The travel bug bit hard when it came to Stuart Latimer and James Blankley. Not only did they buy their own travel agency - they also gave up promising careers in industries as far removed from travel as you can get!
How long have you both been in the travel business?
Combined, we have 45 years between us. And if you add in the rest of our team we've got 160 years of experience behind us!
Did you buy the business because you love travel, or was it a more practical reason?
Ha! We are the least practical people we know. It was definitely a passion purchase - it's not a job, it's a lifestyle.
Is it a glamorous industry to work in?
Yes and no. The whole team travels far and wide to some glorious locations, but we're working at the same time. We specialise in providing holidays tailored around our clients' dreams, designed to give them the best memories possible. So everywhere we go we are testing, experiencing, learning...
How often do you travel each year?
We realised there was a market in Remuera for escorting clients, so once a year we do a big trip - usually Europe and a luxury cruise - and we also try to take a tropical break at some point too.
Is it restrictive, travelling with clients?
Not at all! Many of the clients who have travelled with us have become very dear friends. It's really nice to travel with like-minded people, and it's quite special to be a part of their journey. On one occasion while travelling with our favourite Aunt and Uncle we asked a taxi driver to take us "somewhere there are no tourists" and we ended up in a remote fishing village in Santorini. Picture this: sticks for shade, a gingham table cloth, the water lapping at our feet, the freshest seafood. Six months later we went back with some clients, and the family who owned the restaurant recognised us and we were all treated like royalty. Our clients still talk about it now! It's moments like this that remind us it's not all commercial - we are creating lasting memories.
What's your favourite destination?
Definitely Europe, and particularly France and Italy. The history and culture are just amazing! Next best would be Thailand - it's not an expensive holiday, and you can't beat the diversity... the people culture and the food.
What's your favourite mode of travel?
Five star cruising. You get to your stateroom and unpack once - and after that, every care and wish is attended to. You're waking up in a different port every morning to a champagne breakfast... what better way to start the day!
Has the travel industry changed a lot since you started in it?
Absolutely. For a start travel is cheaper now than it's ever been. It's one of very few industries where prices have decreased. And of course technology has had a huge impact on the industry. The ability to go online and research a holiday before booking it has opened up many new avenues to people. We've also found that the types of holidays people are booking has changed; holistic holidays - where people want enrichment, rejuvenation - are extremely popular now.
What's the most remote location you've been to?
Personally our travel style is more luxury than adventure, but our team members travel far and wide. The Amazon, Antarctica, Iceland, Cuba... they are far more intrepid than we are!
What are you most proud of when it comes to your business?
Being New Zealand owned and operated is one thing; House of Travel is the largest privately owned travel brand in the country. We're also proud of the value we can add to our clients' holidays because we're so hands-on. We can enrich their experiencs through our own experiences and our vast collective knowledge. We love seeing the delight on their faces, the emotions they go through, we get a real kick out of their pleasure and excitement.
As a Kiwi travelling overseas, is there anything that stands out for you?
It has made us really aware of what a young country we are, and compared to places in Europe, that our history is still being made. Also, New Zealanders have the most fantastic reputation overseas; this we should all be proud of. It makes us realise and appreciate that we really do live in the best little country in the world! We are SO passionate about travel, but those last few hours on a plane we are really excited to be coming home.
Do you ever holiday here?
We really love Queenstown and try to get there at least a couple of times throughout the year. But we are also homebodies, so just taking a break from work and staying at home around Christmas time can seem like a holiday to us.
What sets you apart from other 'escorted tours'?
Well Stuart drives internationally, which is a huge advantage when we are showing clients around, especially in the countryside - they can sit back and relax and enjoy the culture, food and wine. It also means we can take them to little out-of-the-way places, off the beaten track. Places where the trains and buses don't travel to.
You must get a lot of repeat business with the level of service you offer?
We often say the biggest compliment we can receive from a client is a referral, and we get a lot of these. We believe in building relationships, we don't wait for people to call us - we call them when there is a great deal on offer. These relationships are not transactional, they are long-term. We love our wonderful little niche here in our community that we've developed!
Tell us a few things about yourselves that people would be surprised to know.
Stuart: I'm a South Island boy, and I'm a watchmaker by trade!
James: Even though I'm a granddaddy in terms of years in the travel business, I originally trained to be a school teacher.
House of Travel Remuera, 351 Remuera Road
Ph: 09 524 4112 www.hotremuera.co.nz
Photos supplied by Stuart and James, words by Fiona Wilson