Inside Look: Kay Shepperson
In the first of a regular feature on the website, we go behind the scenes to show just how our expert staff work.
This month we speak to Kay Shepperson, who fills us in on her role in the Meetings and Events team.
What’s your role & how long have you been working here?
I’ve been at CTM for 16 years now, with the past 14 years spent in the Meetings and Events Team, where I’m now team leader managing a team of three.
Tell us a little bit about what you do and who for?
All our clients are pharmaceutical companies, so we handle global meetings on their behalf. It’s not ‘group travel’ in the traditional sense, because our delegates travel independently as individual travellers from many different locations. So for example, we might have 10 people coming from Israel and 20 from Canada all congregating in Berlin for a major conference. We look after all of their travel arrangements from end to end.
What specific skills does the job require, what are the main challenges?
Excellent problem solving, time management, attention to detail are all a must for this job. You need to be extremely organised and it helps if you have a great memory too. The main challenges of the job are simply fulfilling everyone’s expectations, providing a comprehensive service.
We have to follow very strict guidelines and travel policies set out by our clients in the meeting briefing which often give specific arrival and departure times, so we have to find flight times that work within those confines and negotiate fares with different carriers, while at the same time providing delegates with sensible journey times, so they’re not arriving at silly o’clock in the morning.
You have to be able to cope with a certain amount of pressure too. Between the team, we have nearly 60 years of experience, so we’re never phased.
What do you spend most of your time doing?
I spend most of my time sourcing appropriate fares within the parameters of the meeting, checking flight prices which of course change minute by minute and dealing with all the emails generated by delegates - one meeting of 50 people can easily generate several hundred emails so staying on top of these can be a challenge.
We also handle specific queries which fall outside the normal parameters of the brief, dealing with personal travel requests and things like meal preferences, we try to anticipate different cultural and dietary requirements and be very mindful of those.
If travellers are going long haul for an event then they may want spend an extra day exploring the city. We review each request on an individual and see what we can do within the client’s budget.
How much notice do you get for each event?
On average we get around one month’s notice to pull something together, but sometimes we might only have a week, if for example our client had been let down by another supplier, we’ll jump on it straight away, step in and sort it all out.
What do we offer which makes us stand out, why do our clients come to us and not any other TMC?
I think it’s because we go the extra mile and offer a more personalised, one-to-one service. I named our team ‘Endeavour’ for a reason, because we always endeavour to excel at our goal.
We’re always happy to speak with travellers directly, which is not something which all agents are trusted to do. It’s a privilege we’ve earned over time, working closely with our clients over many years who now trust us to handle relationships with their delegates, many of whom are VIPs.
Of course we also offer the best fares because of our huge buying power, then there’s our in-house IT systems and my own personal contacts with the likes of StarAlliance, OneWorld and others.
We understand you deal with travel bookings for ‘investigator meetings’, can you tell us about those?
Yes these events are used for drug trials, usually once the drug has been produced these meetings give all relevant professionals a final chance to review and approve the drug before it goes into production.
They tend to be large gatherings of 100+ people. The largest one we’ve looked after had 950 delegates. Delegates travel far and wide for these events, we’ve seen people attending from the likes of Australia, Moldova and even some very remote places like Tristan da Cunha, a small island in the South Atlantic some 1,750 miles east of South Africa.
Are there any particularly interesting or challenging events on the horizon?
At the moment we have 17 different meetings on the go, at least five or six of those are for different clients, back to back in Zurich, all at overlapping times, which is where your memory powers come into effect.
It can be challenging when you have someone coming from Prague to an event in Warsaw and vice versa - and you have get everything straight in your head about who’s going where and when.
What has been the most interesting or memorable travel request you’ve dealt with here?
We pride ourselves on being able to deal with any eventuality really, so it can be quite hard to recall specifics, people often want to take spouses with them of course and we can put together multiple quotes for them, but that’s quite standard really. We did have one lady who was so committed to her cello practice that she always travelled with her cello, which meant that we had to book her a separate seat on the plane for it.
What is it about the job that you most enjoy?
I really enjoy the rapport I’ve built up with our clients over the years. We know each other so well by now that I can pre-empt things. I also generally just enjoy the day-to-day challenges of serving a traveller and seeing all your hard work come to fruition at the end of an event when everything’s booked, everybody’s happy, the client’s saved money and the traveller has got the flight and airline that they wanted.
We get great some feedback and we often get individual delegates asking for as at the event and wanting to thank us in person or emailing us afterwards, which is always lovely and personally very satisfying.
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