Maria has been in the Travel Industry for 24 years in the capacity of a Travel Consultant, Travel Agency Manager and now a Personal Travel Manager. She has racked up awards like TravelManagers 10 Year Dedication Award 2019, Travel Weekly Women in Travel Awards 2016 (Finalist), Avis Travel Agent Scholarship 2013 (Finalist) Travel Weekly Travel Agent of the Year 2011 (Winner) and Travel Weekly Best Regional Travel Consultant 2011 (Winner).
Such an inspiration on how to adapt to the changing times, we caught up with Maria for a chat about all she does and more in this week’s Talking Travel.
What does your job involve?
In simple terms, I curate unique and individual holiday itineraries suited to my clients specific wants and needs. My service is very personalised and professional and I like to make the booking process an enjoyable experience from start to finish. Due to my passion for travel, I branched out into Travel Writing and now also write travel stories based on my own travel experiences and sharing them across different media outlets.
How have you tackled the difficulties caused by COVID-19?
I have adapted and focused my sales on domestic travel for the current time, until international borders ease. This has been extremely difficult, as only 5% of my previous market was for domestic holidays. I have had to keep up with the ever-changing border restrictions in Australia, which narrows the gap of what destinations I can sell in Australia. Ironically, I created Travel Tales By Maria during COVID-19 as I had the time to invest my energy into my passion for writing. I have wanted to write for about 10 years, but never had the opportunity as my time was restricted to selling travel. You could say this has been a silver lining for me in some respect!
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
I have the most amazing clients, some of which I have been arranging holidays for 15+ years. Interacting with my clients is always so enjoyable and an absolute pleasure. Seeing the look of excitement in their eyes when I hand over their travel documents gives me a massive buzz. With my writing, the satisfaction of completing a travel story and seeing it published gives me a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
What are the biggest challenges for you in your profession (outside of COVID-19)?
Having to compete with the faceless entity that is the internet would be one of my biggest challenges. Many people still believe that booking their holidays with a travel consultant is more expensive. But they couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s up to travel consultants like myself to educate people about the value of engaging a travel professional – not just about price, but of the knowledge and security that comes with utilising our services.
What do you think are the biggest challenges the industry faces?
Due to COVID-19, I would say having to deal with and adapting to outside influences – such as pandemics, natural disasters and economic downturn. I have been in the travel industry for 24 years and therefore dealt with the impacts of 9-11, the GFC, Sars, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, airline and operator strikes and terrorist attacks. These influences outweigh any other normal day to day challenges as they are out of our control.
What do you think will be the biggest game changer in the travel industry in the next 12 months’?
I think people will be booking more holidays with travel consultants, seeing they have been super supportive during COVID-19. I know of people who didn’t book their holidays with a travel consultant and have had difficulties trying to obtain refunds or credits from airlines, hotels etc. I also feel that when the COVID-19 vaccine has been released and proven to be effective, that it may be a requirement to be vaccinated for international travel – much like a Yellow Fever vaccination is compulsory for certain African countries.
What destination/travel trend do you think is the next big thing?
I would say that small group journeys including coach touring and cruising will be on the rise because of COVID-19. As far as destinations go, I would predict that countries such as New Zealand, the South West Pacific countries and Japan will be popular.
What are your thoughts on responsible travel and how do you try to implement this in your workplace?
I am selective on which tour companies I sell, as well as day trip operators. I support operators who support responsible travel and I don’t offer any sightseeing excursions that involve cruelty to animals and negative impacts on the environment. Similarly, I don’t write about any travel destination or operators who aren’t aligned with responsible travel.
Who inspires you most and why?
Amanda Stevens was one of the keynote speakers at our TravelManagers conference last year in Perth. She has a way of delivering her customer service workshops like no-one else I have ever seen. When COVID hit, Amanda presented six zoom workshops for the travel industry and other industries, on how to cope, reset and reinvent ourselves as business owners. She also delivered a half day marketing workshop via zoom which was incredible. Amanda is an amazing and inspirational human.
What is your must pack travel item(s)?
I’m big on hygiene when I travel, so hand sanitiser and wipes have always been items I pack in bulk – especially now because of COVID-19. I got caught out once on a trip to Egypt with not having enough stock!
Who would you invite on your next holiday if you could choose anyone and where would you go?
Seeing I am a food lover; I would have to say someone like Luke Nguyen who could take me to Vietnam and/or France to teach me his ways! I have been on two-week foodie tours in the past and aim to continue this niche style of travelling.