Top Travel is a travel agency specialising in arranging itineraries for, and selling travel tickets to, the ‘independent traveller’.



Selection of Staff at Top Travel


Top Travel is a travel agency specialising in arranging itineraries for, and selling travel tickets to, the ‘independent traveller’. Many of the customers are students and young people embarking on round-the-world trips, but the agency also specialises in package holidays to ‘exotic’ locations, and selling long-haul flight tickets to leisure and business travellers. The business was set up in 1988 by Alex Katsouros, a Cypriot, who had moved to Birmingham when his wife took a post as teacher at a local university.


Using a small family nest-egg, Alex – who had some experience in the travel industry in his native Cyprus – opened a small store near the university campus. Initially, the agency sold train and coach tickets to students and was staffed by Alex and one or two part-time staff who were often, but not always, recruited by word of mouth from the local Cypriot community.


The business developed quickly and diversified, selling travel and accommodation to university staff travelling abroad and Alex subsequently landed a contract with the university to provide this service. With this security, Alex was able to invest in the business and opened new stores in Manchester and Leeds in the mid-1990s. Alex’s next stroke of genius was to tap into the market for long-haul independent travel. This was an expanding niche market with no specialist provider on the high street. Alex realised that his stores were well placed to tap into this market and in the early 2000s began to refocus his business around this activity. It was again a resounding success, and Top Travel opened six new stores, making a total of nine, each employing a manager and around 10 travel clerks.


The days of recruiting mainly from the expatriate community were long gone, and Top Travel now tended to draw on experienced travel clerks from a range of smaller local outlets and, occasionally, bright school-leavers who could be taken on as trainees.

Top Travel was a good payer and had a good reputation in the industry, so there was never a shortage of experienced applicants, but Alex was struck on his visits to the stores that the quality of people taken on was somewhat variable. Because he wished to develop his business strategy around face-to-face customer service this worried him, even though he was prepared make up some of the ground through an increased investment in the training and development of staff. As a result, he called in a firm of management consultants to examine the processes of selecting staff and to make some recommendations.


The consultants found that the selection process was fairly standard across all nine stores, although this seemed to be more by accident than design in that there were no company-wide guidelines. Alex himself did not get involved in selection, except in the case of the store managers, and was happy for the managers to take responsibility for recruiting and selecting staff in their own stores. There was still some word-of-mouth recruitment, but jobs tended to be advertised in the local paper and applicants invited to send in a CV. Store managers then shortlisted candidates for interview. 

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