Australia's best travel agency

Australia's best travel agency
By admin

Actors set their sights on the Academy Awards, singers look to the Grammys, but it's the National Travel Industry Awards (NTIAs) that Australian travel agents aspire to win.

While there's no red carpet treatment for this one, the awards are widely regarded as one of the biggest accolades for Australian travel professionals. It's hardly surprising then, that the gleaming NTIA trophy is one of the first things to catch your eye upon entering Harvey World Travel Winston Hills, which took out the award for the best single location retail travel agency in Australia.


During my short visit, it is easy to see why the Winston Hills agency came out on top. Not a single piece of paper is out of place as I pass through the doors, and staff are all smiles in between frantic tapping on their keyboards. Customers also pour through the doors at a time of the morning when most people are just sipping their first latte and the phones are ringing off the hook. Owner Melanie Stedman is hardly fazed by the frantic activity going on around her. She happily hands over to her capable team while we settle down for a chat.

Reminiscing over the NTIA awards some two weeks prior, she takes me back to the beginning when the agency was first named as a finalist. Naturally, excitement was her immediate response, but ironically, she remembers it as a somewhat traumatising experience. With all five finalists required to deliver a 30 minute presentation to make the final cut, Stedman had to face her fear of public speaking in front of a testing panel. "I had to reveal all aspects of the business, what our figures are like and the initiatives we've used – all this in front of a panel you certainly wouldn't want to play poker with," she quips. "It was the most terrifying and stressful experience of my life."

Once the sleepless nights of drafting and redrafting the submission were out of the way, the hardest part was accomplished. But the nerves were far from settled in the lead up to the big night. Stedman laughs as she recalls the weeks before the event, having struggled to secure a ticket. "All the tickets were sold out by the time we made the finals… we thought it was like Cinderella not making the ball," she recalls. Luckily, Harvey World Travel had a couple of tickets up their sleeve, passing on four to the Winston Hills staff. Just as well, as the agency trumped 31 nominees to take home the prestigious award. 


In the weeks following the win, recognition of the achievement come from far and wide. A quick peek out the back revealed that the kitchen bench was littered with champagne and chocolates from well wishers. Staff were also being overwhelmed with dinner vouchers from wholesalers and suppliers. But customers are none the wiser, as it certainly has not inflated their egos. 

Stedman was bashful as I passed on my congratulations, attributing it all to her seven staff members. With 130 years' experience between them, the team operates like a well-oiled machine. Intimately aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses, Stedman describes their relationship as a "tree-hugging bond". And she firmly believes that kinship is what saw the agency come out on top. 

But for all her modesty, there's no denying that Stedman's decades of experience are an essential ingredient in the successful recipe. Also a part time TAFE teacher specialising in tourism management, she knows her product exceptionally well. And with 70% of clients being repeat customers or referrals, she is also aware of what it takes to get people walking through the door. The array of awards adorning the front counter suggest staff have followed her lead, with the Winston Hills agency also the current Harvey World Travel agency of the year. 


With the biggest accomplishment in the industry now under her belt, Stedman says she couldn't be prouder of where the agency has come over the past 11 years. But not one to rest on her laurels, she's already eyeing off new initiatives for the future. An agency expansion is on the cards, but accolades are not front of mind, she says. "Trophies and awards aren't in our sights. It's not about the awards, it's about enjoying what you do each day," she asserts. "If you are passionate about what you do and happy in your job, the rewards will come." 

It's clearly a winning philosophy for Stedman and her Winston Hills team.

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