In the holiday hot seat with Brian Croft

With 23 years of leading tours under his belt, it feels like Holiday Director, Brian Croft, has seen and done it all. We caught up with him just before his next tour, to discover more about his experiences as a Just You Holiday Director.

When did you first start leading tours?

My first tour was Lake Garda in 2000, where I shadowed another Holiday Director to learn the ropes. It was amazing, and the region remains one of my favourite places.

What made you get into holiday directing?

The Poisedon Adventure used to be on every Christmas when I was growing up, and that’s what got me starting out in travel, out on the high seas by heading off on cruise ships as a concessions manager. I’d already seen the world from the water, so moving on to become a Holiday Director seemed like a natural fit and gave me a different perspective.

Growing up in the Yorkshire Dales in the UK could feel quite isolating. I felt very envious watching famous TV personalities presenting travel shows, and it was very much a case of ‘I wish I was there!’

I’m under the flight path of planes heading off to North America and seeing those plumes of smoke from the jet stream used to make me dream of heading off to faraway shores.

What is the best thing about being a Holiday Director?

Ironically, I used to think it was traveling that was the best thing about being a Holiday Director, but after ten years into it, I realised that it’s actually about meeting people.

Ultimately I enjoy being able to make sure that they have the best time ever, and while it can be a challenge, I see it as an opportunity. Making people’s dream a reality is the greatest perk.

Tell us something interesting that people may not know about you…

I’m actually an electrician by trade. It served me well in becoming a Holiday Director, as you meet all sorts of customers from such a wide range of backgrounds in Yorkshire.

I guess being exposed to such a wide variety of people from a young age, made me more open minded, and gave me the confidence and aspiration to travel.

If there was one place left in the world that you could visit, where would you choose?

Japan - it’s just so different and yet so engaging to soak up. I love their culture and traditions, the food and the landscapes – it’s all so mesmerizing.

Brazil comes a close second. I lived there for 18 months and felt quite at home as it has the second largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan. 

It has everything that you could want from a vacation, nature and authentic experiences – spectacular scenery, cities, coastlines, culture – it’s a wonderful country.

I haven’t seen my friends in Brazil in over five years and so in July I’m actually heading off there on a ‘real’ vacation for the first time in what feels like forever.

How do you prepare for an upcoming tour…

There are two bits of advice that my mother bestowed on me that I remember for all my tours: ‘Fail to prepare, be prepared to fail’ and ‘Life is what you make it, so you must set your stall out in life.’

I print off and review all the paperwork for each tour, create an informative welcome letter for all customers, then I set myself up with a daily grid planner which is colour-coded with all the important details. I also prepare a register with customer info, dietaries and special requests so that I can see at a glance what’s happening, when, and with/for whom.

And I try and create a map of the main cities for everyone with all the essentials including where we are staying, the nearest shops and ATMs. 

This all takes at least a week to prepare for – and while it seems excessive it just helps me keep organized. Holiday Directors are the face of Just You so it’s important we get it right.

Describe a day in the life on tour for you…

No two tours are ever the same of course as things can crop up at any time.

As standard I’m usually the first one up in the morning and I head down to the restaurant to check that everything is ready for breakfast and that all dietaries are taken care of. 

I always make myself visible to all guests in case they have any queries about the day ahead. Once everyone is down and eating, I take myself back to my room to get ready and meet everyone at reception prior to departure. This also acts as a good time for people to address any queries they may have.

Timing is the biggest element of directing tours - we do early, but we don’t do late on my trips!

I try and help to organize things for people to go off and do when we get back from a day out exploring. Just You tours aren’t about babysitting, we’re just there as and when we’re needed, but ultimately customers have the freedom and choice to spend their free time however they choose especially in the evenings.

Generally it can feel like you’re spinning plates as there are so many different people we need to engage with – customers, hotel staff, agents, coach drivers – but I love the ‘networking’ side of the job too, as it makes sure we can deliver on that promise of turning dreams into reality.

What tips would you give to Just You customers

Mix and mingle! The sooner you break the ice with other travelers, the better your tour will be. Even switching seats on the coach to talk so someone new each day will see you getting so much more out of your tour.

It’s amazing all the interesting lives people lead and their life stories, I’ve met doctors, nurses and even a tropical parrot breeder – each tour offers up the chance to meet such a wide range of people and personalities.

I love finding a connection with people and it’s ever so rewarding when you can see someone open up and come out of their shell. All it takes is that one conversation and before you know it you’re enjoying your double-digit solo adventure! So strike up a conversation, you might be surprised how much you have in common with someone.

When it comes to luggage, pack your bag and then take a third out to leave at home. It’s a tried and tested method that really works. How many times have you been on holiday and half your clothes don’t see the cold light of day! I even do the same the morning of travel and it saves you lugging things around on tour or leaving things behind in your hotel room! Plus, you want room for those souvenirs.

What about outside of work, what are your favourite pastimes?

I love the great outdoors, so I’m usually walking, gardening, hiking or biking at home in the Yorkshire Dales.

And I’ve spent so long being a Holiday Director that I just love working on my tour prep, it has actually become a bit of a hobby, and I think it needs to be if you choose holiday directing as your career.