10/02/2011 - 00:00

Solo travellers start to pay off

10/02/2011 - 00:00

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TRAVEL is a good business to be in, because it’s a product that almost everyone is interested in, according to travel agent and internet entrepreneur Annette Porter.

TRAVEL is a good business to be in, because it’s a product that almost everyone is interested in, according to travel agent and internet entrepreneur Annette Porter.

Her one-year-old business Travel with Me is a service that offers traditional tour bookings, organises tours, and links people with a common interest -– all aimed at those without a travel companion.

It’s not a singles service, or just a way to travel cheaper, Ms Porter told WA Business News.

Many of her clients can afford to travel alone but are looking for someone to share the experience with; and many clients have partners who prefer to stay at home.

Launched at the 2010 Holiday and Travel Expo, TWMe has had a slow first year but the wheels are now turning in earnest for 2011.

Ms Porter, who also owns the Belmont branch of Harvey World Travel, had wanted to start something like TWMe for over five years.

“The original idea came when a client came in and starting talking to me about whether there was a service for solo travelers,” Ms Porter said.

She kept the idea in the back of her mind and was spurred into action years later after going out of her way to link two strangers who were interested in a river cruise.

“They came and met and said they were off to have a coffee and pick which tour, and I never heard from them again,” Ms Porter said.

“I just thought, this needs to be a separate business.

“I approached Harvey World to see if I could have TWMe as a side-arm of Harvey World but their franchise laws didn’t fit regarding marketing zones.”

TWMe eventually set up under the Travel Scene banner, and Ms Porter pays a small fee to use their ticketing service and have their name on the website, but has total control of the business.

TWMe can place travellers onto tours and also organises tours for groups of clients, but the site also has a solo travellers club, where users can create a profile and find a travel companion who shares their interests.

“They may never book with me, but they’ll still become members and if they find someone to travel with, hopefully they’ll book the trip with me,” Ms Porter said.

At the moment, the companion service is free, but Ms Porter said she would introduce an annual fee after this year’s travel expo, which will be deductible from any trip booked.

The initial response after the launch was strong, but bookings were sporadic up until Christmas, Ms Porter said.

“But there have been lots of bookings this year and it’s starting to move. At this rate, we’re getting close to putting on more staff,” she said.

“I think it will grow quite quickly, and I need to have everything in place to be ready for that.”

Currently, Ms Porter runs the business from home with one part-time staff member, but plans to move into an office within six months.

“Even though we’re an internet business, which is the way everything is going, my demographic is an age group that may not be very internet-savvy,” she said.

“I do want an office where people can come in and have personal interaction.”

Learning to use the internet has been something Ms Porter has had to get used to herself, and she describes it as her biggest challenge to date.

“It’s been a massive learning curve and I’ve joined a group for online businesses to share my experiences and learn,” she said.

Ms Porter said she’s learned so much from the different forums and meetings she attends regularly, and also uses the opportunity to network and promote her product.

Ms Porter lists the highlight so far as planning and carrying out the business’s guided tour, where she led 12 women on a culinary tour of Vietnam.

“I’ve never had a group that was so perfect together before,” she said.

“I’m sure that the reason was having so much in common, as it was a culinary tour so they all had an interest in food.

“It made for the group to gel a lot easier and a lot quicker.”

“I remember sitting on the plane and just thinking, OK, now we’re really getting started.”

 

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