Industry Profile: Justine Liddelow
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Justine Liddelow, Brand and Sales Leader North America, Stage and Screen Travel Services.
Wherever you plan to travel, Justine Liddelow can hook you up with a cheaper flight, a faster car, and a clean room at a reduced rate.
At the same time, she may repeat her oft-spoken mantra that travel is one area where you can take control, and cut tour costs.
Even you A-Listers with special requests.
The key, argues Liddelow, Brand and Sales Leader North America for Stage and Screen Travel Services in Los Angeles, ultimately lies in the experience of your travel management provider.
It comes down to the effectiveness of its supplier relationships, and how well its staff know your business.
These elements are all strong at Stage and Screen Travel Services, a full service boutique travel company dedicated to the creative industries, including film, music, sports, media, and fashion.
Established in Australia in 1995, and acquired by Flight Centre Limited in 1999, Stage and Screen has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Vancouver in North America; in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia; in New Zealand; and Mumbai in India.
Its L.A. office opened in 2007 under Liddelow.
Stage and Screen opened in New York in June, 2011 under former Melbourne-based team leader, Lyndal Hunt in order to service the growing film, television, fashion, theatre and music markets throughout the U.S. East Coast.
Among Stage and Screen’s clients have been U2, Lady Gaga, Pink, Katy Perry, Linkin Park, Celine Dion, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rihanna, Cher, Good Charlotte, Scissor Sisters, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Duffy, Massive Attack and others.
Among its U.S. corporate clients have been Michael Coppel Presents, Bug Music, Pangea/A&R Worldwide, Musexpo, and Mad Mac Entertainment.
Liddelow joined Stage and Screen’s parent company Flight Centre Limited in 1994. She went on to work in a variety of positions within Flight Centre’s leisure, corporate and specialist divisions including positions in travel management, sales, human resources and business development.
Prior to stepping into the role of brand leader, Liddelow spent three years as Stage and Screen’s U.S. director of sales, where she developed extensive knowledge of the U.S. business, its clientele and opportunities for growth.
Stage and Screen’s comprehensive range of services include: a dedicated travel manager; negotiation of fares for domestic and international air travel; arranging for hotels, and car hires, coach and aircraft charters; overseeing group hotel bookings; finding rental properties; international air freight coordination, and customs clearance; handling last-minute airline and hotel bookings due to a disaster or an emergency; and providing 24/7 emergency assistance.
Some artist managers won’t use specialized travel management services.
A lot of people still want to do their own thing. They think they are getting better discounts. They think an agent is going to cost them a lot of money. It’s so not true. We can save them so much time, money and heartache.
Many artist managers work with established travel agencies.
A lot of travel agents will do corporate travel and then they dabble in entertainment. Stage and Screen is exclusively entertainment, and our business model is different because we really do understand the nuances of entertainment travel.
What is the scope of Stage and Screen?
We are a full service travel logistic provider, exclusive for the creative industries. We do music, film production, talent, sports, theatre and dance. We will even do advertising and fashion—all of the creative industries.
We have offices in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver; Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia; in New Zealand; and Mumbai in India. London will be the next on the list. We are missing London right now. Our parent company, Flight Centre Limited, has flights into 73 countries globally, so we can tap into the resources of our parent company.
With the entertainment business being international, you need to have affiliations globally.
Very much so. In Australia, we obviously have people on the ground there. But it is not only about the local knowledge, it is about having someone (locally) based to handle the logistics, to be able to get people to that country.
How long have you been the company?
I have been with the parent company (Flight Centre Limited) for 16 years. I started off in retail—in leisure travel—in Perth, booking holidays for people. Then I moved into the wholesale division. Wholesale is pretty much (holiday) packages—for example, packages to Mexico and Asia.—that kind of thing. Then I moved into retail again momentarily before I moved into recruitment. I was recruiting travel agents to work for the company, and then had some other management positions before I moved to Sydney to work in more of (the) HR (Human Resources) field exclusively for corporate. That entailed not only recruitment, but it also included HR and the training elements of the business.
You came to America from Australia in 2007 as Stage and Screen’s U.S. director of sales.
