“My clients are my friends and my friends are my clients.”
This is the mantra by which Kenilworth Travel owner, Harold Cox, has lived for 30 years, and in an industry which has witnessed as much change as any, it has stood him in good stead.
On Friday July 1, Kenilworth Travel celebrated three decades at its Mains Avenue premises. Like several other long-standing businesses in the area, it has come to represent the charming quaintness of Kenilworth Village – a fact that is not lost on Mr Cox’s loyal clients.
“I would say I have about 500 repeat clients on my books. In the case of one of my clients, I knew her mother 30 years ago and now she has just booked a trip to Lisbon,” Mr Cox said.
To this day, he keeps what he describes as “profile cards” on each client. “Because I know them, they can basically call me up or email me to say they’ve got to do this or that and I can just do it.”
However, he also acknowledged that a lot had changed in the industry, particularly in respect of the type of trip sought by clients and how this was processed.
“When we opened in July 1986, there were no emails. Everything was written down in black and white on a paper ticket. If you lost that ticket, there was trouble. Nowadays you have electronic tickets, so even if you lose the hard copy there is no problem. Something else that has changed is that in the beginning I booked a lot of corporate trips, but now it’s mostly leisure travel.
“I would say about half of my revenue comes from cruise holidays. They have become very popular. I think that’s because a lot of people, as they become older, are told by their doctors that they shouldn’t fly anymore. Many people also like the idea that they only need to pack once and then go from port to port island-hopping.”
Mr Cox was bitten by the travel bug at the tender age of 19, when, like so many other young South Africans, he decided to visit London.
“I went there with a hundred pounds in my pocket, and started working as a passenger handler for British European Airlines. It was mainly shift work, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did that for about four or five years before coming back home to Pretoria.
“My first 13 years in the business were actually in the airlines. However, in February 1986 I was persuaded to go on a cruise to Rio de Janeiro and come back on the QE2. That was when I decided that I wanted to run my own travel business. I knew this was what I wanted to do.
“I really enjoy the challenge of creating new travel ideas for people. Travelling is the best education you will ever have.”
Mr Cox said while Kenilworth Village’s character was still in evidence, there was no denying that it, too, had been affected by change.
“In the early days, it was a real village, but since then a lot of the banks and building societies have closed. Something else that has changed is that there is a lot more traffic now. It is very congested on the roads.
“In terms of the offices, we used to employ eight or nine people, but because so much has changed in the way we do business it’s really just myself and my colleague now. A lot of agents work from home these days, but I’m glad that I’ve kept the office, which people know.
“When I first started the business, there were about 75 travel agents in Cape Town. Now there are something like 400, and most do not have actual offices.”