This year’s two day National Travel Counsellors Australia Conference closed on Sunday afternoon in Melbourne after an extra special weekend of collective learnings, celebration and inspiration.

The ‘My TC’ Conference was a celebration of 10 years operations in Australia with 230 agents (TC’s), suppliers and head office staff heading to the Victorian capital city where it all began.

It was in 2007 that the Manchester (UK) based mobile agent group entered the market in Australia and began the journey of building an extended family with 10 pioneering TC’s, all of whom are all still in the business.

travelcounsellors-karryon6

The 10 original TC’s pictured with Fred van Eijk (MD) and Tracy Parkinson (GM)

Today that number has reached 145 and rising in Australia with a global footprint of 1674 TC’s that includes the UK, Ireland, Belgium, The Netherlands, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

The company was originally founded in 1994 in Bolton in the UK by David Speakman and this year has a forecasted global TTV of AUD$900m and profit of $30m, with Australian TTV for 16/17 to be AUD$60m compared to that of AUD$8m when the group began in Australia a decade ago.

After a welcome evening event up in the clouds at Vue De Monde restaurant on Friday night, the conferencing took place at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday and Sunday with the Gala awards night at the Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto on Saturday evening.

travelcounsellors-karryon

Fred van Eijk (Interim MD) and Tracy Parkinson (GM)

The event was emceed by Netherlands born Interim Managing Director Fred van Eijk, who has been with the company for almost 12 years in Europe, and founded both the Netherlands and Belgium TC operations before coming to Australia three months ago.

A former TV host, charismatic van Eijk spoke warmly of his “Long time affinity and love” for Australia and that he was “very happy to be here” saying, “Australian’s are natural networkers and connectors and have the biggest opportunities to succeed as TC’s versus the rest of the world – and I’m very excited to be a part of it.”

Travel Counsellors on a recent famil on Allure of the Seas.

Travel Counsellors on a recent famil on Allure of the Seas.

Remarkably, this is a travel group that doesn’t advertise to consumers, focusing instead on a strategy of delivering exceptional ‘caring’ customer service to tap long term repeat and referral leisure and corporate bookings that comes as a result.

Melbourne Travel Counsellor Matt Schmitz exemplified that point with his story of recently spending an evening helping to pack an elderly client’s bags for her trip. No doubt it was exactly that ‘going the extra mile’ that helped Schmitz win both the ‘TC leisure sales of the year’ and ‘Best customer service of the year’ awards on Saturday night.

The MCG played host to the days conferencing

The MCG played host to the days conferencing

With an In-house TV studio and ‘TC TV’ channel that broadcasts daily to its Australia wide network, it’s a business that prides itself on support and the networks wellbeing with even their own ‘Counsellor’ to help TC’s work through any personal issues they may endure in working for themselves.

The company’s long term strategy is simply ‘RRRp’ (Recruitment, referral, rebook and Phenix) with initiatives such as the recent ‘Return to Travel’ campaign launched to attract people back to the industry who may have left some time ago.

Director Sales, Travel Counsellors, Jim Eastwood

Global Sales Director, Travel Counsellors, Jim Eastwood

Whilst the growth of actual TC numbers in Australia may have been slower than the group would have liked, quality and retention of new TC’s is key with Head of recruitment Veronica Curran saying that they “Knock back around 90% of applicants, mostly because they are not the right fit.”

Former Vice President of Sales in Europe, Apprentice UK finalist and now Global Sales Director for TC, Jim Eastwood spoke of his own recruitment experience in getting the role, saying,

“I’m thinking, if this company cares half as much as they say they do, I am so in. And they were right.”

Jim Eastwood, Global Sales Director. Travel Counsellors

In his bold address, global CEO Steve Byrne said, “The future belongs to those that care” and that “we are the caregivers” adding;

“Smaller businesses can’t afford our tech offering, while others don’t invest in people. Only Travel Counsellors has the blend of the two. We want to continue to automate more and more tasks so you can spend more time caring for your customers and building more financial success for yourselves.”

Steve Byrne, Global CEO, Travel Counsellors

Global Travel Counsellors CEO, Steve Byrne

Global Travel Counsellors CEO, Steve Byrne

Globally, the business has this year invested a staggering AUD$12m alone in its own in-house system, Phenix.

Phenix has 80 full time developers and engineers working continually on an all in one Travelport backed GDS system that enables TC’s to service their customers from anywhere, anytime and help control the product experience and pricing.

Over the two days there were inspirational talks including Australian Olympic legend, Anna Meares who captivated everyone with her deeply personal story of resilience and triumphing over adversity through the power of working just a much on the low points as the high ones, as well as Melbourne coffee king Ryan Spaccavento, Quentin Long from Australian/International Traveller and many other supplier and staff updates.

Australian Olympian, Anna Meares

Australian Olympian, Anna Meares

There were also insightful panels with TC’s sharing their individual journeys and experiences with their fellow peers.

The groups top selling Travel Counsellor, Nadine Kutz from Cairns, spoke of successfully overcoming her own personal difficulty in losing a large corporate client, saying, “It’s up to each of you to decide where we want to go. Value what you do, and use the love around you because the skies the limit. You determine where the sky is. It’s your choice.”

Lani Symons Vaughan emotionally spoke of becoming a TC as “life changing”, whilst TC Carol Mills (herself an original TC) from Geelong shared her story of working through a two-year economic slump where 60% of her clients lost their jobs due to the Ford factory closing down and were not travelling any more.

Her solution included simply handwriting personal cards to re-connect with customers – the outcome of which resulted in her having one of her best months ever.

The TC panel

The TC panel

TC Clare Hardie lives on a cattle station 200kms South East of Perth, WA literally in the middle of nowhere, yet carves out a successful living by using tools such as Facebook Messenger with clients that can be up to 400kms away.

Her service involves often driving long distances to visit a client, though she stressed “People are happy to work with me via phone or digital channels. I’m a personal brand and people always want to talk to me about travel. They are inspired when you love what you do.”

With some of the highest TC conversion rates in the country, Richard Stewart from Melbourne said, “I always put the customer first, we talk and I share my tips and knowledge, the booking comes later. I never ask for it.”

At the gala awards dinner on the Saturday night, three of the original pioneering Australian TC’s from 2007 took the stage to speak for their peers and deliver a heart felt and emotional thank you to the support team in Australia, gifting the entire team movie tickets and a night out on them. It was a touching moment and one to assure anyone still not quite getting the ‘caring’ message that yes, this is the real deal.

anthony-callea-karryon

Anthony Callea

After all of the awards were handed out, it was left to pocket dynamo Anthony Callea to surprise the crowd and energetically belt out a number of favourites that had them dancing and celebrating late into the night.

In his closing the conference on Sunday afternoon, Fred van Eijk seemed to sum up the mood of the event by saying, “This is not a conference in a traditional sense, it’s more like a family gathering”.

If this weekend is anything to go by, it seems that family is about to get a whole lot larger.

Were you at the Travel Counsellors Conference? Share your thoughts below.