I pretty well came here to open up the office in L.A. I had worked for Stage for four years before I moved here. I was the director of sales. There wasn’t a need to have a brand leader (here) at that point. We had a team leader on the operations side, and I did all of the sales. Even as director of sales, I pretty much did everything, including setting up contracts, negotiating with hotels and, obviously, bringing in new business.
Why did Stage and Screen open up in L.A.?
It’s a major hub in our business. It would be crazy not to have an office here as well as in New York. London is the next (city) in the cards.
Before opening in the U.S., you must have been working often in L.A. as well.
Absolutely. I used to come here a lot; more so on the film side of things, to promote filming down in Australia, but I also worked a bit on the music side. We used to do missions here with AusFilm (which represents the Australian film, television and commercial industry) so I was very familiar with L.A. before moving.
Stage and Screen recently opened up in New York.
New York, we opened in June. We would have opened New York sooner. It was always in the cards but, I guess, with the economy the way it was, we didn’t. Things had to be right. You have to have the right staff there, and it has to be the right time of the year. This year the economy (for the travel industry) bounced back, so it was time.
With music clients, is it usually the manager that contacts you?
Most of the time, yes. It can be the promoter or the tour manager. It depends on what aspect (of services), and who is getting involved.
You and your team then sit down with the client and work out an estimate for the tour?
Totally. They give us an idea of where the tour is going; how many people are on the tour; what their needs are expected to be; what the excess baggage may be; all of the logistics of what they need to do the tour. Then we can come back and quote (the pricing) on it; and give them various options—give them various accommodation or transportation options. Whether it will be trucks, normal cars, SUVs or mini-vans or buses, whatever it is that they need. Anything travel-related, we can do. We’re a full service agency.
Do you work on set fee?
Our fee is a flat fee structure. It is a $35 booking fee, and it’s per airline ticket. We negotiate the hotels, and the transportation on the client’s behalf and don’t charge anything extra for doing that. Budgets will always have to be changed because, initially when we are quoting, airfares can change; the accommodation is normally set. However, we don’t charge for (arranging) any changes. We don’t charge for our 24/7 emergency service which is really important because the nature of our business is that people change (travel plans) a lot. It’s a one-off per ticket fee.
Do you do handle full tours or parts of tours?
We are set up to do an entire tour. Sometimes, it will depend if the client is moving to a different country. Sometimes the promoter there will have their own setup. But we can definitely do everything from A-B everywhere around the globe.
In some markets, don’t promoters oversee travel and accommodations for tours?
Yes and no. We can provide advice for our clients, especially if they are breaking into a market that they haven’t been before. Sometimes smaller bands have budgetary requirements.
Is specialized travel management a competitive field?
It is definitely competitive but, I believe, that Stage and Screen does something different that the others don’t. I think it comes down to relationships. There’s a lot of competition here (in L.A.) and in New York—in fact, in any country with the travel market. But our business model is very different to a lot of the other business models here. Our service levels are different. Our price is different. We have also created a fresh new approach to the way we look at travel.
Give me some examples.
Our culture creates people of distinction. They are each experts in the creative field. They are motivated. They are forward-thinking in servicing the needs of the clients and they are inspired to achieve within our environment. We have a lot of performance recognition. We have business ownership. There is accountability, and continuous improvement of our staff as well. Our motto is, “Strength Behind The Scene.” There are things like knowledge strengths, our services strengths, partnership strengths, corporate strengths, our cultural strengths, individual strengths, and trust and confidence.
So staffing is a key component?
They provide exceptional service, and they have to understand the needs of the client. (Our service) is all tailored to each client. We are thinking outside the box constantly because of the nature of entertainment. We have to. “No” is not an option for a lot of our clients. This is a cool and measured approach to managing their travel. I think (other components are) our attention to detail, and our client relations. So, for our travelers, it’s a smooth journey instead of an unnecessary and costly distraction.
Many travel firms can make similar claims. How specifically do you differ from others in the sector? Are you more boutique?
