While it might sit within a wellheeled, picturesque and slightly conservative Melbourne suburb famous for hosting the first Australian Scout Jamboree in 1935, Your World of Travel - or at least the building in which it sits - boasts a surprisingly colourful past.
The agency is owned and managed by Donna McDonald, who moved into the premises back in 2010. Like many Travellers Choice members Donna took a slightly circuitous route into the world of travel – first joining the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria’s insurance division straight from school before eventually ending up in the organisation’s travel section.
“Over a four-year period I worked across a few different RACV offices until, in the late 1990s, the travel operation was acquired by Traveland,” Donna says. “Then of course in November 2001 Traveland went under and we all lost our jobs.”
She found part-time work at Karingal Travel, an independent agency located within Frankston’s Karingal Hub Shopping Centre, located around 40km south east of Melbourne’s CBD. And in 2005, when the owner decided it was time to retire to “warmer parts”, she bought the business.
“About five years later the lease came up. As you can imagine, the rent was extremely high in the shopping centre, so we tried to re-negotiate, but they just wouldn’t come to the party, even though there were a dozen empty shops.
“Although I was nervous about leaving the Shopping Centre, I decided it was time to relocate and so I started looking for new premises. Then an advertisement for a retail location 10km away in Frankston South caught my eye because it described the shop as having “charming character”.
“It turned out to be a really cute, rotunda-shaped building that had been an old belly dancing studio. The guy who owned the building next door had put it on as an extension for his wife to take belly dancing classes and sell crystals and jewellery. It had stained glass windows and a Turkish décor, with lots of gold and glass.
“It definitely had heaps of character, and if I was only selling holidays to the Middle East it would have been awesome. Luckily he allowed me make some changes, and so I relaunched as Your World of Travel.”
Even though a significant number of her existing clients followed her to the new location, Donna says the agency still lost “a fair share” of business.
“The Shopping Centre management wouldn’t allow me to put up a notice advising people of the new address, and of course we lost a considerable amount of walk-in traffic. But this was off-set by the fact that the overheads were nowhere near as high.”
The exotic building’s location – in the heart of an affluent enclave of the City of Frankston, with leafy streets and large properties with views across Port Phillip – also worked in the new-look agency’s favour.
Today Your World of Travel – which was nominated for an Encouragement Award in 2018 – is going strong, with Donna working full time and friend and colleague Donna Simmons coming in two days a week. The pair go back more than 25 years when they job-shared at RACV while managing young families.
The agency’s clientele is skewed towards an older demographic with the time and means to travel, and the business enjoys healthy repeat and referrals business. In addition, in January 2018 Donna took ownership of the premises. The challenge, Donna says, is to attract the younger families moving into the area and, like all agencies, to compete against online competitors.
With the assistance of the Travellers Choice Marketing team she uses digital tools to market to her database, and social media is also playing a growing role. A few years ago Donna also launched her own escorted tours, which have helped attract new business. So far the groups – which involve between 12 and 22 clients – have explored Vietnam, Europe and East Africa, and next month she leads her latest excursion to Portugal and Spain.
“While I do think it’s getting harder for agents, I’m still confident about the future because I think there will always be a need for people to seek out the advice of an expert and get that peace of mind. The ability to find out what people are really after and to use our skills and knowledge to deliver it, that’s what will continue to set us apart from all the pointing and clicking.”