Strictly business: Lesley-Ann Birley, La Concordia Personal Travel

La Concordia Personal Travel owner Lesley-Ann Birley talks business and bugbears.

I got into travel… after escaping the world of finance. I’d spent 18 years forging a career as a chartered accountant only to realise the corporate life wasn’t for me. I had always wanted to start my own business and decided it had to be based around my passion for travel.

I wanted to offer a truly personalised and independent service, something I thought was lacking at the time.

I set up my business… in 2008. I knew nothing about how the travel industry worked, but I learnt very quickly, networked a lot and attended all the trade shows I could.

I have grown my business… purely by word of mouth. My first clients were those I had worked with previously – partners in law, accountancy and venture capital firms.

They then recommended me to family and friends and now my bookings come entirely from repeat or referred clients.

The area of the business growing the most is… long-haul, multi-centre trips. Finally, after clients travelling closer to home over the last two years, I am now inundated with far-flung requests for destinations such as India, Peru, the Galápagos Islands, Japan and Chile.

It’s great to see clients wanting to travel further afield and do more bucket-list type trips.

The supplier I have the strongest relationship with is… Lusso. I work with Sophie Wormald a lot and she is excellent. With overseas trade partners, I would say Banyan Tours as I do a lot of complex bookings to India and they are creative and super helpful.

Since all my bookings are different and all over the world, I work with lots of suppliers who I have built strong relationships with.

My proudest career achievement is… starting a business from scratch with no prior knowledge of the industry – just an idea that I was passionate about – and building a loyal client base that keeps coming back.

It makes all the hard work worthwhile when I read my client testimonials and see what a difference I have made to their experience of the world.

My industry bugbear is... Slow response times. It really irks me when people don’t get back to your email or calls for days. Offering a personal service to my clients means timely turnarounds, so it’s really important to get responses on quotes or from hotel concierges within 24 hours.

I think that is totally doable, even if it’s just a quick response to say your email has been received and it’s being dealt with. Having to chase people for a response is so time-consuming.

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