Customer service the secret to success

Niki du Toit and her daughter, Maggie Casewell

Veteran travel agent Niki du Toit says there is no short cuts when it comes to business and believes that one can never go wrong when giving good service.

Even though the 90-year-old has retired and handed the reins of Prospur Travel in Claremont to her daughter, Maggie Casewell, she took time to share fond memories of how the agency was started and how much the industry has changed over the years.

Ms Du Toit started the business in 1970 with her husband, Gerry, who died five years ago.

They had initially planned to open an estate agency but a mix-up with their telephone number and a travel agency led to what would become a life-long family business.

They started out at the old Protea Cinema building in Claremont and later moved to their current building in Claremont Street in 2000.

In the days before computers and fax machines, they would write letters to hotels to make bookings and would have to wait for a letter back from the hotel to confirm the booking.

Ms Du Toit said their clients would have to arrange their trips at least eight months in advance. In the 1980s, the company purchased a telex machine and were able to send and receive messages in Morse code.

Ms Du Toit said they were one of the first companies to have this machine and said it was an exciting time.

Back in the day, clients could purchase a five-stop ticket to Europe for about R440, compared to the R9 000 one would pay today for a one-stop trip to Europe. Ms Casewell joined the family business in the late 90s and worked with her mother for 15 years before Ms Du Toit retired in her 80s.

Ms Casewell said her mother did not know anything about the industry when she started but learnt everything on the job.

She said her father took care of their other businesses while her mother concentrated on the travel agency.

“My mom ate and slept the business. She would not rest until she got the best deals for her clients,” she said.

Ms Casewell said her mother became a well-loved figure in the industry as she always went the extra mile for her customers.

“Her desk would always be covered with flowers from clients,” she said.

Ms Casewell said she learnt a lot from her mother during the 15 years of working with her but admits it was not always smooth sailing.

“My mother is not one to mince her words and she always wanted what was right for her clients. She never cut us any slack,” she said.

And while the internet has changed the face of the industry, Ms Casewell believes clients are slowly starting to come back to agents, saying they still had access to cheaper options.

Up until today, Ms Du Toit believes that one can never go wrong when giving good and honest customer service.