I enjoyed reading this article in Channel magazine about our long-time client Mary Buckley who, along with husband Jason, own four helloworld travel agencies in Auckland. Obviously their business has been turned upside down this year, but Mary talks about the future, her staff, and how they saw the lockdown coming back in January…
Read the article in full below or over at Channel Magazine HERE
A chat with Mary Buckley…
Lockdown, survival, teamwork, resilience, pivoting and more!
Mary Buckley has been a consistent supporter, advertiser and friend of Channel Magazine for many years. Along with her husband Jason, Mary is the owner of the prominent helloworld Travel business in Milford as well as three other branches in Auckland.
The travel industry has been hit with a sledgehammer by Covid-19, so Channel Mag’s Aidan Bennett thought it appropriate to visit Mary at her store on the corner of Kitchener and Milford Roads to find out how the helloworld team is coping.
There is a reason that Mary Buckley is successful and well respected on the North Shore and in the travel industry – and loved by her customers. She’s a real professional and always positive. It is not surprising that despite her businesses being hit severely since early in 2020, she has firmly maintained that manner.
The day I popped in to see Mary was the day after the government had announced support for the travel industry via commissions for recovering the estimated $700m worth of payments (for travel thwarted by Covid) that have been made to offshore travel operators by New Zealanders. So there was a glimmer of light in the gloomy tunnel that has been 2020 for Jason and Mary Buckley.
Jason Buckley has been in the travel industry for 30 years, Mary for 20 years. They have owned travel agencies for five years. In addition to the helloworld Milford office, they also have the helloworld offices in Browns Bay, Ponsonby and Henderson.
“Back in late January, Jason and I were in Italy and Spain and we could sense things happening,” explained Mary Buckley when reflecting on the start of the Covid-9 global problem. “Rome was closing its doors to China and there were clear signs of Asia closing off. Problems quickly followed for us with full-on cancellations of travel starting in early February.”
“Lockdown one arrived in March and we frantically got our staff set up at home so they could work to help our customers travelling to get back from overseas. That was the rapid change for us. During that time we were constantly re-issuing tickets for people trying to get home.”
Five months on Mary says their turnover is down over 90%. She says that the word ‘unprecedented’ has never been more appropriate.
“We have faced a global travel ban and have been surviving on the government wage subsidy ever since. We couldn’t have survived without it.”
“We have a great team, but this has been very hard on the staff. Many have stayed with us and continued to work with a smile on their face to help our customers despite the adversity. Some transferred to new industry sectors quickly when they saw the writing on the wall. But for many of us travel is a vocation, something we are passionate about. It’s harder to leave.”
Mary says that most of their landlords have been helpful to cushion the blow when they have had to shut down.
“Our Milford landlord has been particularly good. We appreciate that he has taken a long term view and we are very grateful.”
“Business-wise we have pivoted to focus on domestic travel and we have a trickle of this business and are hopeful of growth. We have also had a generous number of customers who have been happy to leave their travel credits with us. But the majority of our customers are desperately waiting for the borders to open with many happy to book two years ahead. Up until late July they were holding off booking, but more recently, after the second lockdown, there has been more activity with customers booking New Zealand holidays as well as overseas holidays two years out.”
So what do the next 12 months look like?
“We will continue the pivot to do more local travel. Inbound tour companies are providing great packages which is opening up a new domestic market for helloworld. The South Island is popular and people are accepting of the fact that things are not cheap. We are lucky that many of our customers are willing to pay for quality. We are hopeful that the South Pacific will open up when the post-election government may feel more confident in extending our bubble for the benefit of our Pacific neighbours. Maybe in early 2021?”
“Jason and I are really looking forward to our own South Island camper van road trip at Christmas/New Year with our two teenagers, aged 13 and 15. We’ll be braving it with two teenagers but the break will be great.”
Mary Buckley explains that the past eight months has firmly tested their personal resilience. The period has also confirmed that their staff are a priority as it is important to have a good team.
“From the beginning we have been clear that our team is important and that we are all in this together. We have supported each other which has helped with mental health and overall resilience. We have learnt what is important, reconfirming our core values.”
Mary says they have also enjoyed fantastic support from their business coach, an ex-travel person who has mentored them for many years. They have leant on him for help right through the period.
“Business associations in all four areas where our offices are located have really reached out to us which has been great. We have certainly felt our local networks and the support of other local businesses.”
“While we have had to dip into our assets and retirement fund to keep going, all this support we have had is a big reason why we are still here and feel confident about the future. Being part of the helloworld family is also a bonus. We are off to Queenstown next week for the helloworld conference and we are excited – particularly looking forward to travelling!”
Despite the adversity, life for the positive Mary Buckley goes on… In finishing our chat she explains that lockdown life hasn’t been so bad.
“This time has reinforced that living in Mairangi Bay is pretty special. There have been opportunities to relax, enjoy wine, spend time with family and friends and do lots of beach walks. The dog has loved it!”