Strictly Business: Clare Levy
Director, Different Planet Travel
I got into travel… after university when I went to work as a Kuoni representative overseas for two and a half years in Zermatt and then the Maldives. I then joined a tour operator in London as head of sales for five years and finally a travel agency again for five years before starting my own business. Having this total understanding of each element of the industry really helps me still.
I started my business… ten years ago when I moved to north London. I knew I had the clients and knowledge but it was a huge leap for me. My first week operating as Different Planet Travel was when the ash cloud hit [in 2010] and I remember calling my mum in a panic. She, as always, calmed me down. Now, with 10 years’ experience of varied natural disasters, political and sporting events affecting sales patterns, I have learnt to really stick to the proverb ‘make hay while the sun shines’, and so far, so good.
I have grown my business… purely through recommendation and referrals and this is something I am very proud of. The conversion levels are, in my experience, so much higher this way rather than through marketing and advertising. This in turn means when I ask for help from a tour operator or hotel, they know I am serious and I get fantastic service. I have also started using social media far more to keep in touch with clients and that is working surprisingly well.
The part of the business growing the most is… new clients. I really don’t know if the awards I’ve won have been the catalyst but there has certainly been a noticeable increase in clients referring me. I am also working hard to make sure I offer something extra for clients. It can be an upgrade but also sometimes a guidebook with their confirmation or champagne in the room on arrival.
The supplier I have the strongest partnership with is… Carrier. Rick Milne [head of sales] was the first person I called to discuss setting up on my own and thanks to his support and enthusiasm I started my company with a huge Christmas booking. I work with the Carrier sales team daily – if not hourly sometimes (poor them!) – and they are exceptional.
My proudest career achievement is… a combination of happy repeat clients, some of whom I have looked after for 15 years, and then recently winning two big awards, including Aspire Travel Professional of the Year.