We are. We have the parent company behind us, but there is a maximum of six people per team; and there’s a team leader in each team. We dedicate one person to each account. (A client) gets a dedicated travel person, but we do have the backing of the whole team when a big tour is going on. I will also have a couple of people working on the tour. So there is that backup whereas a lot of our competition it is just an individual person (handling the account).
Do you personally go out on tours?
When gigs are happening, we will sometimes send our travel manager if a tour requires it. Not necessarily a whole tour, but certainly parts of a tour. We can accommodate that.
In moving a group of people from one country to another, such things as travel, accommodations, transportation, and shipping all have to be covered off. Do you handle all of that?
We don’t do freight ourselves, but we do have freight partners that can help out with that. Excess baggage is always an issue. Bands on tour take quite a few items with them other than their normal baggage. Obviously, all of their equipment. We have gotten many a waiver, and there are places where I can get bands free gear (shipping). I just did one recently with one of the airlines here. That saves (clients) so much money because the cost of an airfare is one thing but the cost of excess baggage can be a whole different story.
At one time, hotel chains didn’t welcome musical artists, but with a tighter economy, times have changed. For national tours, are suppliers competitive for your business?
Absolutely. With the way the economy is, everybody is reaching out for business and especially group business like this. With the relationships that we have with our suppliers, I can get a lot of things done, and get upgrades for people more than in previous years.
It is all open doors these days.
(Suppliers) are willing to accommodate everything, and it comes down to relationships. We work with the preferred partners where we know that if we need something done it will get done. There are still times that there may be certain bands that may be banned from some hotel after leaving (rooms) in absolute shambles. I can’t name anyone in particular, but that still happens today. But the majority of (hotels) have a welcome open door.
Touring generates a lot of money for hoteliers.
Absolutely. The income from group tours is great, That is also when we can negotiate harder as well because we are giving them so much business. We can ask for, maybe, some free rooms, or upgrades to suites, and that kind of thing.
Is there any flexibility with air fares?
The problem with flights these days is that (airlines) have cut back on scheduling in order to make sure that the flights going out are completely full. If flights are full, there’s nothing that we can do. But there is flexibility. We can do things for our clients such as having advance purchase booking waivers, out of class booking waivers, and minimum stay waivers. So if anything is showing in our system as available, we can get that waivered from the airline. Let’s just say that the band was booking only three weeks out because something had to be changed—a week out or something was being changed; but the 21 day advance is available—we can get that waivered.
You have had clients upgraded with airlines.
We have had a person upgraded which, during these days, unless you have frequent flyer miles, generally doesn’t happen. Again with groups, we can sometimes negotiate because the market, depending where they are going, is pretty competitive. So we can negotiate. I have negotiated better contracts for a tour, so (airlines) are flexible. Not everyone will be as flexible as others but the partnerships that we have, we will definitely go over and above and try to work in what is going to be best.
Is there a sector of the service industry that is not flexible?
We have to deal with people that are flexible, from our car vendors to whatever. We have established relationships and some of them, believe me, have come and gone because they couldn’t be flexible. But with it being a tough economy, most people in our industry are being a little bit more creative in what they can do.
How do you build new relationships in the service industry?
We have suppliers coming into our office constantly, so it’s education for the staff. The hoteliers, airlines, and car rental companies will find us most of the time or sometimes we will find them, and we will invite them in. They meet with the team and we may start a relationship. Often (suppliers) will have events. Hoteliers, in particular, are very big on events at their hotel. It is kind of fun for the office (staff) (attending), but it’s an educational process at the same time.
Are there any conferences to further network with suppliers?
There is Tour Connection held in L.A., New York and Nashville. Tour Connection is where all of the entertainment hotel suppliers get together for one day, and only (those) travel agents exclusive to the entertainment industry can go and meet with the vendors. That’s the main conference we have.
[Tour Connection is the primary on-line and printed resource for entertainment travel agents in the world. It holds three events each year in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville, where travel agents in the world meet Tour Connection members. Its final event of this year will be on Oct. 24, 2011 at the Hutton Hotel in Nashville.]
Does Stage and Screen check out hotels as well?
