters is not gold’, indeed far from it. The conclusion should be that you the general public pay for your holidays, most of the ‘celebs’ you see in the magazines don’t. The next time you see a celeb in your holiday resort, or getting married on some beach somewhere, don’t go wow, don’t get a selfie with them (further endorsing their false sense of celebness)…sit there safe in the knowledge that you worked hard and paid for your holiday, they did not.

As of today, I am announcing that the current cult of celebrity free endorsements is dead, you the consumers are far to savvy these days to swallow it all and you want different holidays that reflect your personality.

And because the media has failed to predict what comes next and it doesn’t reflect their business plan, I will make that pronouncement.

Real celebrities, real genuine Rockstars and people famous for contributing to society and those who are not just on the ‘take’ are photographed through massive telephoto lenses, not close up rolling in the surf with a gold bikini on!

Finally…In the words of Dani from Withnail and I (The Secret Travel Agents favourite film) and in reference to the demise of the sixties - “They’re selling hippie wigs in Woolworth’s, man”. Which means that those celeb endorsed holidays, are so, so, sooooo last year.

Soon I’ll tell you about a real celebrity, a sixties rock star that was an absolute joy…and yes, he paid for his holiday and we didn’t know he was turning up!, but until next time..Happy celeb free holidays!

The Secret Travel Agent.
Anytime Anyplace Anywhere
01273 978321

Blowing the lid on what really goes on in the Travel Industry….

More inside info from The Secret Travel Agent…..

Yes, this story is completely and utterly true!

Funny isn’t it that so often these days we are all only programmed by the different media channels that we choose to watch and read….specifically in focus at the moment is obviously the UK elections and those of you watching will have seen the difference in the polls and the reporting through several different channels….One person is ahead, then another is and so on…with in my view one of the poorest performers coming out on top. I think I know who I’d vote for….but then again…am I getting the truth?

Its through these mediums that you don’t always either get the truth or indeed decide to omit it, when the focus on something else is much easier to report.

Which brings me on to an interesting point, the media spends a great deal of time reporting on men travelling abroad for sex tourism and seems to ‘omit’ that woman do too.

In my time working a for medium sized tour operator you’d be surprised to know that as far as ‘legal’ sex tourism goes (not the abhorrent darker side) women were far the bigger travellers abroad than men. Now admittedly the destinations featured at the time, were more in the range of North Africa and a few other African countries and its was these places that proved incredibly popular with single white females.

Now at this point, I should add that the demographics of these women were not all young, naïve wall flowers just out of school. These were robust mature ladies, probably empowered by a recent divorce or indeed unmarried professionals and one story has really stuck in my mind over the years.

My Friend, let’s call her Agneta, a straight talking Scandinavian had been working as a Resort rep for my old place of work in this small African country for years, having married an Englishman, our tennis rep. During this time she’d also pretty much made this destination her home. I had travelled out to see her on my own holiday and we had a cracking time meeting up.

After dinner one evening, enjoying a warm balmy night and a brandy or two (why is it that these spirits always taste better on holiday?) She recounted the tale of one of these older more mature guests.

It started with just casual conversation, but speaking to a holiday rep is a little like pumping an off duty policeman for stories, you just know they’re going to have some amazing ones to tell and this is pretty much word for word what she told me.

“I’d had a busy day and it was time to get to the airport and meet the new guests, I had a flight arriving in from Manchester. We tend to stand at the arrivals hall, wishing bad looking guests on each other, as a call in the middle of the night from the local police is not a welcome alarm clock. One woman caught my eye and I could tell that she was a little drunk from the flight, but full of confidence”.

“Yep, she was my guest and I ticked off my list, put her wobbliness down to over enthusiasm and thought no more about her. The next day I did the welcome meeting and after presenting all the excursions, and afterword’s I approached the woman to check that she was happy with everything. “Yes” she exclaimed, I’m really happy and I pretty much left it at that”.

“A day or so later, on the Wednesday I think, I popped along to the hotel and made sure all the guests were enjoying themselves. At which point the hotel manager came to me and expressed his concerns about the woman. (believe it or not but the gossip that goes round a hotel is astonishing - its their place or work, no different to any other work place in the world). The woman was booked in on bed and breakfast, but appeared to be not eating during the evenings”.

“Concerned, I went to the woman’s room and waited patiently for her to answer the door. The door opened and the woman appeared ok, but admitted that she had not been eating and that some of the waiters had been bringing her bread and water”.

“On questioning the woman and concerned for her welfare, she admitted that indeed she’d booked bed and breakfast because that’s the only holiday she could afford” (note: Great work whichever travel agent did this! - The Secret Travel Agent)

“I then decided to probe a bit further on how much money she had brought with her, hoping to make a special arrangement with he hotel manager. At this point the woman exclaimed she had only 50 pence and appeared quite happy with the situation. So arrangements made with the Hotel Manager, food was provided, ensuring the woman was looked after. A tour operator does have a certain responsibilities to the guests”.

