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Leading luxury advisor insights: Barbara Whitten, Anywhere Travel

Karryon Luxury talks to Barbara Whitten, Founder and Managing Director of Anywhere Travel, about her more than 40-year career.

Karryon Luxury talks to Barbara Whitten, Founder and Managing Director of Anywhere Travel, about her more than 40-year career.

How did you get into travel?

I was a teacher in Sydney in the 70s and after a while, someone needed a German-speaking tour guide and so I escorted German and French tours around Sydney for a number of years. I was then approached to join Club Med as an airport rep, before I got a job at the University of NSW travel agency handling all types of academic travel from students to the Vice-Chancellor.

In 1982, an agency closed down in Kingsford, so we set up there and that became Anywhere Travel, and we have been in the same suburb ever since.

We called it Anywhere Travel because it was the letter ‘A’ and back then people went through the phonebook!

What are your areas of expertise?

We’re now specialists in corporate travel, the personal travel of academics, and the other growth area we’ve seen a lot, is upmarket leisure and bleisure travel plus conferences and all types of group travel.

Most of our clients are 50-plus and we collaborate with them to plan extensive and memorable trips.

Anywhere-Travel-team-shot_1000x650
Barbara and her team at Anywhere Travel.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in travel in your more than four decades of experience?

The rise of the internet means people can research their travel and flights themselves, and we appreciate it because it saves time and gives us an insight into what people really want. Also, people don’t realise that we have a 24-hour emergency service. If you have booked on the internet, it is extremely difficult to make changes.

The service we provide, even if it’s just changing a flight, involves a lot of work. If you’re booking on the internet, it’s a booking in time, but an agent can hold a booking longer and it gives you time to discuss it with your partner.

We like to then sit down and make sure they have an amazing experience, and they can’t do that on the internet. It’s about personalisation, unique experiences and taking care of the finer details.

Also, if you look at today, people are cruising much more now. Twenty-five per cent of Australians will cruise this year, that didn’t exist 30 to 40 years ago. You might have a one-way voyage, but there weren’t short cruises. And there are a lot of short-haul trips now for a week or two, and also a lot of multi-generational travel.

Barbara Whitten at Machu Picchu
Barbara and Ray Whitten at Machu Picchu

What are the biggest challenges agents face today?

Airlines promoting deals where sometimes the agent doesn’t have the same access. There could be more sharing with airlines. Airlines have huge databases and it’s easy for them to do extensive email marketing, and this can potentially cut out the agent.

What would your advice be to those starting out?

Learn your destinations and know what you’re talking about with both airlines and hotels.

You can’t fool people, and if you make a mistake, you won’t get them back.

Look at the value and what you’re charging and make sure the client knows your value proposition, and in order to grow your business, you have to identify your client market and then go after that.

You have to keep in touch with good clients – pick up the phone and call them. I also think people who work on their own don’t get the same benefit as working in a team. Nothing beats personal experience.

There are a lot of advantages to being part of Virtuoso because it allows us to provide unique benefits for our clients. It is also advisable to work with preferred airlines and hotel chains.

What are your predictions about the new trends in travel in the next year?

Portugal because it’s more affordable than other places in Europe. Morocco, Africa and South Africa for the game parks. Antarctica is still quite expensive, but on many people’s bucket list.

I visited Peru late last year and it was terrific. It’s not expensive, the food is fabulous and there are interesting experiences. I also recommend Buenos Aires.

For more information, visit Anywhere Travel.