Like so many young people, Deb Long finished high school with no idea what she wanted to do next. Thankfully her mother had the wisdom, skill and understanding to gently nudge her in the right direction.
“She bribed me by saying she’d buy me a pair of diamond earrings if I’d complete a travel course,” recalls Deb.
Not the most subtle approach perhaps, but undoubtedly effective. Deb applied to take part in the Grace Brothers travel course in Sydney and was granted a gruelling two-hour interview with an admissions panel.
“When it was over they said ‘Sorry, we are not prepared to take you on the course, but we would like to offer you a position in one of our agencies’. So I failed the course application but landed a job. And I still got the diamond earrings.”
It was early 1981, and Deb started as a Junior Consultant in Grace Brothers’ Bondi Junction store, where she received training in fares and ticketing, and most importantly, first-rate customer service.
“One lady, an ex-air hostess who was lovely but as tough as nails, took me under her wing. At 5:30pm she’d break into the bar fridge and say ‘this is what we do in the travel industry’. I learned the importance of a great team environment, I was shown what really great customer service could do, and the agency itself was one of the top outlets in Sydney.”
Grace Brothers knew what they were doing when they pushed Deb straight to the retail frontline. She was in fact no stranger to the travel industry, having been born in the Philippines and lived “here, there and everywhere” across Asia Pacific and Australia thanks to her father John Foster’s role as a Regional General Sales Manager for Qantas.
Her childhood included an “idyllic“ time in Fiji, where her father was one of the team that established Air Pacific from what had been Fiji Airways, and happy semesters in a boarding school in Armidale, with holidays spent wherever her mother and father were posted, including Darwin in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy.
After a couple of years learning the ropes in Bondi Junction, Deb “got itchy feet” and moved north of Sydney to work with horses, then in 1984 she landed a job with M&G Travel, Moree in northern NSW.
Not long after, she met her husband David. The two married in 1988, then had the first of their two daughters before moving in 1990 to Cowra, where in 1994 Deb started working with John and Colleen Woodward at the town’s Harvey World Travel store.
In 1997 the family moved to Canberra, where Deb worked for HWT Weston owner Ray Livingston, before moving on to Capitol Travel Manuka.
“Ray kept calling and saying ‘I want to retire, will you buy my agency?’ In 2011, with my youngest having finished Year 12, I finally did.”
Deb says she brought new energy to a strong business, along with a desire to better understand and respond to customers’ needs.
“I knew we had to build a niche, and then in October 2011 I went on a Scenic famil to Canada and I decided that was it – we were going to be really good at Scenic sales.”
Within a year Weston Cruise & Travel was declared Scenic’s top agency nationally and Deb was named Consultant of the Year. If the company takes out the top agency award again in January 2017, it will have held the honour for five consecutive years.
Scenic is not the only organisation to honour Weston Cruise & Travel, with Deb winning CLIA Cruise Consultant of the Year in 2013.
Besides offering outstanding customer service, she ascribes the company’s success to the fact that her team test and genuinely like the products they sell.
“You have to believe in a product, you have to be honest about it, and customers will trust you. You also have to trust your team and set them up for success, not failure. Every person who wants to join our team has to want to be here.”
Weston Cruise & Travel’s next focus is on growing its small group travel operation, which has so far taken cruise trips to the Mekong, and is now planning a journey to Burma next year.
“I think immersion is going to be the new way, with people wanting to take five to seven nights and immerse themselves in a culture. Cruising offers that, which is why we are growing our cruise business and loving it.”
Weston Cruise & Travel owner Deb Long in India