The following day, I went along to check that everything that was agreed was being done and again popping up to her room I was let in and she was all dressed up as if going to a party. ” Are you going out for a walk! I asked?, “No” she exclaimed, “I’m going souvenir shopping”

“But how” I asked, “you only have 50p?”...“That’s alright” she said, “I know how these locals work, how else did you think I was getting bread and water?”

“A bit befuddled by it all, as us Scandinavians are quite a straight laced breed I stood there trying to make sense of what she was saying”. So, again I asked her “But you only have 50p?”

“Don’t worry about that, I’m going down to the Bazaar and if I see anything I like, I’ll just take the bloke out the back of his shop give him a happy ending and I’ll get what I want” Shocked to say the least, I backed out of the room and pretty much decided that this woman was more than capable of looking after herself and I admit, I pretty much washed my hands of her”.

“Needless to say, when I came by to pick the woman up for her transfer back to the hotel, she was nowhere to be found. Anyhow the flight departed without her and I informed the local police to keep an eye out for her and heard nothing much more”.

Bear in mind here, we’d had no contact from her family in the UK during this period either, despite following it up..a lot!

“Six weeks later, the head of the local police popped by to say hi and let us know what had happened. The woman was indeed alive and very well indeed, having spent the last six weeks (she’d only come out for 7 nights!) staying between local traders and repaying her bed and board with.. favours..sexual ones!”

So, the moral of the story…..Men and Woman are all quite the same and the way things are reported are not always as they appear!

And even if you have the smallest budget…you can still have fun!

The Secret Travel Agent.

Anytime Anyplace Anywhere.
01273 978321

Why has arranging your holiday lost all its sexiness?

What happened…when did travel become so boring? Why did it suddenly become so run of the mill? Going to book a holiday these days is so bland that we’re not surprised that the EU system of the same sized Banana’s and Apples seems to be casting a shadow over this once glamorous industry!

Holidays on the web are lined up like choices on the shelves at the major supermarkets, which are not doing too well at the moment (just in case you’d missed this).

It wasn’t always like this though, there were days when I remember telling of journeys abroad, travelling through the desert in a clapped out minibus and a crazy driver. And it was these experiences which made my stories the stuff of legends…Has the rise of low cost airlines put paid to all that excitement and got rid of all those mind pictures created in the persons head your telling them too?

Actually, it all comes to down to our mind-set as consumers, as these days its all about ease of booking, easy to use websites and easy(jet) and Bryanair. We’ve lost that part of the thrill of booking the summer holiday and with the advent of all this technology, yep, the fun has gone out of it some what. I remember sage words from my dad when he was alive….“Patience…part of the fun is getting there” and in my youth I’ll be the first to admit that my response was…“yep dad, but it should be easier”.

However, the point my dear dad was making is that it shouldn’t be easy, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve overheard people talking about going to Marrakech (A truly remarkable place) only to see that it was presented by the speaker as being..“Yeah booked it, went, came back” as if it was like going out to do the weekly shop.

It didn’t mean anything and with not even a flicker of acknowledgment on the listeners behalf….I find this sad.

However, when you think about it, it’s vital to keep that adage of knowing that going on a journey be it, looking for a holiday or travelling physically to a destination should be fun. We should all have to overcome at least a few pitfalls to get the exact thing we want. Otherwise we stop exposing ourselves to the other many times have we dismissed a destination because the travel website was designed to make YOU buy quickly and stop YOU from finding out what the other possibilities are?...

Don’t be fooled, there are millions spent in this industry and thousands employed to make you book the first holiday you see, because that’s all they want you to. That’s the psychology…and its wrong.

Yep..the web is great for buying a one off purchase but it does stop us growing due to it being too simple, too easy to buy and with a hell of a lot of psychology from web designers to make you settle for something that really, if we are honest with each other, keeps our horizons actually quite narrow and our expectations low…“Ah well, it was terrible holiday, good job it was easy to book and cheap to buy” Arrgggh!

I’ve lost count of the things that were too easy to get and never picked up or gave a second thought to ever again. But the things I had to take time over, the things I had to plan and work at, I cherish.

I don’t know about you, but when I book a holiday or enter an airport, I want to feel like Leo Dicaprio in “Catch me if you can”...I want some sexiness back, I want that shudder of excitement you get on the way to checkin and most of all I want to REALLY tell some great and funny stories about my trip away…The sights, the sounds and the smells and not just have it all dismissed because others with narrow horizons booking basic holidays on the web just don’t quite grasp what they should be getting.

Booking a holiday should be a journey. It should have some ups and downs.. yes, right from making that first phone call, right from the point you decide that that’s what you are going to do. There should be an element of will we pull it off and succeed?

Starting to plan your holiday IS to go on holiday and this means your trip away doesn’t just last one or two weeks…It started 7-8 weeks previously.

So lastly, thanks for reading and I hope it helped make your commute home that bit more thought provoking about how you’ll be planning your next HOLIDAY.

The Secret Travel Agent

...and Happily, if you want me to organise you a holiday, that’s exciting, with some great stories to tell…Catch me if you can and if not? Then there’s always Bryanair.

You can contact me directly through the first Friday network meetings or just send us a message about what you would like for you holiday.

If you’d like to take me through it verbally with a personal consultation, you can call me on 01273 978321 and email me at