Julie Painter, my mother, and her business partner Michelle Schulze, had been planning one of their Ladies Escapes Journées – this time to Greece – when the coronavirus hit.
Until this year, they’d regularly escorted small groups of women to fascinating destinations worldwide. I’ve never joined them, but I’ve travelled widely with my mother.
Now, I’ve watched as they’ve adapted their business to new challenges.
“It’s given us time to work on our business for up and coming new ideas and not just be in the business,” Michelle explains.
With international travel restrictions, both decided they weren’t going to let the virus beat them and instead turned their focus to creating domestic journées for their “ladies”.
“Before coronavirus, we were considering domestic journées as a way to attract new business and for our ladies to sample our style a bit closer to home,” my mother says. “On a positive note, COVID-19 has made us realise, moving forward, [that] we will at least do one short journée within Australia, annually.”
They surveyed women on Instagram to help choose the destination, and the Blue Mountains won the vote ahead of Mudgee and Port Stephens.
They then came up with a package for their “ladies” to explore the Blue Mountains, and also to give new clients a taster.
For Susan Oliver, a repeat Ladies Escapes client, it’s all about “adventure, fun, new friendships, women supporting women, and freedom”.
Within 72 hours, the Blue Mountains taster weekend had sold out with at least half of the group new to Ladies Escapes – and there was a growing waiting list.
They didn’t send out a single email but instead made calls to their past clients and passed around a simple hand-written note over a few drinks with new people (on the first-time they were allowed out after the coronavirus lockdown).
Calls and deposits came rushing in and now they’re considering a second taster weekend away to the Blue Mountains for those on the waiting list.
“Well, we do laugh a little about these two opposite destinations. We were to swim [in] the aqua blue waters of Greece and now we are going to be hiking the blue haze of the Blue Mountains,” Michelle says. “However, the pandemic is outside of our control.”
Susan Oliver and Christine Johnson, who were booked on the Ladies Escapes Journée to Greece, switched to the Blue Mountains trip.
“The great outdoors – just what we all need after lockdown for so long,” Susan said.
As restrictions eased, my mother and Michelle spent two nights in the Blue Mountains to research their itinerary, look at hotels and explore nature.
“We discovered we had just as much fun, adventure and experiences in our own backyard. It proved to us that we can rock our ‘yes’ attitude anywhere in the world.”
“It’s all about the journey and not necessarily the destination.”
They’ve also used their time to make bandanas for breast cancer charity Bay Babes, which double as masks.
Since the coronavirus restrictions, Bay Babes has been unable to hold fundraising events and, due to a lack of funds, has found it challenging to continue providing recovery hampers.
“The hampers bring a lot of joy and comfort to ladies undergoing treatment. I know this first hand as I have had my Mum and close friends benefit from them during their own cancer treatment,” Michelle says.
“Its women supporting women.”
— Tanna Nankivell @TannaNankivell