Vicki and Neal Kembery have just celebrated the opening of their brand new travel centre. In this interview, you will read why this is a very unique travel store concept and why this exciting venture was inevitable for them both to embark upon.
When and where did you and Neal meet?
Vicki: Neal and I actually met at a friend’s fancy dress party in Sydney about 25 years ago! Neal was in Australia travelling, but had to go back to England to help his dad out at his business soon after we met. So, I followed him over to the UK a few months later.
We came back here to Armidale to get married in 1989 in the garden at PLC and then went back to the UK for a couple of years, before coming back to Australia for good in 1991.
Why was going into a new business inevitable?
Neal: It’s kind of funny how many people have said that to us – that it was inevitable that we open a business like this, or people ask us why it took us so long. I guess it was ‘inevitable’ when you look at mine and Vicki’s business history. I had Mountain Designs here for a few years and still have the Newcastle Mountain Designs franchise, and Vicki managed Flight Centre for 5 years.
So, I guess combining both our experiences of working in retail travel and retail goods into Ultimate Travel Solutions made sense. What we are offering our customers and clients is the best service, experience and advice you can get on travel gear and travel products and services.
How did your ‘grand opening’ go, and who attended?
Vicki: I don’t know if ‘grand’ is the right word to use … perhaps ‘modest’ would be more apt! It went very well, and people were kind enough to make very favourable comments on the look of the shop and the stock we have, so that was nice to hear.
Our 2 day ‘grand opening’ sale also went really well, and it was good to get our name back out there in the marketplace.
We had a range of people pop in for the opening, including an ex-Mayor, my dad Doug Hewitt, and Mayor Peter Ducat, as well as people we have worked with over the years, some of my fellow Rotarians, friends and clients.
Are you and Neal experienced travellers?
Vicki: We have both been fortunate enough to have travelled quite extensively. The only continent we haven’t visited between us is Antarctica, and I’m sure Neal would jump at that one given half a chance!
We have travelled independently, as part of an organised tour group, by motorbike, train, plane and car, with each other, alone and with friends. We both have our favourite countries and cities we have visited.
What are some of your favourite destinations?
Vicki: Mine would be the Maldives or Tonga, for total relaxation; Capetown and New York, for two of the world’s greatest but totally different cities; Turkey and Vietnam, for countries offering something a little different, and both of them have a link with Australia; and for interesting ways to get around – the Trans-Siberian Railway, for a tour of vast contrasts; and riding around Central and Eastern Europe last year on a motorbike was a new way of seeing places.
Neal: My favourites would have to include Yosemite and Calgary, for the great outdoors; Africa and Ecuador, because I’m lucky to have mates living in both places; India, Nepal and Burma, for that total culture shock; and I’m with Vicki when it comes to interesting ways to get around – you can’t go past the Trans-Siberian Railway or riding a motorbike anywhere in the world!
What type of clothing will you be selling?
Neal: We are focusing on travel gear, luggage and accessories rather than outdoor gear, although there is a lot of cross-over between the two these days – so a lot of the travel gear can be used in the outdoors.
All of our gear has a story behind it; it’s not just a jacket, jumper, shirt or pair of trousers, and that is what we are interested in explaining and selling to people – the reason why you should buy this shirt to travel in.
And although we are concentrating on travel related gear, we are also listening to what people have been saying and asking about when they have come into the store, so we will definitely look at other related gear like walking sticks and boots.
What holiday destinations do you offer?
Vicki: We are a small business up against some pretty large national and international companies, so we would like to align ourselves with other small, boutique, service oriented providers to give our clients a new and different holiday experience.
But in saying that, we are a Travel Agency which can offer you the budget Bali holiday as well, and we are more than happy to help you with that.
And finally, if you had to pack a bag to go on holiday, what would you definitely put in it?
Neal: If you were going somewhere cold, I’d pack an Icebreaker thermal, a Vigilante Brentwood Shirt, a pair of Travel Denim trousers, an MD Fleece and either a softshell or insulated jacket, beanie, gloves, good Icebreaker socks and a pair of Targhee waterproof shoes.
If it was somewhere hot, I’d just take a couple of Icebreaker merino tech T-shirts – they breathe, they’re cool and they don’t smell! Oh yeah, and a pair of convertible trousers and a pair of Keens sandals. Easy!
Thank you Vicki and Neal.