How a Personal Travel Manager’s Outback Break Revived Her Business and Restored Her Mojo

How a Personal Travel Manager’s Outback Break Revived Her Business and Restored Her Mojo

Change can be difficult and painful. This year has brought with it change on a scale that has challenged many people in their professional and personal lives like nothing ever before. As humans, we pride ourselves on being adaptable, of being able to “roll with the punches”, but often change is both uncomfortable and unwelcome.

Personal travel manager (PTM) Caroline Cox, who is TravelManagers’ representative for Hope Island, QLD, has spent much of this year in the same way as travel professionals the world over, doing her best to adapt to the changes that COVID-19 has inflicted on her industry. As months of stress were beginning to take their toll, her partner proposed yet another change, and despite her initial opposition to the idea, she eventually came to realise the truth in the old saying that “a change can be as good as a rest.”

“I have watched plans fall apart for most of my clients as global borders were closed, planes were grounded, empty ships were sent out to sea, and long-awaited holidays were cancelled,” she explains. “As their travel dreams dissolved, my clients relied on me to navigate the labyrinth of changing refund policies, inconsistent border rules and quarantine restrictions. The pressure was intense, everyone I knew in the industry was suffering, and I personally felt like a passenger strapped into a car that was hurtling in reverse towards the edge of a cliff.”

Realising that she was struggling, Caroline’s partner proposed something radical: they would drop everything, pack up the caravan and head off on a month-long outback road-trip with friends.

“It’s fair to say I didn’t go quietly,” Caroline acknowledges with a rueful grin. “I had a brief moment of calm while standing under the Tree of Knowledge monument in Barcaldine, but aside from that, for the first couple of days I felt tired and cranky – a right Miss who wanted everyone around me to feel miserable too!”

Despite her misgivings about the trip – “it’s so flat, we’ve brought the wrong clothes, the car is filthy already, we should have brought a 4WD” – Caroline says as the days passed, she felt herself becoming gradually stronger and more positive. She discovered that it was a relief to sit back and let someone else take charge, forgoing her usual roles of researcher, guide, nursemaid, navigator, trouble-shooter and agony aunt.

“We were towing our new caravan which had barely been used because of COVID restrictions, travelling with two other couples who knew the ropes. It was quite different to the holiday I was supposed to be on, cruising the Baltic aboard the Azamara Quest, but as we went on, I started to think about the different clients who would enjoy a similar experience and to appreciate where I was and who I was with.”

Setting off from their home base on the Gold Coast, Caroline and her travel companions set a leisurely pace towards Winton – a round trip of more than three thousand kilometres that would take them via Bundaberg and Barcaldine, the Gemfields towns of Rubyville and  Sapphire, the iconic Ilfracombe pub and the outback town of Longreach.

“Fossicking in Sapphire was a big hoot, and we brought home hundreds of rocks which were thought to be offcuts of sapphires,” Cox reports. “There I was, the woman who hates dirt and snakes, covered in dust and feeling very proud of myself, fossicking in a dry riverbed.”

Winton was another highlight for Caroline, who says a visit to the nearby Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum had been on her bucket list for some time. In fact, the group were so taken with the town that they decided to extend their stay to further enjoy the local hospitality: Cox is happy to confirm that the North Gregory Hotel in downtown Winton is the place to be at 4.30pm on any given day.

According to Caroline, leaving her creature comforts behind was just one part of the transformative experience. The longer she was away, the easier it was to turn off from the stresses of the previous months.

“I found myself forgetting to worry about how long refunds were taking, and my phone wasn’t even ringing as everyone knew I was away,” she explains. “The further west we went, the lower the stars in the sky seemed to become. By the time we reached Longreach, I felt I could just about reach out and touch them. The viewing was amazing, and I was able to allow myself to be swept away.”

That’s not to say her clients were neglected in her absence – Caroline says her only condition in agreeing to take the trip was that her laptop came along for the ride so that she could remain in regular contact. Well accustomed to working from wherever in the world she happened to be, Caroline says this arrangement worked just as well in the Queensland Outback as it has in other exotically remote destinations. On her return to the Gold Coast, one of her first tasks was to call each of her clients to let them know she was back in town: a gesture that was rewarded almost immediately with a variety of new bookings that ranged from a luxury Kimberley cruise to a private charter tour of the Outback.

“I actually got three new holiday bookings from a single call worth a total of just under $50,000”.

Always an advocate for Australian travel, Caroline believes there are great opportunities for personal travel managers who are confident in their domestic travel knowledge. The enthusiasm and energy she shared with clients on returning from her own sabbatical has inspired some of them to book their own Australian adventures.

“I was at a pretty low ebb when I walked away from my desk,” says Caroline, “but the trip, and my clients’ response to the blogs I wrote along the way, have reignited the passion I feel for what I do. I’ve been reminded of the importance of sharing travel experiences with your clients, letting them know when you’re back for them and dangling a few tempting options in front of them.”

Caroline says the road trip provided her with much-needed rejuvenation and remotivation to get her through the tough times ahead – to be sure, she’s already begun planning another trip to Queensland’s Outback. She is encouraging other PTMs to follow her example and take a break if they are feeling in need of time to “recharge their batteries”.

“In Jericho we camped by the river and cooked our meals over a campfire. The damper was a miserable failure, but we ate it anyway and laughed the whole evening. I had almost forgotten how to have fun.”

“At the outset I was oblivious to the impact this change of pace would have on me, but on my return to the Gold Coast I didn’t want to wash the car – I wanted it to stay dirty as a reminder of the extraordinary trip we’d had.”