Octogenarian Sue has no plans to retire after more than half a century in travel

Octogenarian agent not retiring
By Linsey McNeill
Home » Octogenarian Sue has no plans to retire after more than half a century in travel

Your Holiday Booking travel agent Sue Sexton has just returned from a Regent Seven Seas cruise on Grandeur, she’s got a golfing trip booked in June and a river cruise in July, then she’s off to Annecy in France, she’ll go to Florida for a month in December and South Africa early next year. 

Oh yes, and on Sunday she celebrates her 80th birthday!

Even so, she says she has no plans to give up work. Last week, she took £27,000 of bookings in just two days and she intends to take many, many more.

Sue started working in travel 54 years ago and signed up to Instant Holidays as a homeworker in 1997, after taking early retirement from her job with a corporate agency.

It was long before the modern trend towards homeworking, when, as she says, old-school Teletext and fax machines ‘spewed out offers all night long’.

“In those days, you used to ring Kuoni on 2 January when the new brochures came out and sit on the phone for hours to get the through, and sometimes you’d miss out because you couldn’t get the confirmation on time,” said Sue, adding with a chuckle: ”Kuoni was the worst!”

Seven years after joining Instant Holidays she was named Homeworker of the Year, and the following year she was voted Best Homeworker Overall – at the age of 60. “I thought, I cannot retire now, I will just do another 5 years. Then 70 arrived, I thought, I will just do another five years. I blinked and, low and behold, another five years has flown by. So now I think I will just do one more five-year-stint!”

Sue has embraced the changes in travel over the past half a decade, including new technology. “Mr Google is everything! I’ve just used it to find out what the weather is like in Borneo in March for a complex trip I’m planning for clients to Asia,” she said.

“But the sad thing with the internet is that people can look for their own holidays online, everybody thinks they’re a travel agent now, but I’m lucky, my clients contact me to book not look.”

However, Sue admits she doesn’t use social media in her business, adding: “I don’t know how. They keep telling me I should learn how to do Facebook and Instagram, but do I need that extra business at my age? No. I have never advertised, it’s all word of mouth.”

When asked what the other challenges are of working well beyond the normal retirement age, Sue sounds genuinely bewildered. “There aren’t any,” she insists. “Age doesn’t come into it, I cannot not work, what else would I do? I play golf but I can’t play 24/7, and working keeps you young, keeps your brain active, working out itineraries, getting the figures right, it’s good for you.”

Long-since retired hubby and fellow golfer Stan is equally happy for Sue to keep on working, and accompanies her on her trips, along with several friends. In the image above, on the left, they’re pictured sailing out of Miami last month; the photo on the right was taken in Florida last Christmas.

Sue likes to spend a month every year in Florida, and travels to South Africa for four to six weeks at a time, continuing to work while she’s there. “I’ve been 17 times so far, it’s great because people can reach me if they want me, there’s hardly any time difference.

Sue says that long-haul travel still doesn’t faze her, but admits that she ‘always turns left’. “I wouldn’t fly economy on a long flight,” she says. “In the old days, before the Gulf war, we used to get given business and first class tickets, we used to throw away tickets because we couldn’t use them all, then, after the Gulf war everything changed. But I can afford to pay for the luxury, I’ve never had children, so I have money to spend on myself.”

After so long in the travel business, Sue has built a database of loyal, wealthy clients, who spend an average of £15,000 to £20,000 per booking. Clearly frustrated by the tendency of some other agents to discount, she says that’s not her style, and it’s never lost her a booking.

“People think they have to offer a discount before they’ve even told the customer the price, people are selling cruises for 3% now, but I don’t discount, my customers know that instead I am always going to find them the best price.

“My customers know this and they’ve stayed loyal.” she says, adding that she’s retained some ever since she started as a homeworker. However, they’d probably be surprised to find out her age.

“None of my clients know a thing about me and that’s the way I like it, I don’t want them to know how old I am,” she says. “I told a client I had a big birthday coming up and she thought I was 60!”

After a birthday party at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne on Sunday, Sue plans to celebrate with a bunch of 12 YHB colleagues, who she’s been friends with for over 20 years. They’ve rented a house in the Surrey Hills with an indoor pool for a long-weekend. 

Many happy returns, Sue!

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