Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Lorraine flies her customers high and far

One of Lorraine Costello's first jobs was as an air hostess with a holiday charter group, but she didn't like it much, writes Brian Byrne.

"That's because I don't like flying very much," she laughs. "So I decided that I'd stay on the ground and send other people on planes."

Which she has being doing for some 20 years working in the travel business. These days she operates as an independent travel consultant with the global Travel Counsellors organisation, from her home in Crookstown.

"What we do is provide a complete personalised service, to the start of enquiry to the end of the trip. Something like having a personal shopper in the retail business. And business is growing every year."

Lorraine started off in the travel trade with a Dublin company, but soon worked her way back down to her home town of Newbridge, taking a job with Sundial Travel in Cutlery Road. "At the time it was operated by Carla Dunleavy, and when she gave up the business I took it over and operated it for around five years, then I sold it on."

That was back around 2004-2005, and Lorraine says she could see the business was getting difficult, as the rise of personal booking on the internet was changing things. At least for the time being. Besides, she wanted time out for her children. So she took a break.

"Eventually I got back in and worked as a part time manager with Budget Travel in Athy, and followed that with a job in an auctioneer's office. But the need to be running my own business was still there, and in 2008 I started with Travel Counsellors."

She says it has been the best move she ever made. She can work from home, and be there for her children when they come in from school. They're now 12, nine and five.

Restarting in business just as the recession hit might seem to be somewhat counter-intuitive, but the fact is that Lorraine's operation has been growing since year on year, and this year particularly she can see a definite bounce in people's decisions to go on holidays.

"When I got going, I had to go out there and network and do the whole thing — family, friends, and get my name out there again. But it wasn't long before I was getting referrals, and all my new business these days is from referrals. When somebody is happy with their experience, it's natural for them to tell their friends."

She also quickly got customers back from her previous time in Sundial, and a honeymoons niche has grown to represent a speciality for her now. Referring back to the way the internet changed the travel business, Lorraine reckons that has swung back now too. "There are lots of people, especially families, who haven't the time to do it all themselves. At Travel Counsellors I have the backup of a global organisation with contacts and knowledge everywhere. I can put a holiday all together in a dynamic package that can be further tweaked to suit the customer's needs."

In Lorraine's early days in the travel business, the package holiday was primary, and travel agencies were dependent on specialists like Falcon, Cooks and Monarch. But now Travel Counsellors like her package their own, with access to trade deals that can make a significant saving for customers.

Since January of this year, the holiday business has really picked up, with people feeling confident enough that they are climbing out of the recession to decide on more overseas holidays again. "Long haul is getting big, some of the favourites for couples going being Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. The honeymooners are picking places like South America and South Africa, as well as mixing destinations like Cancun in Mexico and Las Vegas in the US. And the people going out to Australia and New Zealand are doing things like visiting Malaysia on the way back."

As for Lorraine herself, well she still enjoys going on holidays with her family. And while she's uniquely in a position to package something suitable for them all, one things doesn't change when she's away.

"It's one of the things when you're working for yourself, my laptop is always with me so I can make sure my customers are all OK."

Ah, the joys of modern business ...

This article was first published on the Kilcullen Page of the Kildare Nationalist.