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Luxury side lock up Apr 2024

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Travel leaders: Lisa Harrison, Managing Director AU/NZ, Signature Travel Network

After three decades in the travel industry, Lisa Harrison recently took a brief hiatus to live near her family, return to her regional roots, and start penning a novel. Sharing her personal story with Karryon, Lisa reveals why the timing is right to step into this significant new role and start a new chapter.

After three decades in the travel industry, Lisa Harrison recently took a brief hiatus to live near her family, return to her regional roots, and start penning a novel. Sharing her personal story with Karryon, Lisa reveals why the timing is right to step into this significant new role and start a new chapter.

It was a close-knit community in North East Victoria, in a small town called Tatong, that Lisa called home for her first 17 years, living on her family’s multi-generational farm. 

“I had an idyllic childhood spent on my family farm connected to both the land and community. My grandparents lived just down the paddock; they were a big part of my life. The families where I grew up had multi-generational friendships – it was such a beautiful childhood and place to grow up,” she says. 

Farm life and exploring the land planted the seed for adventure.

Lisa-Harrison-Dana-Biosphere-in-Jordan_Signature Travel Network
Lisa at the Dana Biosphere in Jordan.

“It gave me a sense of freedom and I realise now, upon reflection as an adult, that I’ve been a seeker of that same feeling, that childhood feeling of freedom through my travel – always. It is nice to make that connection; it actually comes from my childhood. I’ve always had a huge passion for Africa… I think it’s that whole sense of space, adventure and freedom – travel makes you feel free,” she says. 

At age 10, she had a relative from New Zealand visit which sparked her curiosity for foreign cultures and destinations. 

“She was an extensive traveller throughout Africa and Europe in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I remember being really inspired by her. We also had exchange students live with us throughout my teenage years, and that also opened me up to experiencing other cultures and being curious,” she says.

From rural Victoria to upstate New York

Lisa-Harrison-at-the-Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt. 2005_Signature Travel Network.
Lisa at the Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt, in 2005.

After completing high school at age 17, Lisa went on an international exchange program to Canandaigua in Upstate New York, U.S., which she describes as one of the best years of her life. 

“It led to me meeting people from all around the world and other exchange students –  that’s when I knew I wanted to get into travel,” she says. 

After returning to Victoria, she moved to Melbourne and studied for a one-year Diploma in Business and tourism at Holmes College.

“I was determined to start my career in the travel industry as quickly as possible,” she says. 

She secured her first role in travel at Travelworld in South Melbourne, a UTAG agency, working for Judy & Duncan Harris. She spent three years at TravelWorld before moving to Thomas Cook in Moonee Ponds, where she stayed as a consultant before taking on various travel agency management roles at Thomas Cook and Harvey World Travel during a 13-year period, eventually taking on the role of General Manager for a Harvey World Travel multi-office franchise. 

Later, she moved the group to Magellan Travel and rebranded the business to where2travel.

“My next role was in wholesale, as General Manager Wholesale at The AOT Group, leading the teams and brands of Sunlover Holidays, Air New Zealand Holidays and Territory Discoveries for almost three years before moving into the role of National Manager Network Development following the merge of The AOT Group with Helloworld,” she says. 

Seeking a lifestyle change, she moved back to North East Victoria to be close to family and start her own business, Three Little Birds business consulting, where she supported travel businesses with growth and work/life balance – “until Covid-19 changed things for us all,” she says. 

“I was fortunate to step into the General Manager role at Magellan Travel back in Melbourne for two years during Covid, supporting the members throughout an extremely challenging time,” she said. 

In her 30-plus years in the industry, Lisa says it’s the people she loves most, as well as the industry in general, with the opportunity to meet new people and have incredible experiences. 

“I feel like travel is in my DNA, and it’s just a big part of who I am and what inspires me in life. The sense of being of service to others has always been what I think is a great part of the industry, as well as being in partnerships with people – partnerships are everything in our industry,” says Lisa.

Starting with Signature Travel Network

Lisa-Harrison-with-Masai,-Tanzania-2003_Signature Travel Network
Lisa with Masai, Tanzania, 2003.

