Moving with the times: Booking agency goes online
ONE of Airlie Beach’s longest established tour booking agencies has ‘seen the writing on the wall’ and moved its business 100 per cent online.
AirlieBeach.com was established by Lolita and Tony Laurent in 1994 and has gone on to be one of the most successful booking agencies in Airlie Beach, with daughter Jess Laurent-Meale now also working in the business.
The Main Street shop they have operated from for decades is now empty, but they believe this is the way forward, with most holidaymakers now booking their tours and trips online.
“For the last two years I have been thinking, is it worth having a shop in town or not – I had this feeling before all this happened,” Mrs Laurent said.
“At the start of February, the coronavirus started in China and I thought, that’s not going to be good at all, the decline in Chinese tourism.
“There’s no (foot) traffic in the Main Street anymore. We’re just going to work online from home and we won’t have overheads such as rent, electricity and phone, which are not worth it. It’s not going to get better.”
The business moved out of the shop at the top end of the Main Street, near Hog’s Breath, on March 31.
“It was good timing. I’ve moved the shop into my office downstairs at home,” Mrs Laurent said.
“We are just waiting for tourism to restart again, whatever it takes. Touch wood we are in a good position, even if it takes a year, which I hope won’t happen. We still have two staff if we get busy again.
“We are just going to concentrate on our online presence. People do their research first and they know what they want but they’re not going to walk to the shop and book it. We get lots of questions on our website chat – they know exactly what they want to do.
“Tourism needs a big change and people need to change. It won’t come back like it was before.”
The business started selling sailing cruises – Tony was a former record-breaking sailor and met Lolita while sailing Hobie cats. Their passion for, and dedication to, the Whitsundays saw them quickly grow the business to encompass all kinds of tours and accommodation, as well as flights.
Their ethos was simple – deliver honest and friendly service and run the business on the core values of sincerity, authenticity and consistency.
Over the years, the business was rewarded with many accolades including the Telstra Queensland Business Awards - Best Small Business of the Year Award, and the Golden Backpacker Award.
It is also recommended by esteemed travel guides The Lonely Planet, Le Guide du Petit Futé and Le Guide du Routard.
The business is always innovating, including being the first to install a webcam on their shop front, beaming Airlie Beach to the world, and releasing the first ever smartphone app ‘Airlie Beach Whitsundays Guide’.