They’re the stand-out performers of the Australian travel industry, earning high praise from judges and the respect of their peers. But what happens after the names are called and the celebrations end? With the 2017 National Travel Industry Awards upon us, travelBulletin spoke to some of the high-profile winners from past years and asked the question, where are they now?

Tina Killeen

Location: Sydney, NSW

NTIA award: Best Travel Consultant Corporate in 2004, 2005 and 2007 (joint winner).

Then position: Corporate Travel Specialist, Spencer Travel

Current role: General Manager, Spencer Travel

Tina Killeen couldn’t stop at just one award.

When Killeen won her first NTIA in 2004, she said it helped her realise she was good at what she did and that she wanted to strive for more.

“Each year I had to push myself and make sure I was doing different things and just changing it up a bit really, it keeps you on your toes,” she said.

She worked to really understand her corporates and film and entertainment clients, venturing out on set and keeping her eye out for all things new.

“Especially when it comes to film and entertainment, if you’ve got an understanding of their environment it makes dealing with the travel a lot easier and a lot more things start to make sense, she explained.

Setting her sights on the (now discontinued) NTIA Hall of Fame, Killeen went on claim the award for Best Travel Consultant — Corporate again in 2005 and in 2007, earning her place in the coveted hall.

“It’s the same feeling every time, it just doesn’t get old, it’s so nice to be recognised by the industry,” she said.

Killeen said the awards helped to bring in new business for Spencer Travel, and provide her with self-satisfaction and affirmation.

“It wasn’t something that I did to move into the next position, it was something I did to push myself to try and make sure that I was being the best that I possibly could,” she explained.

As for the application process, that feeling doesn’t change either, with the team at Spencer Travel banding together to support one another during the “mind-consuming” process.

“It’s quite a heavy weight because there is so much in your mind to get up to present. It’s 30 minutes but it feels like you’re up there for three hours, so it doesn’t get any easier!” Killeen admits.

The team help ensure all the hard work is worthwhile, celebrating together on the night as well as with a team lunch after the event.

Killeen joined the Spencer Travel team — and the travel industry — straight after completing her Diploma in Travel, fresh out of school.

She started in reception and as a trainee domestic consultant and 16 years later after progressing from a domestic and international consultant, as well working as the operations manager, she’s now the general manager.

“When you’re onto a good thing why would you move?” she said.

Killeen is also a finalist for this year’s award for Best Travel Agency Manager — Corporate Single Location.

What did the NTIA win mean to you?

The first year I won was in 2004 and I had only been in the industry since 2001. Winning the award helped me to realise that I was good at what I did and although I was relatively new in the industry, it helped me to realise that I wanted to strive for more, to keep pushing my boundaries and apply my best to everything that I do.

Why do you think you won?

It’s hard to say really but I do put hours into the presentations to ensure my personality, hard work and love for what I do is very clear.

How has your career developed since then?

I am now the general manager for Spencer Travel and still love what I do. Although I don’t consult as much anymore, it is still an exciting industry to be a part of.

Advice to others?Just go for it! Step out of your comfort zone and aim for the top.


Uschi Howard

Location: Yass, NSW

NTIA award: Best Corporate Travel Consultant, 2007. Best Retail Agency Manager, single location, 2015.

Then position: Travelcorp, Manager (2007); The Travel Authority Northern Beaches, Manager (2015).

Current role: Managing Director, The Travel Compass, powered by The Travel Authority.

Having made a recent “tree change”, Uschi Howard is relishing a new life in rural surrounds, not far from Canberra and the NSW town of Yass.

“I’m so much less stressed and so much more satisfied,” she said. “Country people are very different. They are so much more vested in my personal success, they care about it. Back in Sydney it’s dog eat dog and nobody cares.”

Having shifted from Sydney’s Northern Beaches 15 months ago, Howard has quickly developed new clients and new relationships in a location closer to her Canberra-based daughter, an upheaval she’s entirely glad to have made.

It’s the second time she has uprooted her life, having moved from Germany at the age of 19 when her engineer father brought his family of eight to Australia.

“I started at Concorde Travel in 1979, it was my first job, in the ticketing office,” she said. “I didn’t have much English. When I think about it now it was very hard, but when you’re young you just get on with it, it doesn’t faze you.”

That confidence held her in good stead, taking her to NTIA wins in 2007 when she worked for Travelcorp and again in 2015 when she was the manager of The Travel Authority Northern Beaches.

