The Short Story
Born and raised in New Zealand, I’ve also lived in the UK and the US. I have been working in the tourism industry in some form or another since I was 17 covering everything from budget travellers inbound to New Zealand to teaching, luxury retreats and space travel.
I worked for Virgin Limited Edition as Sales & Reservations Manager at their London Head Office from 2000 to 2006 before moving to Virgin Galactic for the next 9’ish years, first as Head of Astronaut Sales in London, then as Head of Tourism & Hospitality Development near Spaceport America in New Mexico, USA.
I spent the last 10 years racing around the world like a crazy person for work so now I’m taking a break and exploring some places I’d only ever glimpsed out a plane window from 35,000ft, yet always wondered what the life and landscape was like down on the ground. I’m also trying to be sensible and think about what I might do next. Let me know if you have any suggestions!
The Full Story
I was about 10 when I went on my first plane to go visit my sister. It was a 40-minute flight on a Fokker Friendship from Nelson to Wellington but they still found time to serve a club sandwich and a coffee. It was the start of a lifetime love of travel.
I was 12 when I went on my first overseas trip with my mother and sister. We went to Disneyland before spending several weeks in the UK visiting my Grandmother and Godparents. I’ll never forget doing a day trip to Calais on the ferry and being amazed that you could get to another country so easily. Anyone raised on a small island in the middle of a vast ocean will understand that! We came home through Singapore and whilst I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life I did know that when I grew up I wanted to see as much of the world as possible.
At 14 I went to live with my Grandmother for almost a year in the UK where I attended High School. It was a fabulous experience. I was lucky enough to get a last-minute place on a school exchange to Germany where I discovered my love for the way Germans do breakfast and beer. My mother visited me in the UK for a while so we headed off on a trip around Scotland and on a visit to Paris. It was all magical and so to cut a very long story short, once I returned to New Zealand to finish High School I started to pursue a career in tourism. My thinking was that I would hopefully end up getting paid to travel or at least get access to cheap travel deals. Little did I know just how much travel I would do.
As I started out my new career in my late teens and early 20’s I fully embraced all of the adventure activities New Zealand has to offer with bungy jumps, some fairly hairy white water rafting, jet boating, aerobatic flights (one in a Pitts Special no less), caving and sea kayaking.
My first real job was working at the Nelson Visitor Information Centre (now known as I-sites) helping visitors with itinerary planning, being a domestic travel consultant and learning about destination marketing. I then moved into teaching full-time vocational tourism & travel courses in Blenheim, Nelson and Wellington before heading to London in 2000.
I was sharing a tiny studio with a friend in Sutton and thanks to jet lag I’d stay up most of the night applying for travel jobs online. After a few temping jobs with American Express in the City of London, I landed a dream job with Virgin. Funnily enough I absolutely hated it at first, I barely made it through the first week but talked myself into staying a month. If it hadn’t got better by then I was planning to resign and look for something else. Well as it turns out I didn’t leave Virgin for another 15-years and loved pretty much every minute of it.
Virgin Limited Edition was (and still is) a fabulous company. I had three amazing bosses there that taught me just about everything I know about sales, marketing, PR, customer experience and revenue management. And one of those was Richard Branson who I used to work directly with when managing reservations for Necker Island. Richard probably has no idea about this but he really did teach me about revenue management. In fact I very much doubt that is a term he has ever used! I will always be grateful for the learning I got to do at that company.
One of the best things about working for them was getting to visit their truly stunning properties. I spent time on Necker Island along with multiple visits to Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa, a place that I also consider home in many ways. I was lucky enough to be closely involved in the renovation and opening of Kasbah Tamadot in Morocco, another place that is close to my heart. In my early days at Limited Edition I also worked with two truly fabulous properties; Hotel La Residencia in Mallorca and Palazzo Sasso in Ravello, Italy. They are the kind of hotels you visit and think ‘okay, I can die happy now’.
Toward the end of 2004 I started hearing crazy rumours that Virgin was going to get into private space travel. Those rumours were confirmed in 2005 when Virgin Galactic started taking reservations from private individuals for spaceflights. I just had to be involved in that. So to cut another long story short, in 2006 I left Virgin Limited Edition and started working at Virgin Galactic. The next 9 and a bit years were an amazing ride that was probably befitting of a space tourism company.
I traveled the world training and launching our ‘Accredited Space Agents’ who were a bunch of fabulous travel agents I hand-picked to sell our spaceflights. 2007 through to 2010 is a blur of client events, agent training, press conferences and so many flights that I stopped counting once I got to 130 toward the end of 2007. Keep in mind that all of those were international and at least half were long-haul. I would average one flight every 3 days.
Due to my experience at Limited Edition, Virgin Galactic put me in charge of figuring out the customer experience for our astronauts on the ground. So in 2010 I was transferred to Las Cruces, New Mexico which is about 1 hours drive from Spaceport America. I was eventually made Head of Hospitality and Tourism Development and slowly handed over my agency sales duties so I could focus on that full-time. I was responsible for getting ready to welcome our Future Astronauts to New Mexico as well as designing and implementing pretty much every aspect of their experience that wasn’t the spaceflight or the spaceflight training. It was a lot of fun.
Whilst I have every faith in the Virgin Galactic project and will always remain their biggest supporter, there was only so long I could handle living in the desert away from loved ones and in all honesty, I’d pretty much finished all the work they had set me. There wasn’t much left to do until our customers began planning their trips to New Mexico. So it was a hard decision to make but I decided to leave Virgin and take a career break. So here I am, about to embark on something new without knowing what it is yet!
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