Imagine you are one of the world’s biggest A-List celebrities interested in travelling the world, who would you turn to for advice or help with your travel itinerary? For many members of the world’s most elite, that person is Mary Jean Tully of Tully Luxury Travel. Although iron clad NDA’s make it rather impossible to name drop, rumour has it that some of the most notable British Royals seek her council when traveling to Africa due to MJ’s profound understanding and appreciation of Africa. When it comes to momentous birthday celebrations, The Material Girl knew who to call and when the Queen of Media was launching her schools across Africa she sought MJ’s advice on navigating the lay of the land.
We were keen to find out more about the Toronto-based founder of the luxury travel company so keep reading to meet MJ and her business, Tully Luxury Travel:
Business Name: Tully Luxury Travel
Name & Title: Mary Jean Tully, Founder & CEO
Edit Seven: Tell us about your business, what do you do?
Mary Jean Tully: I am the founder and CEO of Tully Luxury Travel, a Toronto-based company that aims to provide the most inspiring, unique and life-enriching travel experiences to our global clientele. Myself and my team of Travel Designers work with several top cruise lines, resorts and travel brands to create “wow” experiences for our clients. Our team provides a service like no other, curating travel experiences based on our keen understanding and knowledge of the client’s personality and preferences – not just a destination wish list.
E7: How did you start your business? What inspired you to start?
MJT: From the age of nine, I knew that I wanted to work in the travel industry. I grew up next door to a globe-trotting flight attendant and it really encouraged me to follow my passion into travel. I took a leap of faith and applied for a job at a travel agency, despite not having the required experience I persuaded the hiring manager into an interview. I got the job and within eight months, had been promoted to a management position. In 1987, I moved to Canada and started my own business with a focus on cruise travel and eventually grew my boutique agency into a multi-faceted organization offering safari adventures, premium cruises and tailor-made travel experiences. Over thirty years later, with my very first hire still employed, Tully Luxury Travel has grown exponentially, and I am so proud of where the team has come.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
MJT: My job provides me with the opportunity to work with such a wide range of clients and experience something new every day. I am so lucky to spend much of my year travelling and working with our clients to provide them with unforgettable experiences. My job inspires me every day, through the people I meet, clients we work with and wonders of the world that I get to experience. It’s allowed me to organize dinners on The Great Wall of China, private concerts in the ruins of Ephesus, coordinate elaborate proposals and spend time with beautiful people and animals – I truly couldn’t ask for a more fulfilling job.
E7: What makes your business special?
MJT: Globally, Tully Luxury Travel is committed to encouraging all partners (staff, clients and suppliers) to make decisions that provide positive, lasting impacts on the communities they visit. As a company, we will not book any tours or excursions that compromise the treatment of animals, regardless of the country, amount of commission, or sales it would generate. For example, in Africa, I have taken a strong stance against booking any clients on hunting trips while travelling and will also not book any experience that involves petting lions, cheetahs or any other wildlife. It is more important for the company to stand by its core values than make money on unethical travel.
Every time an employee travels, they organize a “giving back” initiative – whether this is distributing eyeglasses to those who have had to give up working for lack of sight, or organizing a beach cleanup. Our philosophy is that there is always a way to give back. Not only will Tully Luxury travel create a perfectly curated itinerary for your trip, we will make sure to find a way to make it meaningful, not only for you but for the community.
E7: What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from running your business so far?
MJT: One of the biggest lessons that I have learned through running my business is to follow your gut and listen to your instincts. Sometimes working in this industry is about thinking outside of the box, so it is important to always put yourself into the place of the clients. I’ve come to realize that things aren’t always in black and white – there is always grey. You must be willing to work with people and see things from various perspectives in order to grow your business successfully.
E7: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a business owner?
MJT: It is challenging when people go online to book a trip and become confused or do not understand that everything is not always about price. You cannot just sell on price – it is important to differentiate yourself and stand out in the crowd.
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own business?