Both wins provided an endorsement for her personal style — which she readily admits is sometimes against the grain when a corporate culture imposes blanket rules.

“I don’t adhere to the norm,” she said. “It can potentially conflict with the company way of doing things, but you have to do what’s best for your client.

“You’re not just selling travel, you’re selling a service and you have to be able to include real service in your practices. The service does not stop when you get payment or take the deposit.”

What did the NTIA win mean to you?

I do not always adhere to the standard or norm in my pursuit of excellence. I am however passionate about travel, the travellers, the suppliers and the people working within this industry. Winning the award gave me the justification and confidence to pursue things “my way”.

Why do you think you won?

Several reasons. The main one’s probably a combination of passion, knowledge and experience. The respect of my peers got me to the finalist stage and I think the sheer passion and being able to demonstrate a deep fundamental knowledge of the industry gave me the edge. The testimonials from my clients most likely were the thing that brought it over the line.

How has your career developed since then?

For me, the awards gave whatever I tried to achieve, develop or change substance. It helped in creating long term, reliable and valuable relationships within the industry. Without those, I would not be able to look after my clients as well as I do.

Advice to others?

Do not discard it as not a viable achievement. If nothing else, it will make you look at what have been doing, are doing and intend to be doing in your career as a travel professional. There are a lot of brilliant people in our industry. Not everyone can win an award. That does not mean you can’t or should not pursue it.

Mohammad Nasiry

Location: Sydney, NSW

NTIA award: Best Sales Executive, Industry Supplier, 2005.

Then position: Business Development Manager, Concorde International Travel

Current role: State Manager NSW/ACT, Express Travel Group

Mohammad Nasiry was headed for a career in the building industry before the travel bug took a bite and diverted him onto an entirely different path.

“I wanted to be a builder when I left school, I even had an apprenticeship with a builder,” he said. “But I travelled a bit and I loved it, so I wanted to get into travel after that.”

It was a spell in the Middle East and Canada that provided the inspiration, leading to a new path through college and a first job at the Globus family of brands as an office assistant in 1999, “back when email was just coming in and everyone was changing the way things are done”.

By 2005, he was a business development manager at Concorde International Travel and had developed a loyal backing from among travel agents he served, earning him a surprise nomination in the NTIAs and eventual success.

That endorsement reinforced an ethic that still carries him today in his role as state manager for NSW and the ACT at Express Travel Group.

“I go out of my way to assist my agents, and they really appreciate that,” he said. “After work or after hours, being there to help and getting back to people right away — that’s the key. Even now as a state manager, I still work the same way and still like to answer my calls and respond to people right away. They notice.”

After his NTIA win, Nasiry joined Etihad for a direct involvement in the airline industry, taking up a position as national account manager at the time the carrier was launching in Australia. Though an exciting time, the launch presented big challenges for an airline that had little in the way of brand recognition in the Australian market.

“A lot of people would say ‘Eti-what’, is that in Africa?” he said. “I would go to see people and they wouldn’t have heard of Etihad, and so we’d always have to go through the whole presentation and introduce them. There was some reluctance, but it was a great product to offer.”

What did the NTIA win mean to you?

I was over the moon and it was the best feeling ever as I believe this is the highest achievement for a sales person in the travel industry.

Why do you think you won?

I won this award as I believe my passion for travel and assisting my agents at all times. Being consistent with my service level and always following up when required.

How has your career developed since then?

After my role at Concorde International Travel, I joined Etihad Airways in 2007 as a National Account Manager and assisted in the launch of a new airline into Australia. Express Travel Group was creating a new role as a State Manager NSW/ACT in 2010 and I was given the opportunity to join ETG to build and grow NSW/ACT members and sales.

Advice to others?

My advice will be to never give up on your dreams as they can come true by winning the highest award in travel industry. You need to be persistent and go over and above for your colleagues and agents at all times.

Julie Rogers

Location: Brisbane, QLD

Award: Best Sales Executive Industry Supplier 2006.

Then position: Area Sales Manager Queensland North, Globus family of brands

Current role: National Business Development Manager, Ponant

Triathlons, cycling and paddle boarding are just some of the exercise regimes that will prepare Julie to tackle part of the Tour de France route and climb Mount Kilimanjaro in the months ahead.

It seems that tenacious commitment to performance; setting goals and the dedication needed to achieve them has provided Julie with the right foundation for an illustrious sales career.

