Hunter Leader | Michelle Barker

Hunter Leader | Michelle Barker

As the Managing Director and lead travel advisor at Jayes Travel, Michelle Barker is all about creating amazing once in a lifetime experiences for travellers.

Michelle took over the reigns of Jayes Travel in 2006 with the vision to create a travel agency that saw its clients as more than just dollar signs. Today, Jayes Travel offers a boutique experience and excellent service that goes beyond the creation of a client’s dream holiday.

Michelle’s approach is unique – she’s created a women’s only travel group, Jayes Travel Women, to cater to like-minded females that want to travel to destinations as a group, and has opened a new office space in Hunter Street Mall that offers co-working for experienced travel agents.

  • What do you believe has shaped your leadership style?

I think one of the biggest things is making mistakes. I think I’ve been in this business for 13 years as an owner of a business and longer in the industry. And for me you’ve got to make mistakes, and I’ve made plenty of them don’t you worry.

But I think by doing that you learn what works for you. And it’s probably only been in the last three years that I feel really comfortable with where I am as a leader. I think I’m more confident because I know what I don’t like and then I know what I do like. I know how that reflects throughout the business.

I think learning that takes a really long time, and it’s sometimes the hardest thing you want to hear. I’ve had people tell me things that I’m not ready to hear as well, I mean, everyone goes through that.

But now when you’re in a position where you do want to take that advice and you can see it through your own eyes – that’s where I’ve developed that it’s just more about me than the business and I shouldn’t be ashamed of that either, and that that is what becomes Jayes and what becomes my leadership, is very hands-on.

It’s a small office and I love it that way, and I’ve learned that that’s how I love it. And that just … it’s more about what we want to portray to everyone and have that environment, and that’s taken some mistakes, but you get there in the end – that’s the important thing.

  • How are you a leader within the travel industry?

I think you’ve got to be pushing yourself to be a leader, and I think you need to put yourself in that position as well. One of the things that I always find is I am involved in things – I will go to Sydney if it’s important and I will make sure that I’m involved in the conversations that count.

I think as well that it’s about pushing your own business and making our own way in the world. I think if you’re looking at everyone else around you and copying them – you’re never going to get anywhere.

If anything, I look at businesses overseas to see what they’re doing and see how they’re changing the industry, because in the travel industry things are changing every single day – there is not one day that’s the same and it never will be.

So over time I’ve learned and I’ve put myself in my staff’s position and thought, “How am I creating an environment for them?”, and that’s where the co-working space came from.

And ideally it’s for people that have been in the industry for a really long time, they’ve developed such a loyal and great client base that they want to just concentrate on those clients, repeat and referral, but they don’t want to be a mobile travel agent where they work from home – they want to come into an environment that they can talk to other consultants and feel safe in that environment that clients can come in and they feel supported.

So it’s kind of thinking outside the square, it’s that we now do hand-made eco ticket wallets. Now we’ve had plastic tickets for 15 years, I’m the first to say they were horrible. Every time I looked at them I didn’t like them. But for me it was saying, “Well, what can we do differently?”

And even just saying to clients we’ve hand-made this ticket wallet for you – it’s just something completely different that no one expects. So again, it’s bringing them into our sphere of saying, “This is how we do things.”

It’s just being involved. It’s making sure you’re on the pulse of everything that’s happening. It probably is a detriment to the rest of my life, but in that regard I love it and that’s what puts me that one little step ahead.

  • What motivates and drives you?

It’s pretty easy in an industry like travel to be motivated; everything is different every single day.

But I think what I love as much as I own the business – my love is in consulting. I love consulting with clients. And for me when you have ten people coming to the office wanting ten different parts of the world, and whether they’re new clients or existing clients – I love that you can share something that people didn’t know when they walked in the door.

So for me I want to be able to be learning constantly, because you can’t know everything, it’s always changing. But I know about trends, I know about new hotel openings, I know about different ways to see the world. And me sharing that and seeing clients’ reaction to knowing they’re in good hands – that motivates me to keep doing it.

So I’m a little bit obsessive, but travel’s what I love, and I mean, we’re talking about pretty things all day, so as much as it’s not the easiest job in the world – I love it and I wouldn’t do anything else.

It’s our clients that motivate me, it’s the staff that motivate me to share that with them and to educate the younger staff as well. And that everyone can be a good travel agent, it’s how you then become a great travel agent and have that trust that people just keep coming back.

  • What is one action or task you ensure you incorporate into your diary each week?

I do find that I work really long hours and my clients will attest to that when they get an email at some ungodly time of the night. So, I make sure that as much as I work long days, and I put a lot into that – I also make that time for family and friends. That’s really important to me.

As much as I’d love a better balance – no business owner has that perfect, I don’t think. But I do make sure that I’m around my friends because I find that that motivates me as well, a lot of them are in business, we are able to share what’s going on through the week and I find it it’s almost like a therapy.

So we’re able to share that over a wine or over just some relaxing time where you can actually switch off, digest what’s happened through the week. And it also kind of motivates you for the week after by being able to kind of divulge that and then keep going through.

Making time for friends and family is really, really important.

  • What local businessperson do you find inspiring?

Someone that I have a lot of contact with and I just am impressed by every single contact is Naomi Findlay.

I just find that the way she interacts with her clients, the way she’s constantly changing and enhancing what she’s doing, and just the organisation that lady has is incredible.

I’m really inspired by how she juggles family, business, and all different facets of business, and that there’s always something new and exciting happening and she just handles it so well.

So I always have great interactions with Naomi and just find that she really inspires me to keep pushing and keep doing different things, which is great.

The other person on a completely another field is Nathan Franks at Dynamic Business Technologies, he’s been so influential over the years in helping me realise what’s important to the business and how I want it to show up in the world.

He’s really got the work-life balance sorted out and has such a strong team that are all on the same page. And I love the way he operates his team of the business, and that he’s really got that down in fact.

Jayes Travel

Jayes Travel is a boutique travel agency that creates amazing (hassle-free) travel experiences for families, businesses, groups, couples and solo travellers.

Their passion is for providing a service that exceeds expectations and for creating holidays that provide a deep and meaningful connection between you and the places, people, food, cultures and parts of the world you wish to experience.

Jayes Travel also provides corporate travel booking and management services to local businesses and operates a Jayes Travel Women arm that provides like-minded women with the opportunity to join organised tours and experiences.

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