Travel Counsellors | Julia Macleay



“One of my last clients was a girl planning her honeymoon in secret as a special surprise for her husband-to-be.  We arranged the whole trip by text in the evenings.  He was clueless as to what she was organising as she sat innocently watching TV with him,” laughed Julia Macleay, an experienced travel expert at Travel Counsellors, a franchise dedicated to creating unique holiday experiences for its clients through a friendly, one-to-one travel service.

Julia, born, bred and still based in Inverness, is a franchisee, advising clients under the Travel Counsellors banner and using their licence yet being the friendly face of her own business: “I deal with each client from start to finish, even when they’re abroad. It’s the same face, voice and person throughout.” 

She has always loved travel and dreamed of being an entrepreneur from a young age – “I always wanted to do something no-one else did” – but her early working life was spent in accountancy. At age 24, after having her first child, she had no option but to become self-employed due to the lack of part-time or job share opportunities available to women at that time. Soon after, her interest in travel was sparked when she secured cheap flights to Barbados but struggled to find an accommodation-only option for when she got there.

“Back then travel agents just sold package holidays. Something clicked and I realised there was a market for something new. In Barbados I became a rep for villas in the UK and, in time, ended up with my own high street travel agency. In 2002, I joined Travel Counsellors and began working from home.”

Business has been very fruitful for Julia in the last thirteen years with word of mouth responsible for most of her custom: “I have a personal relationship with all of my clients and really care about their journey. I get great pleasure from organising trips people enjoy.”

“You can go into any high street travel agent and book with one girl but, when you return to ask a couple of questions, find that she’s not available. Or maybe you come home at work in the evening and want to finalise details. Of course, the high street agents are shut. Often when you book a holiday that’s it; you hear nothing more. But I’m there right through.”

Julia believes the exceptional customer service is what really sets Travel Counsellors apart. The award-winning company has more than 1000 counsellors in the UK and has recently expanded internationally to South Africa, America, Canada and Australia: “They train you how to really look after people. Most of my customers become friends. Even if I don’t meet them I really get to know all about their lives. Having had the business for so long, I’m now getting repeat business, not just from clients but children of clients.”

Her efforts were recognised in February, securing the accolade of Scottish Honeymoon Planner of the Year, a result of her happy clients sharing their positive words about her service: “I contacted everyone I’d worked for, big or small jobs, and each and every one wrote me a fantastic testimonial. As a result, I won against ten other finalists that included the likes of Barrhead Travel.”

For Julia, now 49, there is no such thing as a typical day and clients include people booking normal holidays to Tenerife or long-haul expeditions overseas, business travel, honeymoons and even people marrying abroad. During the volcanic ash incident several years ago, she was responsible for a client stuck in an airport and, much to the dismay of the passengers around him, was able to send him straight to check in because she was managing the process from the UK. “We always hope nothing goes wrong but, if it does, people really understand the value of having someone at the end of the phone.”

There will always be people who get joy from booking their own holiday online or through a travel agent but, for many busy people; Julia’s service is a big weight off their shoulders: “One of my favourite jobs was a tailor-made holiday to Australia. It took me six weeks to pull together everything she wanted to do with the best schedule for the best prices but I had great satisfaction when it all came together. She got exactly what she wanted and it was cheaper than any standard tour she’d seen.”

For a working mother, travel consultancy is an ideal role: “For anyone who wants to work from home, it’s a great job. I work around my customers and am often at my busiest in the evenings when people are home from work and available to chat. It works well with my family and means I can do school drop offs and pickups, as well as go to after school activities.

“Of course, it’s not always easy. If I’m doing a school run I have to finish at half past two, regardless of my work commitments. It’s all about fitting everything in but I always get there. I’ve always been able to focus on what I want to do and get there but there are always times when you lose your confidence a bit. To avoid this, I go to as many seminars as I can about women in business. Hearing how they juggle family life and work commitments is enough to motivate and boost me. Women have the ability to achieve great things.”

Julia loves her role but can struggle with having her desk at home: “I’m very work motivated and would rather work than do the dishes,” she laughs. “The other issue is that I find it hard to book my own holidays. I see so many wonderful places, make my choice then a client will come and book something better than what I’ve picked. My family are always trying to stop me cancelling and re-booking!”