Entering the industry at 21 years of age, Julie has just about experienced it all from corporate, MICE and retail to airline and touring. She has now found her sea legs at luxury cruise expedition company Ponant.

Soon to graduate with an MBA from the Australian Institute of Management, she lists Robert Halfpenny (MD of Aurora Expeditions) as her mentor saying, “he encouraged me to develop a deeper experience of business through an MBA,” and now seeks to return this favour by inspiring rising talent having just become a mentor herself via the Travel Industry Mentor Experience program.

Why do you think you won?

The judges gave me the floor and I took it! I had rehearsed and practiced with my colleagues so that it became a fun journey. I demonstrated to the judges that I wasn’t just a “rep”, I had great rapport with the owner/managers of each of the businesses I looked after and I could show how I would go beyond what was required to help them achieve sales success.

What did the NTIA win mean to you?

I was incredibly honoured and proud. I thanked my managers, my travel agent partners that nominated me and my husband. I was so excited to win.

How has your career developed since then?

After winning the award, Globus created a new role for me as a National Groups Manager to work with key accounts and the MICE industry throughout Australia.

But when the study bug kicked in, I undertook an MBA and shifted my work priorities around accepting sales contracts with Singapore Airlines, Holland America Line and Seabourn.

I later joined Rocky Mountaineer as their Asia Pacific groups sales manager which enabled me to expand my client base and understand the nuances of different markets.

In January 2016, Ponant invited me to join their company as National Business Development manager, Australia & New Zealand. I couldn’t resist the lure of immersing myself into a rapidly growing industry.

Advice to others?

Use all of your connections to get nominated and into the finals then prepare well ahead, practice and don’t be shy of putting on a performance.

Sophie Brasil

Location: Perth, WA

Award: Best Retail Travel Consultant — Retail 2012.

Then position: Team Leader, Flight Centre Mt Hawthorn

Current role: Money Coach, MoneyWise Global (FCTG)

The travel industry is where Sophie Brasil always wanted to be, but it’s not where she started. Work experience in Flight Centre at age 15 was enough to cement her dream of being a travel agent, but when she finished school, too much demand and a lack of sales experience led her to be knocked back three times. Brasil worked in hospitality, administration and tourism and spent time working in South Africa before she returned to her dream.

“When I left school, I wanted to be a travel agent but I never gave up on getting into that career, even though it took me 14 years,” Brasil explains.

In October 2009, Brasil landed her first role in the travel industry as a novice travel consultant and within 12 months was managing her own store.

Her hard work paid off and in 2012 she became the first Flight Centre agent to win an award at the NTIAs — solidifying her decision to change in career was worth it.

Brasil said she owed a lot of her success to a leader she had in the early stages of her career, who instilled a belief in her that she could achieve her targets and the importance of customer service and building relationships.

“I certainly believe we become a product of our environment and if we’ve got a really good environment or support network around us, our successes grow,” Brasil said.

After her award she progressed into managing the online team, turning it into a profitable business and proving online customers are “just as important” as walk-ins. She spent some time in training people on systems, as a sales coach and then as a leadership coach before “totally flipping the coin” and moving into MoneyWise, one of Flight Centre’s staff benefits.

“We’re not financial advisors, we’re money coaches so we try and make them hungry to understand about setting financial goals and secure in their future while they’re young and not waiting until they’re 40,” Brasil said.

What did the NTIA win mean to you?

It solidified that my change in career was worth all the hours of dedication, and that if you’re passionate about your job and the customers, anything is possible.

Why do you think you won?

I believe what made me stand out from the rest was my belief in myself as a consultant, my love of delivering amazing customer service to my clients, a presentation that showed my journey and having incredible and strong relationships with the suppliers in the industry who voted for me to be a finalist.

How has your career developed since then?

Flight Centre Travel Group has allowed me to grow as an individual, to share my experience with new people joining the company through coaching in sales, leadership development and now helping people become more literate in finances by coaching them and educating them to achieve their financial goals.

Advice to others?

Believe in yourself and your true potential, never say never and never give up.

Andrew Blakey

Location: Gold Coast, QLD

NTIA award: Best Travel Consultant Corporate 2006 and 2008.

Then position: Manager Gold Coast — World Travel Professionals

Current role: Operations Manager — Automation & Innovation, Orbit World Travel (formerly World Travel Professionals)

Starting off as a ground-handling agent at Grafton Airport, travel was always in Andrew Blakey’s blood.

