Your Business: Celebrity hosts help pave way to success

By Gill South

Six years after starting Innovative Travel, owner Robyn Galloway landed a lucrative  deal. Photo / Simon Baker
Six years after starting Innovative Travel, owner Robyn Galloway landed a lucrative deal. Photo / Simon Baker

Travel agent owner Robyn Galloway was in Greece when the Christchurch earthquake hit in September.

Her staff at The Innovative Travel Company went in to inspect their building and found it undamaged.

They told her not to rush back, but she did. As a board director of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce (CECC), she knew she could help other small businesses and give advice on restoring Christchurch's tourism reputation.

It was the CECC which recommended to the Government that it give a wage subsidy to businesses of less than 20 staff.

The earthquake was by no means the first challenge for Galloway with more than 20 years in the travel industry taking people to the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the West Indies under the Ancient Kingdoms' Holidays brand.

The wholesale agent offers tours through some of the country's biggest retail travel agencies including the House of Travel, United Travel, Harvey World Travel and First Travel Group.

Galloway likes to tell the story that in 1990, her first year of business, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

"We had 100 per cent cancellation overnight."

Over the years, various world health scares have also put a spanner in the works - Sars (Severe acute respiratory syndrome), Avian Flu and Swine Flu (H1N1 flu) to name a few.

Each time, she adjusted.

When Hussein invaded Kuwait, she took up an offer by friends to manage their rock and roll band, The Velvettes, and kept plugging away at her business. As the years progressed she was in more markets so was less exposed.

Six years after she started Innovative Travel came a turning point. She was asked to become business partners with a big Egyptian tourism operator, owned by Elhamy El Zayat.

"He has helped add substance - we were able to build our resources from his contacts throughout the region," says Galloway.

El Zayat now has a strong relationship with New Zealand, as Honorary Consul General for NZ in Egypt.

The band experience came in handy when she organised for Dame Melvina Major to perform at the first "Opera at the Pyramids" event in 1997.

Dame Melvina has gone on to host Ancient Kingdoms' opera tours in Austria and Italy. Innovative Travel was the first company in New Zealand to organise tours with celebrity hosts, says Galloway.

She saw them as a creative way to inspire people to travel to these destinations. Clothes designer Jane Daniels is the company's brand ambassador and other tour hosts include retiring ambassador, Michael Chilton, who will be conducting the Western Battlefields tour through Egypt and Libya and Sarah Wilkinson, an archeologist, who is hosting a tour to Britain and Greece, on an archaeological dig.

Jeremy Coney has been another popular tour host for cricket supporter groups going to the West Indies.

Innovative Travel is also moving into a new sphere. Motivational speaker and author of How to Make a Silver Lining, Julie Woods is running the first tour by a blind person to Egypt - taking an Ancient Kingdoms' tour of visually impaired people with her sighted partner.

"There is so much more we could do in this area," says Galloway.

The travel company attracted media attention in December 2008, when Galloway took her 12 full-time staff to a four-day working week after several months notice.

"The team were concerned about a drop in income but as the recession went on, they heard about people being told: 'Don't come in on Monday,' and they ended up thanking me for my insight," says Galloway who took the biggest pay cut in 2008 and made sure her team knew they were valued.

The company was back to normal by December 1, 2009. "We just had the best year ever and are looking to employ two more people," she says.

- NZ Herald

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