It takes a special kind of person to be a Tour Manager for Travelsphere. For starters, they need an in-depth knowledge of their area. They also need to be great organisers, and be adaptable enough to deal with unexpected situations. But above all they need to be 'people people' - friendly and approachable, with an understanding of when to lead and when to stand back and let the sights speak for themselves.
Tony Clive has been with Travelsphere for 18 years now and accompanies around a dozen tours a year - but he's still not immune from butterflies before departure. 'I get nervous even now. I worry about making sure I've got everything organised,' he laughs.
It's a sign of his dedication, which extends to all areas of the job. 'I enjoy the research and planning beforehand and learning about different cultures, and I love meeting different kinds of people. Sharing these experiences with others makes it all worthwhile.'
But for Tony the bottom line is that a Travelsphere trip must be a lot of fun. 'I try extremely hard on all of my tours to ensure that everyone goes home with wonderful memories,' he says.
Unsurprisingly for someone who spends most of his life on the road, Australia fan Tony is a real homebody when he isn't working. 'What free time I have, I spend gardening and enjoying time at home,' he admits. 'I love being away, but I also love coming home.'
Brian Croft is a natural leader and entertainer, but what makes him such a popular tour manager is his naturally caring personality and his obvious love of people.
'I had a passion for travel from a very early age,' says Brian, who hails from Wensleydale in North Yorkshire. 'World geography - especially The Americas, Egypt and Australasia - was my main interest when I was growing up, and my travels began when I emigrated to Australia in 1987. I spent 10 years working in the cruise industry and seeing the world before I started with Travelsphere.'
Brian's motivation has changed a little with experience. 'After eight years at Travelsphere I still love to travel, but my main inspiration these days is the people I meet. It gives me immense pleasure to show the world to people who share my enthusiasm for travel.'
As a tour manager who specialises in long-haul holidays, you'd expect Chris Pinch to most look forward to seeing some fabulous scenery or tasting a new and exotic dish. But surprisingly, the moment that always stands out for him is one that many of us tend to forget.
'I particularly enjoy meeting people at check-in - if they haven't flown from regional airports - or, failing that, the departure gate,' says Chris, who is single and lives in Bournemouth. 'Clients are often a little nervous at that point and might be wondering who is going to meet them at their destination. So when I introduce myself and say 'Hello, I'm your tour manager', people relax a little - and sometimes quite a lot. I think it helps them enjoy their flight a bit more, as they don't have to think about who they need to be looking for on leaving the plane.'
Chris is eager to contribute something extra to a traveller's experience. 'I hope people on my tours feel I am adding positively to their trip, and helping them to have a better holiday.'
Jenny Cowling 'fell into a career in computers' after graduation, but fortunately for us she soon logged off and started a new life as a Tour Manager. 'To be honest my heart was never in it - and eventually I escaped!' she laughs. 'Some days when we are travelling along through beautiful scenery, I really have to pinch myself to check I'm not dreaming. I just think, now this is my office! I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to be able to do what I love for a living.'
Jenny lists photography and genealogy among her interests but travel is her greatest passion. 'For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to travel,' she says. 'I have been very fortunate to have travelled all over the world, firstly as a tourist and later for work.'
Her second career began with a spell as a voluntary walking Tour Manager on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, a sideline she continues during Festival time, and the satisfaction she gains from leading groups remains undiminished. 'I love to be able to share wonderful places and experiences with my guests,' she says. 'It is so rewarding to enable them to get the most from their holiday.'
Jenny always goes the extra mile - as it were - to give her clients the very best. 'I will always do my very best to ensure the comfort and safety of everyone,' she says. 'I hope to give my guests a good introduction to new places, cultures and experiences. It is my aim to make my tours informative but also lots of fun! I also try my best to make the sun shine, no matter what the weather is!'
Liz is a Yorkshire lass currently living in northern Spain, who has been with Travelsphere since 1996. She has worked all over Europe for Travelsphere, from Budapest to Sicily, so it helps that she is a linguist and loves speaking French, German and Italian. She says, 'On my Italian tours we even have regular Italian lessons on the coach! As one Travelsphere client commented, I "put my heart and soul" into my job.'
Liz says she wants a two-week tour of Italy to be a very special cultural experience and that she loves to try to bring the country alive using all the interesting information and many fun tips that she has gleaned over the years.
Many customers also comment on how much she talks about food and drink - her favourite subject. For Liz, it's not just about the sights but about the tastes and smells, too, and she is always encouraging her groups to be adventurous and check out the local specialities. 'I get a real buzz from seeing them enjoy the experience as much as I do.' Her enthusiasm is infectious!