This month FOCUS introduces the well-travelled Leigh McLennan, co-owner and manager of Hello World Armidale, a locally owned and operated travel agency. Hello World Armidale is an active supporter of its hometown, a member of Locals 4 Locals, and proudly supports numerous local community and charitable causes.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and bred in Armidale. I went to Armidale High School and married a local boy, with whom I’ve just celebrated 25 years of marriage and raised two beautiful children. We opened the business in 2003 and since then have been pedalling flat out. Time has flown since then!
I spent some time working outside of Armidale, spending 12 months in Lismore in the ‘80s working at Westpac and then 12 months relieving around the region, working in towns including Walcha, Mungindi and Moree. It was a fabulous experience and great fun. I met a lot of people and made lifelong friends. Although I spent a lot of time travelling, I kept coming home.
What brought you home for good?
I came back for love! This was where Paul was, and here I am today. When I reflect on it, it was one of those sliding door moments. And of course, it has proven to be the right move.
What led you to start Hello World?
I was an employee of the franchisee of Harvey World Travel, which led to an opportunity for us to own our own travel agency. We’d been considering opening our own business for some time and, thinking this would be the way to fulfil our travel dreams, we didn’t hesitate! Five years ago, the brand had a name change. Becoming a fully branded Hello World Travel has proven to be a positive move, and our valued clients continue to support us!
What does Hello World do?
We are in the business of making people’s dreams come true, helping them to tick off their bucket lists. It’s a really rewarding thing to do. We can arrange travel to anywhere in the world.
A destination we are particularly knowledgeable about is Europe. In the last 18 months I’ve spent four months in Europe over several trips, so I know it well. All our staff have also been on several occasions, and Paul escorts groups to the UK and the Isle of Man every year. Along with leisure travel, we can also arrange corporate and group travel.
What is the most exciting trip you’ve organised?
Honestly, any trip is a good trip, as far as I’m concerned. I have to say my favourite trip is always the last one I’ve been on. So, as we speak, it was an active adventure in Italy, France and Switzerland – a trip where I not only got to share with friends, but also to be active, which I love to do!
Different places are amazing for different reasons: Africa is about the animals; Canada is about the scenic beauty; and Europe is about the history. Myanmar was really interesting. Watching the sun set over the temples spread across Bagan was one of those “pinch yourself” moments, as was walking into Vernazza after a day hiking the Cinque Terre in Italy! I’m a lucky girl!
How do you fare with the rise of online booking, where your clients can just go online and book their trip themselves?
Our clients are looking for more than just the cheapest airfare. They come to us to assist in arranging the perfect holiday.
A computer is not going to ask you probing questions, to really find out what your perfect holiday looks like. We have the personal experience and ask you the right questions to tailor your trip to match your vision.
And, we do a lot of travel ourselves. Experience visiting a destination gives us a much better understanding of a country and enables us to provide information that you can’t read in a brochure. And this is what we do all day, every day. We can make suggestions that will enhance your trip plans and come up with interesting add-ons or approaches that will smooth your way.
What has been most challenging for you as a business owner?
Balancing work and family is always a challenge as a business owner, especially when travel is part of the job. Even now while the children are leaving the nest, getting the balance right is a constant battle and requires getting priorities in order.
What’s next for Hello World?
Now our children are grown up, our plan is to increase our escorted group business. Both Paul and I have escorted several groups over the last few years. We have a few in the pipeline, including South Africa, Canada, South America, and possibly Oktoberfest.
We’ll be here for a while yet, because there are a lot of places to tick off the bucket list!
What inspires you?
Travel! It is so much more than sightseeing! Meeting people and sharing amazing experiences truly inspires me. It’s my favourite thing.
Any advice for a business just starting out?
It will be a lot harder work than you are probably anticipating and a lot more hours than being an employee, but the rewards are worth it.