Making the most of now
AS the world still shook from the impact of New York’s World Trade Centre 9/11 catastrophe, a young Galway woman was launching her entrepreneurial career on Bridge Street, Westport.
One afternoon, while preparing to open her new business, Emer McDermott overhead two telecommunications technicians having a conversation about the new owner.
“Jesus whoever is opening up here must be mad,” one quipped to the other.
Eight years later the same guy books his holiday with her every year and they always have a good laugh about that remark and the fact that she’s still there.
In fact, her Westport bank manager – who originally had faith in her conviction that the tourism haven was ideal for the enterprise -– was one of her first customers.
While grey clouds may have hung over the west all summer, the sun always shines in McDermott Travel.
And that’s nothing to do with the fact that the staff there smile a lot or their main work is to propel clients off to exotic destinations.
Simply juxtapose that premium on personal service with cutting-edge technology – McDermott’s has the first interactive window in Ireland – and you are beginning to get the picture.
“People don’t come in here to talk about the recession, they come in to get away from it,” observes Emer McDermott. “Our ethos is based on making our clients’ dreams come true. Clients come in here with an idea in their head and our role is to make it real.”
Of course, the travel business is highly competitive and the internet has colonised a significant chunk of the market.
While some companies have battened down the hatches, McDermott Travel is out on deck riding the deep waves of the recession.
“My ethos is you’ve got to grow out of it. So we have expanded in the last few months with two of the girls out on the road selling our packages,” Emer explains to The Mayo News.
Innovation is always a key variable for survival. Identifying niche markets and nurturing them has been one strategy.
So, as the height of the holiday season wanes, the timing is perfect to launch a honeymoon package. It includes a unique feature offering the option of a voucher for ‘Dream Miles’ as a possible wedding present.
“Honeymoons are a special event in your life where you really value expertise. We are working in conjunction with all the hotels in Connacht and have approached their wedding coordinators and asked them to promote us.”
The comprehensive package involves a one-hour meeting with the bride and groom, the Dream Miles gift voucher option for guests, complimentary honeymoon insurance and help planning the hen or stag night.
And, remember, even if your honeymoon is the subject of a dusty photo album, people still want to get away.
“They just want to get away at a lower spend. For example a typical family might be more inclined to choose a reasonably priced apartment rather than a luxurious villa now. That could save them up to €1,500,” she continues.
One group that has largely escaped the rigours of the recession is the older population. Children are reared and mortgages are paid and keener prices mean the world is their oyster.
Emer explains: “The clear age group that is not affected by the downturn is older people and Active Retirement Groups. The important thing for them is short city breaks with some culture like Prague or Berlin for the opera. Or, for example, the Chelsea Flower Show.”
A native of Castlegar, County Galway, Emer McDermott was among that huge haemorrhage of emigrants forced to leave this country in the last recession of the 1980s.
Her introduction to the travel industry was with Trailfinders in London. After three years, and fleeting thoughts of emigrating to the southern hemisphere and the perennial sunshine of Australia, a career opportunity presented itself back home.
“Of course my family was delighted when I returned and I started out as a Travel Consultant for McDonagh Travel in Galway city. I stayed there for six years and ended up as a director.”
However, the lure of running her own business led Emer to Westport where she opened McDermott Travel in December 2001.
“From the minute I arrived here, I felt Westport was home. Certainly one of the most encouraging things was the support, both personal and from the business community.”
For the quintessential ‘outdoor girl’ there is nothing more relaxing than sailing out through the islands of Clew Bay and spending a day angling.
And naturally Emer also takes advantage of her inside knowledge of the best deals abroad.
“I’m just back from a surfing holiday in Portugal. And earlier this year I travelled in southern India, they have so little but yet they are so rich.”