This year Explore decided to invite a customer to join the judging panel of our prestigious Tour Leader Awards. This is where we recognise the very best in Explore Tour Leaders - the people who make the Explore experience what it is. A quick competition was held on our facebook page with one simple rule - 'tell us why you should come'. Sylvia Currie was not only the first to answer, but made the most convincing argument. There was only one problem - she lives in Inverness - and Explore HQ is at the opposite end of the country - in Hampshire! 'Are you sure you want to come all this way?' We asked her - and with what we now know to be her trademark boundless enthusiasm, she accepted!
Ever the intrepid Explorian, Sylvia documented her travels to Farnborough and what she found at the Explore offices...just get the hankies ready, we laughed so much when we read this, our eyes started watering!
TOUR LEADER AWARDS 2011: By Sylvia Currie
"Tour code: FFB Fabulous Farnborough with Basingstoke Extension....
Having chosen the 'land only' option I headed to Inverness airport, bright breezy and just a little nervous about the day ahead. My nerves were soon forgotten when a rather obnoxious git of a security guard told me my clear plastic bag was infact illegal!! Imagine me a criminal?!! I did try to explain that this was no ordinary plastic bag (good quality freebie from Clinique!!) and that in actual fact it had been on many EXPLORE adventures, through numerous airports including Inverness but it fell on deaf ears....."Its illegal and theres an end to it!" he said with a scowl....!!! I blame the Scottish Open, one weekend of monsoon rain, landslides and celebrity golfers and my lovely wee airport has turned into a security mecca of epic proportions.....Anyway I digress, where was I?!!
Bag still intact I arrive at London Gatwick, that weird land of foreign accents, fed up people and queues, queues and more queues!! Quick stop and Marks and Spencer's Simply food (genius to have this at airport!). Percy pigs are now as regular to me on my travels as perfume and lippy in tax free!!!!
The judging panel deep in deliberation
Board train to Farnborough via Clapham junction - what an experience...more foreign accents, screaming kids, rude uninterested rail staff and some very particular sights....Im in desperate need of tour leader.......just what am I looking at?!!!!! VERY tanned man with black and white pinstriped suit with scarlet red lining. He is carrying a brief case and City newspaper sounding very loud and important on his iPhone. Quick flick through my 'rough guide' tell me this is in fact a 'banker' .Strange little creature indeed. Then there was two - lets say -'older' women immaculately dressed with gucci sunglasses and posh shopping bags........are we near Essex?!!!!!!!!!!!
Arrive Farnborough and in desperate need of a coffee so have to fend for myself. Pathetic really as I only found a KFC or Sainsburys. Settle for Sainsburys, but I later discover this was a VERY dangerous choice as this is a cafe with a reputation - for exploding cappuccino makers!!! I was later introduced to an EXPLORE member of staff (Alex) who had been victim of this Farnborough disaster. A guy clearly suffering from 'post traumatic stress syndrome' as on mentioning it he took off hurrying - nae - running down the corridor to escape talk of it....or maybe it was just that I had overdone the tax free perfume spritzing at the airport......
So hard to choose between the excellent candidates
I arrive at head office to be met by the lovely Yvonne Ramsey (seniors ops manager) a fellow Scot who comes from same tiny wee part of Glasgow as me...so obviously a top bird!!! Then I say hello to Denise (ops manager) who I had the company of in Tuscany in May...great to see her again and so soon - who knew?!!!!!
Then it all starts to go sooo quickly, Emma (marketing and more importantly Facebook chum!!!) shows me around marketing, res and ops I also get to meet smiley Michelle who also looks after our wee Facebook pages. Two darling girls I might add :-)
The resounding thing I notice about the EXPLORE office and staff is that it's full of smiling, happy, young and good looking people (or maybe it was just seemed that way after two hours with Southern railways !!!!!) No seriously it did really come across that way. Its also good to know that they also look after their offices in a responsible and green way - in accordance with their ethos. The offices are over 3 floors and there's a 'no lift' policy. So stairs it is. And they are also participating in a 'walk to work day'. All good initiatives to be involved in (unless you live MILES from work!!!!!)
Time to meet the other judges. Ashley the MD (am I allowed to say hubba hubba!!!!!), Carolina (head of ops) who as well as being super chatty was super pregnant and I have to admit to having a few concerns about my lunch being interrupted! Polly - travel agent extraordinaire, Amar - travel journalist and finally the truly lovely Pam, who as well as being a EXPLORE customer is representing her fabulous mum Shirley Meacock in whose memory 'The Shirley Meacock Spirit of Explore' award is named after...
Left to right: Carolina, Pam, Sylvia
Lunch was a confusing affair. Just too many choices on the menu and so little time. Don't they know I'm the queen of dithering! So fish and chips it was. YUM!! Then back to the office where the hard and most important part of the day commenced. There are nearly 600 Tour Leaders and 250 were actually nominated so how a short list was even created is beyond me!!! By definition the top 12 are incredible Tour leaders or they wouldnt have made the list so it was our job to dig deeper and look for the extra above and beyond qualities - not easy!! But managed we did without too many dramas!!
The four candidates for the Shirley Meacock came next, again hard, hard, hard, most of the nominees have been working for EXPLORE for years and really all deserved but a winner we managed to find. Then as fast as it started it ended. Final goodbyes, smiles all round and a feeling I had just made some lovely new friends.
Met the lovely Richard for dinner and drinks. Fellow EXPLORE traveller who I met whilst on a trip to South East Asia, then we did the 'Indian Mexico' together and now 'FFB' too!!! Noodles were the order of the night, chopsticks and all. It was almost like being back in Asia....well almost....
One big fat thank you to EXPLORE for great adventures, meeting new life long friends, making me feel so welcome, and now the icing on the cake a day In Farnborough putting names to faces and seeing behind the scenes - making me even more of a fan! (super injunction may be the way forward for you guys :-) !)
p.s The mug, bag, notebook and pen weren't too shabby either.....:-)"
The Winners of the 2011 Explore Tour Leader Awards will be annouced in our Tour Leader Area as soon as all of the candidates have been notified. Stay posted!...