Emer McDermott, Travel Counsellor, has occupied a unit at the Leeson Enterprise Centre since 2018. Prior to this she was well known in Westport and beyond for her award-winning travel agency, McDermott Travel, which she operated in the town centre for many years. In growing her business over the years, Emer has had to make some key structural change decisions, which, once committed to, have enabled her to continue to grow and develop to the point of being busier than ever in her work as a travel agent today. Specialising in tailor-made holidays, group travel, business travel and honeymoons, Emer's philosophy is a simple one — to offer you the best, most authentic travel experience possible, through the provision of individually crafted trips based around your personal tastes and interests.
"I had a really good job in Galway, where I am from, managing the former very successful McDonagh Travel on Wood Quay. Then I moved to Westport, but continued working in Galway and was promoted from Junior to Director. I always knew Westport was a place I felt comfortable in and after continuing to travel up and down to Galway until September 2001, I finally made the decision I was going to work my business here. I started out on my own, rented a premises, set up McDermott Travel, and over the guts of 20 years, grew the business. We moved around the corner to Market Lane, into a bigger property and continued on there another four years."
The travel industry
"The Travel industry is always changing and always evolving. By 2018, most people were gravitating towards moving their travel bookings online. They didn’t have the time to come in and sit with you so much of my work was done over phone and email. I realised there was a need for a more sustainable work model. I decided it would be best to be part of a consortium, which allowed me to look after the most important part of the business, which is the customer, and where issues such as licensing and other requirements are taken care of.
"It’s a very exposed industry. It is hit first by anything that is going on globally. Covid was unforeseen but I saw the signs of the pandemic coming six weeks in advance because cancellations were starting to seep in. Over the course of the next few weeks all my forward bookings for the next 12 months were cancelled.
"The challenge through this time was to remain personal to the customer, abate their fears and provide expert advice – all the while knowing you were cancelling any revenue you potentially had. But you had to believe it would come back again and do the right thing by the business and your customer and I am seeing that happening now. Two years later, there are fresh green shoots and people are coming back with bigger bookings, because of the way you dealt with them; and for bigger trips, people like to deal with a personal agent."
Travel Counsellors franchise
"Travel Counsellors is a franchise model that currently has 82 franchise agents in Ireland. The main benefit is you have supports, not only for yourself but your customers, such as 24-hour emergency service and access to preferential rates for flights and hotels, so you can deliver a better product for the customer, which is always the goal. It is hard work, the business of sales is hard; you’re only as good as your last trick. The tagline we have, which is why I ended up choosing Travel Counsellors, is, ‘It’s personal’ – I identified very much with that, because that is what I like to do – provide a concierge service to clients, so they are not having to buy a package online. Instead, this is about bespoke tailor-made niche packages, so you don’t have to go on a fixed tour; and if you have a family who want to spend three weeks in Vietnam similar to a package that is available for a backpacking couple, it is totally feasible for me to make that work."
MYTC travel App
"I have my own travel app now - MYTC - which has been a game-changer. Once you make the enquiry and sign up for the app, I send you quotes through the app and then the updates as you fine-tune your request. Once you make a booking, your itinerary and travel documents are on the app ie confirmation information, boarding passes, hotel vouchers. During pre-travel you can make secure payments on the app and if there’s an issue with flight schedule, live flight updates and alerts are provided. So travel is now a personal app that offers a concierge service and I find that’s what people really want. They don’t want to have to go and research online, but say, ‘I just want you to book it and here is what I want’."
"Crisis management is a huge part of the travel business. Even through the pandemic it never really stopped. Initially, the first year was like a tsunami; every day there was somebody stranded, I was repatriating people from Australia, a lady whose father was dying in South Africa, there was no way to get her out, but working through the Embassy, I was able to have her arrive there a few hours before he died.
"A flight to New York was cancelled on a client who had a connecting flight to Orlando scheduled after that. I got them on another flight with a different airline – all done before 8am that morning.
"A couple due to go to Bali for their honeymoon 3-4 days after their wedding, they rang to say they had tested positive for Covid. It was a 10-sector trip all over Bali. You have to move, change and reorganise all bookings before the original holiday end-date expires. I spent a whole day working on that, dealing with a transfer company, four hotels, renegotiating with each - and then dealing with the emotional side, a couple thinking they are going on honeymoon and they’re not. Had they booked the holiday online themselves they would never have been able to undo the bookings or rearrange times. It’s those sort of things that make us stand out in Travel Counsellors."
Moving to Leeson Enterprise Centre
"With my business being yet another new entity, I decided I needed a new working space, where customers could still find me and I still had visibility, but not on the High Street. The Leeson Enterprise Centre was in its infancy but I recognised it as a place that was local and accessible and where new businesses and startups worked and supported each other. It is lovely here, you can just walk down the hall, another business might be running an event; you get to chatting, share a nugget of their business, share ideas; it is an enterprise centre in that way. In the last two years it has been a real game-changer to me, the whole sense of community and having somewhere to vent. The facilities are great, with high speed broadband, meeting rooms, a kitchen, privacy and security. So while I work for myself, I don’t feel I’m on my own. I just step out into the hall and I have colleagues."