This week’s industry insider goes behind the doors with David Van Der Meer, Proprietor at Helloworld South Perth, to discuss his decision to join Helloworld and where that stands nearly two years on.
“I have been a travel agent since 1995 and worked for various groups. In 2007 I decided to buy my own travel agency, but always thought it was important to belong to a brand. I am a good travel agent, but marketing is not my thing. So I joined Harvey World Travel, as they were the most well-known name out of the franchise groups available.
In 2012 there were mutterings of the four Stella group brands joining forces to become one name. From the word go I always thought that wouldn’t be a bad idea, but did not envisage it happening anytime soon.
In July 2013 things started taking shape and the announcement was made but no name had been published yet. I recall seeing ‘hello world’ published in the Harvey World Owners Facebook page. I thought no, that can’t be true, its dumb, its lame, what are they doing to us? From ‘Harvey World Travel The Travel Professional’s’ to ‘hello world’.
I panicked and thought I had to get out of this, let my HWT franchise expire and I will go it alone by rebranding to ‘South Perth Travel’. I recall it being a stressful time as HWT was so solid and my shop had always made a profit every year.
However, if I became ‘South Perth Travel’, I would have to do my own marketing. I started looking in to other brands like ITG and Travellers Choice, but nothing was exciting or of real interest.
Rob Gurney was the CEO at the time and was going state to state selling the ‘hello world’ concept so this was a meeting I was very eager to attend. Once I saw the helloworld logo and shop livery I started to get a tad excited. I loved it and thought this is really in the now. ‘Hello world’ sounded so stupid on paper but the magnificent shop fit and logo had me almost sold.
There was still the problem of a Travelscene being 100 metres away from me and a Travelworld a kilometre away from me. They all had the right to opt in to be a fully branded helloworld. I was not sure how three helloworld agencies in the one suburb and so near each other was going to work.
I kept my options open still as I knew this was going to be way too confusing. Of course I had my regular clients who know exactly where I am but I need to build my client base and how on earth will new clients know where to find me? One of three shops with the same name in the same area. I just foresaw problems.
Turned out that Travelscene up the road was not going fully branded so I decided it was better to have safety in numbers and join the helloworld group. Decision made. Travelworld up the road 1 km away was to be known as helloworld Mends Street and I was to be known as helloworld Angelo St. I thought they were far enough away to make it work, however it didn’t, so helloworld Mends Street de-branded a year later to an associate office. I was now helloworld South Perth and the only one in the area in 2015.
May 2014 saw my shop refit, and there it was, helloworld Angelo Street, South Perth. I loved it. We were dragged from the 80’s firmly in to the new millennium, shop looked fresh and bright and really in the moment. I got my two staff members together for promo photos and editorials to let the community know about our exciting name change.
Two months later I lost my two consultants after they bought the Travelscene 100m up the road, something that left me gobsmacked. So here I was with a brand new name and no staff, how bad can it get.
After building up the business for seven years, it felt like I was starting all over again. At the time there was very little advertising done by helloworld promoting the change. This was frustrating as I thought it was the time to spend big promoting the exciting new change but it just wasn’t happening.
At the launch in Melbourne in November 2014 they got us all excited with this amazing advertisement, however all it seemed to do was promote helloworld.com.au. Soon helloworld was very well known online, something that presented more challenges.
I started to think this new name was proving to be bothersome and the only solid bookings I was getting were from my own repeat client base. Helloworld seemed to be becoming a big player online but still nobody knew who were as they drove past. Helloworld lacked identity. I was feeling flat about my decision to go with helloworld.
Then, last November we had our OMC in Wellington and helloworld were introducing the new CEO (third in our two-year history), Andrew Burnes. I liked him instantly. He was very agent friendly and came from an agency background. He seemed to genuinely have bricks and mortar at heart and within days, changes were made.
Online pricing became the same level as our GDS. Now I could match prices for those browsing but not wanting to book online. The whole marketing department was revamped. Our online environment will be shared with bricks and mortar. We are getting great campaigns with APT etc. Things turned from frustrating to awesome almost overnight.
Overall it has been a bumpy two years but I have to say it is the best decision I made. Now I feel I belong to a very advanced travel firm who is looking in to the future and keeping up with the game. Without looking for it I seem to catch a TV ad or a billboard. Even online they have changed it from “book now” to “see your local helloworld agent today”.
Great leads are being generated to my shop from helloworld and I now have better staff than ever, trusted and dedicated to the success of helloworld South Perth. They have things installed for us I can’t discuss but let’s just say my blood is proudly blue now.