I am out in hotels all of the time. I travel a lot for work so I am always in hotels, but it is also part of what we do. If we are in any market, we go and do a site inspection of the hotel for everything from the rooms, to the gymnasium, to the restaurants, and (check out) other facilities there; if they have conference space because there might be a lot of press or something, or (clients) might want to have some meetings. We do everything.
What do you look for in a hotel for your clients?
I look for various different things. We have to have various range of services—depending on the needs of each band; and depending on the budget of each band. We have to have three through five star (accommodations), even two star sometimes in deciding on the hotel. Sometimes, we have to see if there is anywhere for a bus to pull up outside. That can be important sometimes. It’s really about the service; and it’s about the rooms, of course; the quality of the product. But the services’ levels of the staff is essential in making sure that it is going to be a smooth transition for everyone.
Some bands might say, “We have to have a gym that is open 24 hours” or “We have to have a restaurant that is open 24 hours” or there are different needs such as “We have to have adjoining rooms.” Whatever it may be, we have to be able to accommodate it. So each hotel can be quite unique, and different in that aspect.
Room service is important for artists and their staff on the road.
24/7 room service is a big (issue) because bands are obviously coming in late or in the early morning, and they want some food. There are still some places that still don’t have 24/7 room service. There are all of these little factors that need to be taken into consideration as well. But it’s about qualifying the clients; qualifying exactly what your client is going to need, and then finding something appropriate that will suit them.
What will turn you off a hotel?
Bad service, and a rep who isn’t willing to accommodate the (client’s) needs. I need to be able to call someone and change something or get something put into a room—whatever my client needs—and I need someone who is able to jump as quickly as we do. If they can’t, we just won’t work with them.
Paying for high speed internet at hotels can be costly for a band on the road.
Absolutely. Right now, a lot of hotels are including it, but there are still a lot who don’t. WiFi is a big thing. Everyone travels with a laptop these days, so they all want some kind of WiFi. But some places are still charging for it, unfortunately.
Does Stage and Screen get involved in securing visas?
We have couple of visa experts—a couple of external companies—and they have relationships with all of the consulates. One of them, in particular, concentrates just on entertainment visas for the music industry. So they can get visas. They can process them a lot quicker because they have relationships. They can sometimes pull in a favor to get these things fast-tracked but, most definitely, we can advise (clients) on visas for sure.
Do travel needs differ for film and music celebrities?
Not really, because it’s group movement for both. People are coming and going and doing all sorts of different things. There are a lot of changes; lots of special requests, especially when dealing with some of the A list talent. I have had people that didn’t like a particular color, and didn’t want to see that in their hotel room at all. That we can accommodate. As I said, qualifying the client, we can make anything happen. I think that film is very much the same as music.
Celebrity needs are different than others traveling.
Absolutely, and I really found that when I started working with Stage and Screen about eight years ago. A leisure traveler with a package deal is “I want to go to Bali, and I want to lie out by a pool for a week.” Even a corporate traveler is very much point to point—“I have to be here for this business meeting.” It’s point to point. Whereas, in the music world, there is so much more that goes along with (the travel). There are so many more changes and last minute things cropping up. I found that in working at Stage that nothing is how it seems. Things can happen last minute. Gigs get canceled, and more tour dates get added on.
Other than the show, and the pickup for the airport, there is no schedule on the road for most music tours.
There is definitely no schedule. There are all sorts of different requests. You are not going to get from a corporate client that “I only want brown M&Ms in my limousine, please.” But when you are dealing with A-list talent, especially in the music would, they can be very particular. We have had to put ballet bars in rooms because some artists warm up on a ballet bar. So we have accommodated that. Trying to get that in some hotels is very interesting I can tell you. They have to mount (the ballet bars) to things. Also there are certain lengths (of the bars) sometimes. Also we have had to put in poles and all sorts of things. Sometimes (an artist) won’t even go up the lift (the elevator)—so we find ways around that. Again, it comes down to having relationships with our suppliers to be able to facilitate these things for the artists.
What is the biggest logistic nightmare you have faced?
