Personal Travel Manager Making Accessible Travel More Accessible
PUBLISHED: ETBnews, e-Global Travel Media, Travel Weekly
For the 550 personal travel managers (PTMs) who have joined TravelManagers, benefits include having the flexibility to set their own hours, having the security and support of the industry’s premium travel network and having the freedom to pursue their own areas of expertise and interest. Fiona Donaldson, who is representative for Burpengary East, QLD, is one of the many PTMs within the company who has turned her personal travel experiences and niche expertise into a thriving business.
Donaldson has been with TravelManagers since February 2017, having worked in various roles within the travel industry for 22 years before that. She has been a wheelchair user for the duration of her travel career, and joined TravelManagers with the vision that she could apply her expert, first-hand knowledge in the area of accessible travel to build a business that focused on planning and booking holidays for other people with accessibility requirements.
“I was looking for a fresh challenge in my career when a chance meeting with one of TravelManagers’ Business Partnership Managers (BPMs) led to a leap of faith,” Donaldson explains. “I had to trust in my abilities to go out on my own and create a business that would specialise in accessible travel.”
Donaldson says the move has been more successful than she had ever hoped, despite having to start building a client base from scratch when she first set out.
“My time with TravelManagers has presented me with more opportunities than I had thought possible – not only has my business increased steadily, but it has also led to personal development opportunities that I had not foreseen.”
Donaldson is referring to her burgeoning public speaking role, which she says came about from knowing that she had a story to tell. Starting out four years ago by giving talks to her Business and Professional Women (BPW) group and local Rotary organisations, Donaldson is now finding herself in demand as a speaker: she has gone on to speak about accessible travel at Spinal Life Australia’s Wellbeing Conference, and was thrilled to be invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference of graduating Occupational Therapy students at the University of Queensland recently.
“The UQ conference theme was ‘Bringing out the Greatness Within’,” Donaldson explains, “which I addressed in the context of my own life experience, and experience with Occupational Therapists in general. It was very well-received, and I have been asked to attend various courses and events at the University this year, as well as another Spinal Life Australia Wellbeing Conference in Perth later this month.”
Donaldson is also focused on continuing to build her accessible travel business, with support from her BPM and TravelManagers’ National Partnership Office (NPO).
“The BPMs are full of ideas that have already been proven to work in building a successful travel business,” she says. “Every department is supportive and quick to give advice and offer suggestions, and the flexibility I now have allows me to prioritise my day-to-day business.”
TravelManagers’ Executive General Manager, Michael Gazal, says Donaldson presents the perfect example of why the TravelManagers business model works so well for its people.
“Fiona has built a very successful business around tailoring itineraries for people with disabilities from all over Australia,” he explains, “using her personal experience and passion for making travel more accessible and less intimidating for people with accessibility needs.”
Donaldson says being able to offer her clients first-hand advice and tips is one of the keys to her success, adding that one of her current career goals is to familiarise herself with the growing number of accessible tour companies that are operate around the world.
“It is a highly specialised area, and many potential clients feel quite overwhelmed by the logistics involved in organising a holiday – the challenges they face will vary depending on the type and level of disability.”
“Having someone like me to remove the uncertainty makes a huge difference to their holiday experience,” she continues. “From checking the door dimensions and bed heights in accessible hotel rooms to sourcing equipment hire such as hoists and shower chairs to be delivered to the hotel prior to checking in, as a wheelchair user myself I know what to look for, what questions to ask, and I can offer valuable advice to my clients from personal experience.”
Donaldson says one of her business goals is to escort a group to Singapore or New Zealand in 2019/2020 to demonstrate that travelling with a disability is very achievable. She’s also aiming to grow her business to the point where she is considered the go-to travel advisor in Australia for accessible travel.