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Julia Lo Bue-Said | The Advantage Travel Partnership

Julia Lo Bue-Said: Enhancing Tourism Experiences with Tailored Solutions

With a huge turnover each year, and supporting over 350,000 jobs across the UK, the outbound travel sector is a significant driver for the UK economy. The sector includes a wide range of companies that benefit from travel-related expenditures, such as travel agents, travel management companies, and tour operators.

Envisioning a bright future, The Advantage Travel Partnership, under the leadership of CEO Julia Lo Bue-Said, is on a mission to ensure that SMEs operating as part of the partnership—whether for business travel or leisure travel – have access to market-leading commercial services and solutions and work collaboratively to champion the sector.

Julia is an experienced CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the sector.

Having graduated from the College for Distributive Trades, she is today one of the highest-profile leaders in the UK Outbound Travel sector and has received a great deal of recognition for her achievements.

During our discussion with her, we had the privilege of finding out about her role, both as a leader of the UK’s pre-eminent business network representing travel agents and travel management companies and as an industry ambassador.

Below are the highlights from the interview!

Could you please tell us about yourself and what motivated you to embark on this sector?

After studying travel and tourism at college, I started my travel career working overseas before taking roles with various UK retail travel agencies and tour operator groups. At the time, I had no ambition to do much more than travel as much as possible and to absorb as much as I possibly could from those around me who had so much more experience in the corporate world. Having worked in the UK travel industry for what is now the best part of my 36-year career, I have never looked back and know I made the right choice.

As a first-generation migrant, you grow up surrounded by different cultures than the one you live in, and in my case, my Italian roots meant traveling back and forth to visit friends and family. I genuinely believe it’s this embedded desire to have to adapt that sparked my love of the travel industry and the diversity of its people, all while thriving in an environment that to this day remains fast-paced and ever-evolving and one that touches so many the world over.

Can you please brief us about The Advantage Travel Partnership and its inception story?

The Advantage Travel Partnership was established in 1978 and is today the UK’s preeminent business network, representing travel agents and travel management companies. Its members are all independently owned travel businesses that operate across 750 locations throughout the UK, representing a large proportion of the UK’s travel agency landscape.

In addition, Advantage’s global network footprint continues to expand, with representations in 83 countries across 96 network partners who work together to service corporate accounts.

Collectively, as a global network, its members generate over £15.6 billion in global sales annually, with £7.6 billion from travel sales from its UK membership, and cater to many millions of holidaymakers and business travelers by assisting them with their travel arrangements. Our role is to deliver business solutions to our members through a one-stop-shop business hub approach, touching on every aspect of their business needs, from commercial services to licensing, insurance, marketing, and tech.

How do you support small businesses within the Advantage Travel Partnership, and why do you believe they’re essential?

I believe passionately in the SME sector and that they are the lifeblood of business. Our members are located across 750 locations across the UK, the majority of which are SMEs.

In March 2023, I was appointed as an advisor to the UK Government’s Tourism Industry Council (TIC) Board, under DCMS, and as the primary voice for the UK Outbound Travel industry. This gives me an opportunity to constantly raise the profile of SMEs operating in this sector and their value to the UK economy.

How have you managed your role as a spokesperson during the pandemic, and what principles guide your communication strategy?

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and since, I have become one of the UK’s most high-profile media spokespeople for the travel industry, regularly appearing across all mainstream UK print and broadcast media. It became very evident early on during the pandemic that a voice was needed, and I helped to fill a void. At times, the role can become extremely intense, and managing media requests can become a full-time job. But I can only facilitate this role as I have an incredibly dedicated and talented team around me who essentially run the business day to day, freeing me up to take on this position as well as drive our growth strategy.

I have also become an active contributor to government roundtables and dedicate a great deal of my time to actively working cross-industry as well as on engagement strategies and government lobbying.

