Christopher Newman is an independent travel agent at Torfaen-based Taking the Strain Travel.

The business provides a completely personal travel service for clients ranging from UK staycations, hotel stays, UK and European coach tours, European and worldwide city breaks, both river and sea cruises right through to bespoke holidays such as safari and beach combination breaks, activities and theatre tickets and a lot more.

Here Christopher talks about his business

• How did your business idea come about?

I have always had an interest in travel both with family and my wife and noticed an opportunity to become a home-based independent travel agent.

I took a good six months looking at options and finally started up in January 2020.

Taking the Strain Travel is and ABTA member under the Inteletravel UK Business.

After taking time around my existing part time work in Pontypool I have passed all regulatory exams and continue to learn on a weekly basis from suppliers, destination and brand training from all around the world. These are through a mix of online training and research to webinars and have also in the last year become a CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) member and achieved an ambassador level with them.

• What was it like starting a business during a global pandemic and what were the challenges you faced?

I am not going to lie about it, ut has been a struggle especially with the ever changing rules and regulations with regards to travel. As an independent travel agent, you need to be all over the changes.

As well as being able to help clients out that are understandably cautious about either booking or about upcoming travel arrangements.

The part that I love is the customer service that I can provide coming from a customer service background.

To be able to help organise someone’s travel arrangements and to see the feedback when they have had a great time really does make the time and effort that goes into the role worth it.

On the other hand, I also enjoy dealing with any issues that a client may have which through the last 12 months has been extremely interesting.

The thing about booking through an independent travel agent is that they will be doing all the groundwork for you so if something has to be changed or amended, they will be the ones liaising with the partners or suppliers to work with them not the client or customer sending multiple emails or spending hours on the phone trying to get through. It is a personal touch that they have one contact from start to finish no matter if the process is smooth or if things change along the way.

• How did you hear about the Foundational Economy Project?

I was lucky to see a post that went out via the Torfaen Facebook page that gave a little information about the project.

• What kind of help and support did you receive?

After a few emails back and forth with Alyson and arranging a meeting the support that I received, first to look at what I was trying to achieve, how I was going to do this and what opportunities and ways I could go about it.

The grant that was received was able to be used to be listed on the local Uddr app to help with Taking the Strain Travel's reach to be able to be found via the app and with the option of direct contact from potential customer. I was also able to use a local Torfaen business to be able to produce some business cards and other marketing material.

• What was the most valuable piece of advice given to you?

The most valuable piece of advice that I received was to build my network and work with local businesses to help support each other. I think that this is something that is often overlooked and something that I will be continuing to do so going forward.

• How has the project helped you?

It has helped me by connecting with other businesses within the Torfaen area and been able to support Taking the Strain Travel to reach potential customers that it would be hard for us to reach without the support.