The owner and director of new homeworking agency Wonderluxe Travel, Sheena Summer, has won a small‑business award after just over a year’s trading. Juliet Dennis reports.
Q. How and why did you set up your own business?
A. When I left school I dipped my toe in leisure and tourism, working for Going Places. I then embarked on a lengthy career in IT and worked with hotels. I have 17 years’ sales experience across multiple sectors. About five or six years ago, I got itchy feet to come back into the industry. I eat, breathe and sleep travel! I looked at buying a franchise and then I came across Protected Trust Services (PTS) at the end of 2018, which seemed perfect for me. I have a trust account facility and I don’t take out commission until the client’s departure date. This was one of the main reasons I joined. Through PTS I also have an insurance policy against bookings in case of supplier failure. I am not duty-bound to use PTS suppliers, which means I can use whichever suppliers I choose and am completely independent. I set up the business from home and it went live in April last year. My business is still in its infancy. It’s been a long time coming; it’s not a decision I made lightly.
“I am not duty-bound to use PTS suppliers, which means I can use whichever suppliers I choose and am completely independent.”
Q. What have bookings been like this year?
A. I had a storm in January; I couldn’t have asked for a better month. But from the first week in February, it started to domino. I specialise in long-haul holidays in the Far East, Indian Ocean, North Africa and Asia. A lot of people were saying they wanted to wait and were not willing to travel because of the virus. From March until a couple of weeks ago, I was doing three to four networking Zoom calls a week. It’s been a godsend. It’s been so liberating to speak to other business owners who are going through the same thing. The enquiries that have come off the back of that have been amazing.
Q. You’re based in Castle Donington, Leicestershire. How has your business fared during the pandemic?
A. Having the trust fund has been the saving grace. The customer’s money has not been out of the trust. One of the selling points of the trust account is that the money is kept externally to my business. Luckily enough I’ve only had one refund request. Most clients have deferred to the end of 2020 or to 2021. It’s left me in a far better financial position. I am not in deficit and I will be here when the lights switch back on properly for travel.
“I have a weekly networking call and it’s been amazing what has come off the back of that because I have been nurturing relationships.”
Q. Are you now promoting the business and getting new bookings?
A. I stopped advertising on social media from the point of going into lockdown until three weeks ago. For me it was just a moral standpoint. I didn’t feel people wanted to see offers for a holiday. I just felt it was not the right course of action. I have a weekly networking call and it’s been amazing what has come off the back of that because I have been nurturing relationships and telling people about myself and the brand. I had some fantastic bookings in May and have been really busy in the last six weeks. In June, people held off a bit, but now it’s got busy again. The bulk of bookings are for 2021.
Q. What do you think the future holds?
A. Financially I am OK. I am a firm believer you do not fail until you quit. One of the major draws of setting up from home was to have a very lean business. As an agent, I don’t have to split commission with everybody. My business is predominantly tailor-made and I have direct relationships with most operators. I have always aspired to market my business towards the luxury scale. I like to offer an end-to-end service so clients can go away and have a fantastic time. The concierge service is something some agents offer as an add-on; I offer this for free once they have booked. Hopefully over the next year or two, I will look to acquire premises and open up a store. I would like eventually to have a team, and potentially become a tour operator.
“The concierge service is something some agents offer as an add-on; I offer this for free once they have booked.”
How did you come to win a small business award?
I was nominated for an award in the annual UK Enterprise Awards run by SME News. I won best bespoke luxury travel agent in the Midlands. I was told I had been nominated a couple of months ago and had to send them a biography and tell them what I do. I was so taken aback when I won. I will be listed in their winners’ publication and will be listed in a business directory and get a trophy and digital logo.
“Nothing brings me more joy than to help create amazing tailored experiences and long-lasting memories for others.”
Based on what they said at the nomination stage, I believe I won the award based on customer satisfaction. From the very beginning, I’ve always had my clients’ best interests at heart, and nothing brings me more joy than to help create amazing tailored experiences and long-lasting memories for others. Even at the height of Covid, I had no regrets [about having started my business] and honestly believe I work in the best industry in the world. Before I set up Wonderluxe Travel, one of my goals was to be nominated for an award, so to have done that by year two, given the current environment, has been a nice lift.
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