MJT: That is easy – follow your passion. When I started my business, even when times were difficult, I knew that it was what I was meant to be doing. As well, treating both your employees and clients as you would want to be treated is key. They are the difference between a successful and unsuccessful business. For me, it is a combination of taking initiative and having integrity that will make or break a business.
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own travel-based business?
MJT: Our slogan at Tully Luxury Travel is that “luxury is defined by you”. I think it is important to keep in mind that every single person’s preferences and passions are different. For some people, luxury is a 5-star hotel and fine dining experience, for others it is a backpacking adventure or relaxing on a beach. Being up to date on everything a client needs to know about hotels, cruise- lines and safaris while keeping in mind what would make the experience personally memorable, is so important.
E7: Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting your business?
MJT: To be honest, no. I am glad that I was able to build my own company while learning about how to grow both professionally and personally.
E7: What is a challenge you’d tell future entrepreneurs in the travel business to prepare for?
MJT: I would tell any entrepreneurs going into the travel business that first and foremost, be service oriented. There are so many travel brands out there with competing prices and offers – what will make you stand out above the rest is your service. Everything is about relationships, both with clients and suppliers. Prioritizing these relationships will both ensure that clients continue to return, as well as build a positive brand reputation.
E7: How do you stay organized, balanced and motivated?
MJT: It is so important for me to surround myself with people whose skill sets, and passions compliment mine. I am lucky to have an incredible team who ensure that the business runs smoothly and inspire me daily. Having a team that is aligned and compatible makes the greatest difference in staying organized and motivated when life gets hectic.
E7: Who are some of your mentors/role models?
MJT: Throughout my travels and time working in the industry, I have had the privilege of meeting some of the most inspiring people. The people who inspire me the most are those who have committed their lives to conservation and give back tirelessly everyday in everything they do. Some of my greatest role models are Dereck and Beverly Joubert (Founders of Great Plains Foundation), Luke Bailes (Founder of Singita) and the late Daphne Sheldrick (Founder of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust).
E7: Do you have a daily or regular ritual you practice that you love?
MJT: At the gym, I love to exercise on the bike because it allows me to send emails while I work out!
E7: Where do you go or what do you do to look for inspiration?
MJT: My biggest inspiration in life comes from my travels and the people I meet in different parts of the world. When I travel, I immerse myself in both the culture and people, who constantly teach me new things and broaden my perspective on life. Every time I visit somewhere, I come back enriched and I always need to know where I am going next before I leave.
E7: Where are some of your favourite travel destinations?
MJT: My favourite place in the world is Africa and I travel there at least three times a year. I’ve been so lucky to travel all over the world, but Africa is the one place that I go back to time after time. The food, accommodations, people and animals make it a truly inspiring place – needless to say, I have found my passion in Africa’s wildlife and community. One of my other favourite travel destinations is India – the culture and people are incredible and it is a country that I always look forward to visiting.
E7: Is there anything you wish people considered more before or during travel?
MJT: It is crucial to consider the impact you are having while travelling. It is important to recognize ways that your travels may have a negative impact on the environment, people or animals. I wish people would consider the impact that popular tourist activities such as elephant riding or dog sledding have, particularly in how it compromises the treatment of animals. At Tully Luxury Travel, it is a priority for us to educate our clients on ways that they can have a positive impact and not cause any harm to vulnerable species. Another personal belief of mine and something we encourage all clients to do is “pack with a purpose”. This can be done with small actions such as packing reusable straws to cut down on waste to the environment or bringing sports equipment and school supplies to children in impoverished communities – every little bit helps.
E7: Who is the Tully Luxury Travel client and why should they reach out to you and your team before booking their next trip?
MJT: While Tully Luxury Travel is based in Canada, our clientele is global. We have worked with Canadian families, to A-list celebrities – it always varies. If you are looking for a travel experience like no other, Tully Luxury Travel is the company to go to. Our insight, first-hand experience and knowledge of the travel industry, gives us the ability to create not only a memorable experience but one that is meaningful.
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)