According to Lisa, the timing of starting in her new role as MD at Signature was just right. She has recently come off a nearly 18-month hiatus during which she put her personal and family life first, spending time travelling and writing a novel that is still in progress. 

“I feel like it was meant to be. I’m ready to step back into a role. I wanted to live near my family in rural Victoria, and I’m fortunate I made that decision, as my father unfortunately passed away suddenly two months ago, so my circumstances have changed. This opportunity came along at a time when I can now step back into a more significant role in the industry,” she says.

Lisa’s emotions were visibly still raw during our interview as she explained this latest chapter in her family life. She feels a calling to be genuine as a travel industry leader.

“I want to be authentic in our industry. I think more and more people are being authentic and sharing their stories, and I think it’s important to see anyone in the industry being that way. People don’t know why I left Magellan Travel….a big part of that was because I wanted to be near my ageing father and my family, and now that’s changed, and the opportunity is now here for me to step into a new challenge with a company whose values I feel really aligned with – and I’m really excited about that,” she says.

Lisa Harrison in Wadi Rum, Jordan, 2022_Signature Travel Network
Lisa in Wadi Rum, Jordan, 2022.

Lisa has previously worked with Alex Sharpe, President and CEO of Signature Travel Network, and Kimberly Waters, VP of Member Acquisition & Engagement, as partners during her time at Magellan Travel.

“I know Alex and Kimberly and how they work and the type of people they are.  I feel very aligned with them both, and also their ethos, which is Signature Travel. They’re so member-focused, and they’re like a family. That’s very appealing to me,” she says. 

The role affords Lisa the flexibility to work from regional Victoria, and she applauds companies for allowing staff to balance their personal and professional priorities.

Timing and goals

Lisa-Harrison-Amboseli-National-Park,-Kenya.-2011_Signature Travel Network
Lisa at Amboseli National Park, Kenya, 2011.

Signature Travel Network, established in the US in 1956, is a member-owned luxury travel cooperative with 15,000 members worldwide and around 290 member agencies across 600 retail locations. 

Lisa says the group, as a whole, is committed to exclusively aligning with the most esteemed travel agencies and supplier partners. They provide luxury products and access to exclusive rates, and customer benefits and privileges through their product range of a hotels and resorts program and a destination specialist program. 

“They are member-focused – they’re all about the members and driving their sales and brands. Everything they do is for the member, for the advisor, and ultimately, for the customer’s experience and benefit,” she says. 

Lisa says two main factors affect the timing of Signature Travel Network’s expansion in Australia and New Zealand. 

“Alex Sharpe and the board have had a desire to expand in the Australian and New Zealand markets for some years. They were originally in an exclusive partnership with Magellan Travel prior to Magellan being owned by Helloworld and then that has evolved during COVID times to be non-exclusive. It has since evolved into a non-group-wide partnership and is now a partnership with individual members. The other factor is that there has been significant growth in the luxury travel sector globally… and Australia and New Zealand have remained strong in that sector.  There has also been a need to support the members locally as well,” she says.

Lisa-Harrison-in-Zanzibar-Tanzania-2015_Siganture Travel Network
Lisa in Zanzibar, Tanzania, 2015.

Currently there are eight members across Australia and New Zealand, with TravelManagers, Platinum Travel & Entourage Travel, as well as individual members across various retail groups. 

“I am here focusing on independent relationships with individual members and agencies, and delivering benefits to the members and ensuring that they have access to the product and the offering that we provide, as well as those exclusive benefits to their customers,” she says. 

“My goal in the short term is certainly about connecting with the members. My focus will be to support them, both existing and new members and their own business growth. I will also be listening to their needs and ensuring that our offering is meeting and exceeding their needs and those of their customers,” she says. 

“Longer term, it’s absolutely about growing the network, attracting like-minded members, and ensuring the growth will be sustainable. I genuinely believe in the value offering and the ethos of who they are. 

“Signature Travel will be a new choice for advisors and agencies. I think their value offering and ethos will attract the right, like-minded members to the network. We’re a new opportunity for members and agents to complement their existing agency product and luxury offering,” she says.