Marble City Travel’s owner tells us about his dedication to Ironman challenges, client gaffes and admiring Richard Branson
Agency: Marble City Travel
Years in travel: 24 1/2
Years at this agency: 13 years at the helm
How did you get into travel?
I came out of college, borrowed some money, opened a travel agency and 24 years later I’m still paying it back!
What is the proudest moment of your career to date?
It’s a twin share between winning Ireland’s Top Agency in this year’s TTG Top 50 Travel Agencies and winning our Chamber of Commerce Award. Both were achieved with our current team.
Do you have any unusual hobbies?
Does getting up at 3am, jumping into a lake and swimming for 2.36 miles, then getting on my bike and cycling 112 miles in 6½ hours then whipping off the helmet, throwing on a pair of trainers and running a marathon cover it? It’s known as an Ironman triathlon, and I’m hoping to complete five this year. The next one I’ll combine with a parachute jump from 15,000ft over Las Vegas! Also I’m a private pilot. I rent aircraft and fly myself around the USA, France and Spain. When back in Ireland, I use the local aircraft to fly to the UK or travel around Ireland.
What is a typical day off for you?
Typical doesn’t come into it. If I have a full weekend off, it might mean catching a ferry and going to climb or walk in the Scottish Highlands, visiting a European city or training for my next Ironman.
Most satisfactory booking?
It’s not one of mine but we have an amazing client: at nearly 90 years of age, she takes off solo, multiple times during the year with no assistance needed. She gets through the airport, onto her flight, across whatever city she arrives into, onto a cruise ship, cruises around the destination, and comes home. That’s living.
Best fam trip?
Too hard a question. Touring New England in “the fall” three years ago was pretty amazing. MSC Fantasia in June 2015 was again inspiring – and life-changing. It’s often all about the people you’re with.
France and the US. France for the culture, United States for the scenery and diversity.
Most unusual request from a client?
A client going to Thailand asked me: “Would you happen to know a hooker?” I replied: “I would, but he’s in Ireland, and he plays for Leinster!”
Daftest question from a client?
“Will the tour guide give us bread to feed the Loch Ness Monster?”
Favourite coffee-break treat?
Chocolate – like that’s a question!
What would you be doing if you weren’t a travel agent?
Moonshiner and Chocolate Beer specialist (see previous question!)
Cruise, fly and flop or adventure holiday?
Adventure and Cruise – it is possible to combine the two…
Best advice received?
Fleece no one, try to take a few quid off everyone. Be fair.
The secret to excellent customer service?
Personalisation. Not just personalising an email – be personal.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
It’s what people do – not what they say – that defines what will happen. So do things even if you get it wrong. You can kick your own ass afterwards. You might be mocked for trying, but it’s better than just drifting.
Who do you most admire in the travel industry?
The only day I ever skipped college was to watch Virgin [Cityjet] launch on the Dublin-London City route. Since watching Virgin’s first flight, it’s been Richard Branson. His team helped make aircraft interiors sexier. Virgin has style and flair – led from the top. Branson has dabbled, failed and succeeded in many industries and he’s still in the fight – a true entrepreneur.
2018 destination to watch?
Da Nang. Vietnam is barely scratching the surface of its capability to entertain tourists. As we move away from the two main cities [Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City] – and gain confidence in our travel ability – cities such as Da Nang will lure us in.