Post-pandemic I established the UK Outbound Travel Group with the aim of increasing the profile of the sector with the UK government and policymakers. During the pandemic, my guiding principles were that if it needed to be said, we would deliver, no matter how challenging the narrative was going to be. After all, we were in the midst of a public health crisis, and travel was vilified, but there were many business owners across my network and wider who needed a voice.

How do you balance personal recognition with team achievements, given your industry accolades?

I am continually humbled by the awards the business has and I have been recognized for over the past few years. The awards I am fortunate to have been honored with are achieved because of the great team I have at Advantage—it’s always a team effort!

How do industry awards and recognition impact your leadership and advocacy efforts?

Any awards that we receive at Advantage are great for morale and demonstrate that we are progressing as an organization.

It also allows us to raise the profile of issues and create change.

How do you ensure The Advantage Travel Partnership remains competitive amid industry changes?

We remain laser-focused on the ever-changing landscape we are operating in and always consider the implications for members and various stakeholders. Travel is a rapidly evolving sector, and consumer and industry trends are changing all the time. Our job is to keep one eye fixed on the future landscape.

Could you share examples of how you mentor team members and foster their professional growth?

I am fortunate to have close working relationships with my team and to keep the line of communication open always. I mentor many of the senior team members by having a regular dialogue with them, taking an inclusive approach to decision-making, and being always keen to get their thoughts and insights on industry issues, our business, and our strategy.

I host regular ‘coffee mornings and induction sessions with groups of colleagues from all areas and levels of the organization so that I can constantly keep a check on how colleagues are feeling. I also spend a great deal of time with our members for the same reason.

What role does corporate social responsibility play in Advantage Travel Partnership’s identity?

A vital role. We’re in an industry where the whole premise is built around being a force for good. Connecting people across the world, bringing people joy, driving economic prosperity in local communities, local jobs, sustainable living, etc. In addition, I’m also a trustee for the Family Holiday Charity, a charity with a mission to help as many families as possible experience a break outside their county lines. We offer all our employees a volunteering day so that they can spend the time giving back to a cause that’s important to them.

What are your top priorities for advancing Advantage’s growth, and how do you envision its future?

We have made a great deal of progress in recent years, both financially and strategically, and we have ambitious growth plans for the future. Our strategy is based on four strategic pillars: Footprint Expansion, Product & Portfolio Adoption, Digital Transformation, and People & Culture. The future for Advantage looks very promising, and with the confidence of all our stakeholders and our brilliant team of subject matter experts, the organization will continue expanding its relevance and influence across the multiple lenses through which we look at life; business-to-business, consumers, corporate affairs, and regulatory matters.

Julia has been recognized with many awards during her career:

  • In November 2022 – awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of West London (UWL) in recognition of her professional profile and experience, which make her a role model for the university’s students.
  • In September 2022 – The Business Travel People Awards 2022—Industry Contribution Award.
  • In October 2022 – The Northern Ireland Travel Special Achievement Award—the first time a special achievement award has been presented to someone outside of Northern Ireland.
  • In March 2022 – ‘Outstanding Achievement’ award for her work with the UK government on the resumption of the travel industry, and for ‘amplifying its voice through the media’ during the pandemic, Celebrity Cruises.
  • In October 2021 – The Travel Legend Award at The UK Travel Industry Awards in recognition of her part in leading the travel industry’s recovery, driving change, and representing the UK Outbound Travel sector tirelessly through the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In September 2021 – Highly commended status for the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Business Travel’ category at the Business Travel Awards Europe and for the same category at the Business Travel People Awards.
  • In January 2021 – ‘Industry Influencer’ on the Business Travel News Europe 2021 Hotlist.
  • In 2018 – Leader of Change in the IBM IX Everywoman in Travel Awards.
  • In 2014 – Joined an industry-led committee in support of the charity Just A Drop.
  • In 2013- Became a recipient of the Association of Women Travel Executives (AWTE) company award for supporting women in business.
  • In 2012 – Inducted into the Women’s First Top 100 Most Influential Club for the Travel, Hospitality, Leisure, and Tourism Sector.