Liz is Managing Director of Sundowners Overland, and was recently elected to the position of Vice-Chair of CATO. In this quick Q&A, Liz talks about her career, the future of travel, and the role CATO can play in the industry's recovery in Australia.
What was your first 'travel' job, and where does your passion for travel come from?
My first travel job was as a Tour Leader for Sundowners Overland. I had been living in Japan, travelled back to the UK overland on the Trans Mongolian Railway and through Central Asia (booked through Sundowners) and, after a few years working in IT, decided to make the move into the travel industry. I had specialised in Russian history at university, so it was a natural fit.
You've been on the CATO Board for two years, and were recently elected to the position of CATO Vice-Chair, what are you most looking forward to delivering, influencing or achieving during your tenure?
Whilst our sector faces many challenges now, I am optimistic about the future and believe we have the collective capability to create a more cohesive and unified industry.
As a member of the Road to Recovery Committee we are working hard to ensure our members are well positioned to come out the other side of COVID-19. That includes defining more standardised guidance and protocols for operators so that we give customers confidence to get out there and safely travel and experience the many great destinations and experiences our members provide.
CATO is the peak representative body for the Australian travel industry's land supply sector, what role do you see it playing in the local industry's recovery from the global covid-19 shutdown?
As a strong industry advocate, I’d like to see CATO continue to build its profile through a range of trade and consumer channels, so that travellers choose to book their next journey with one of our members knowing that they will not only get a great experience, but also one that is safe and secure.
Building trust and confidence in our sector and members is the most important role CATO can play in the local industry’s recovery.
CATO Members create and supply travel product to Australia's retail travel networks, what role will those members play in helping retail find its feet again?
I am sure that all CATO members will be doing all they can to assist retail with both training and continuing to support and promote booking through a trusted agent to clients. We have all learnt a thing of two about booking conditions over the past few months. Ongoing transparency will be vital to winning the trust and confidence of the customer, which is a collective responsibility.
How can CATO strengthen its relationship with travel agents even more deeply, to ensure things are beneficial for everyone on the other side COVID-19?
We have all had to work together over the past few months to try to ensure the best outcomes for impacted clients through COVID-19. Now more than ever the reassurance and assistance that agents can provide their clients will be key coming out the other side.
Whilst there will be, I believe, some rebalancing of the relationship between agents and suppliers this will hopefully lead to careful matching of client needs to the array of product available to them. In turn, suppliers will be keen to hear how we can assist agents going forward with messaging and ways to boost consumer confidence in the coming months; now more than ever we can all learn from each other.
Fundamentally, how changed will tourism be when international borders re-open and people start moving again? Will the travel experiences created and operated by Sundowners Overland, for example, be noticeably different?
I think many things will change, and much will stay the same. The natural curiosity that people have to explore and discover hasn’t changed, and that will mean people will still want to interact and learn from others.
I feel travellers will fall somewhere on the continuum of extremely cautious and wanting to have a highly curated and managed experience through to those who will continue to explore as they have previously. All, however, will want the reassurance that they are going to be looked after at every step of their journey.
I am sure that we will all see an increased interest in the “open air” tours, be it in Mongolia, the Caucasus or the wilds of Kyrgyzstan and perhaps less focus, in the short to medium term, on visiting museums.
At Sundowners Overland we will continue to offer tailored independent journeys, small groups (maximum 15) and private group tours which I believe will continue to grow in popularity. Being able to customise inclusions and offer flexibility on the ground within itineraries will be a feature.
If you could travel to any place on the planet right now, where would it be?
Other than back to the UK to see friends and family I’d quite happily be back in mountains in Georgia with some nice wine and cheese!