The one that comes to mind was a film down in Australia. They wanted to film in an outback location and, basically, there was no (rental) accommodation there. So we had to get people to move out of their homes and re-accommodate them so the crew could get in there and film. We had (people) in caravan parks and in all kinds of different places. There were just no (rental) accommodations. That’s the extreme of what we can do. Those were logistics we had to come up with because there was nothing else that we could do.
People tend to lose things on the road.
We have had people get to the airport, and they don’t have their visa. One, just recently, didn’t have a passport. “Really, how did you think you were going to fly (internationally) without a passport?” This is just another example of a service that we have out of New York. They didn’t have their passport. They left it in a hotel safe. Had locked it in a safe. They got to the airport and went, “Uh-oh.” We had to get a courier to go to the hotel, unlock the safe, and get the passport. There wasn’t enough time for the courier to get to JFK (John F. Kennedy International Airport) so we helicoptered the passport to JFK to take to the artist flying out. Things happen all of the time, but when artists have to go, they have to go. And there is always a way you can find to accommodate their needs.
We had another artist that was stuck in Dallas, and the airport had been closed for the night. The airport had started to open up, but they weren’t flying yet (to his destination) and they couldn’t accommodate him on another flight. So we had to get him to fly to a nearby airport in order to then fly him out on a charter flight to the gig.
In recent times, we’ve seen situations like natural disasters, political turmoil, and extreme weather cast grey clouds over the plans of many travelers. So the 24/7 emergency service you provide could be important.
It is most important. Bands start (playing) in the evening. Our office hours are 9 A.M. to 5:30 P.M., Monday to Friday. But any of the creative industries, they start at that time of the night. If anything is going to happen with the different time zones, a client needs to have someone there to be able to take the call and look after them.
Your emergency service is not a call centre environment.
Clients are coming back to someone on the team that knows the tour; that knows the people; that can change anything that they need. Our staff give out their personal cell phones so they can be on call for a particular tour. They will look after (a client.) It is like they are an extension of the business; an extension of the tour.
So a client is reaching one of the six people on the team?
Absolutely. It is important to understand the nature of (the crisis or problem) and to have someone who can accommodate them. Many a time if they are booking through the airplane direct, they have to go back through the airlines. If they are booking online, they are going to have to again go through the airlines. If, due to weather or any instance that has happened in the world these days—there’s been an earthquake or a natural disaster—with the airline, they pretty well have to line up like everyone else at the airline and wait their turn. Whereas, if they have someone that they call 24/7, someone on our team can get them on the next flight out, and can accommodate whatever is needed while, sometimes, people are still in that line trying to figure out what they are doing.
When will London open?
Probably within the next two years. We will wait for New York to grow a little bit more. I would say by 2014 it should be open.
Are there differences between the New York and L.A. offices?
L.A. is probably more focused on the production side of things because of Hollywood, but we do music and talent agency work as well, and we do some modeling agency work. Working with companies like Freemantle Media that do “(American) Idol,” “Family Feud,” and “The X-Factor,” and “Shazam,” we are doing with Freemantle Media. In New York, we will be working with the BBC very shortly.
You recently moved into a new office in Los Angeles.
We’re expanding. We just moved in our new office space, and we will be opening a second office here in October.
Why have two offices in Los Angeles?
It is because we grow in teams of six people, and then we will open up another team. We never have multi offices. We want to keep it that boutique. We will keep it a separation because it creates competition between the two offices but also the team leader of each office also manages the portfolio of accounts. To manage more than that number of people, and give the service not only to the staff but to the clientele, we want to keep that boutique niche feel so the clients feels like they are getting a personalized service.
Does your background include being an entertainer?
No. I did a few dance performances back in the day. My background is very much sports and dance. I’m from Perth in West Australia. Travel was always a passion of mine. I’ve been able to travel the world with this division and have been able to combine travel with entertainment. I love my job. Why wouldn’t I? It combines my two passions.
What have you discovered about entertainers?
The ones that we have dealt with are each completely different. A lot of them have worked very hard to get to where they are. Some of them can be extremely demanding. I think that they have been catered to be like that, but they are on their A game.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”