“Whenever a flight used to come in, we would get the bus from our office in Grafton to the airport, where I would throw bags on the plane, check people in, fuel planes, look after the HERTZ, the freight depot and any rail handlings — it was great way to great across everything in the industry,” he said.

Having started his career in 1989, Blakey moved to Sydney in the 90s and worked in a few different roles. But he jumped at the chance to move out of the hustle and bustle of Sydney and into the more relaxed Gold Coast when it arose.

“I’m a country boy at heart, so moving out of a capital city in a position that didn’t hurt my career objectives was a no brainer,” he said.

Blakey is now operations manager — automation & innovation at Orbit World Travel (formally World Travel Professionals).

One of the best parts about working in the travel industry, Blakey said, was being blessed to have had some amazing friends and colleagues.

“Without amazing mentors like Geoff Shepherd, Wayne Dorsett and Michael Chase-Smith, I would not have been able to achieve my NTIA awards or my longevity within the industry.”

What did the NTIA win mean to you?

There’s no doubt that winning my NTIA awards was the absolute pinnacle of my career. Doors opened and opportunities presented themselves to engage with many at a ‘higher level’ within the industry. I got to meet a lot of people who I had only previously known as ‘names’ in the Trade Press.

Why do you think you won?

Apparently my presentation to the judges was highlighted by my passion, the glowing references from some longstanding clients and my commitment to passing on my knowledge and training to those starting out in the industry. The unwavering support of my amazing and long-suffering wife Lisa, also played a huge role in my success.

How has your career developed since then?

Operations has always been my passion. So that’s the path my career has continued to take. These days my consulting workload is minimal and my focus is automation and process improvement. I am often spotted pacing around the office muttering to myself ‘How can we do that better, there has to be a better way.’

Advice to others?

You have to be in it to win it! We see sporting teams regularly have the opportunity to pit themselves against each other to test their skills and talents, so as industry professionals I would encourage anyone reading this to do the same.

Debbi Ashes

Location: Sydney, NSW

NTIA award: Best Travel Consultant Retail, 2009. Best Travel Agency Retail — Single Location, 2011. Best Travel Agency Retail — Single location, 2013.

Then position: Owner/Manager. Helloworld Travel — Lane Cove

Current role: Owner/Manager. Helloworld Travel — Lane Cove

It was while working at a busy accountancy office in Sydney that Debbi Ashes decided she wanted to become a travel agent.

“One day a client we had was a travel agent, I was so interested in what they did, it made me think that becoming a travel agent was where I wanted to go”, she said.

Not long after, Ashes completed a travel course and joined the retail travel industry for eight years. Early in her career, Ashes worked for ANZ in the travel agency section of the bank in North Sydney.

After 11 years as an agent, she started Helloworld Travel Lane Cove, in Sydney’s North Shore. During her 21 years as owner-manager, she has won three NTIA awards for Best Travel Agency Retail in 2011 & 2013, as well as Best Travel Consultant in 2009.

Ashes said winning an NTIA is the icing on the cake for herself and her staff.

“We are most proud to be in the winner’s circle three times. All the victories are a complement to my staff and their commitment to our business. We share the glory and the kudos,” she said.

Whether an individual or agency is a nominated for an award, Ashes said to enjoy the incredible experience. “The whole event is a great experience and provides the office with a lot of momentum and publicity. It also gives your staff a lift whether you win or not.”

Ashes is also a finalist for this year’s awards in the Best National Retail Travel Manager category.

What did the NTIA win mean to you?

The win is the icing on the cake. I am most proud to display the winner and finalist results on all emails and firmly believe the clients are also excited to share in our success as well as giving them a feeling they are in good hands for their travel arrangements.

Why do you think you won?

I always make time for the industry and always attend their functions whenever possible. I do support them and give them honest feedback on their results from bookings. Once you have been selected as a finalist, your presentation to the judges requires a lot of preparation and this is paramount.

How has your career developed since then?

I have seen my business grow and increased staff numbers. We have maintained the growth within some difficult times.

Advice to others?

The whole event is a great experience and does provide the office with a lot of momentum and publicity. Being nominated is a great honour. Once you are nominated as a finalist, you must prepare your presentation well and answer all their questions as per the handout. You must get involved in industry and make time for their visits, they are a great asset. My advice is to get involved.

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