For some, stepping outside their comfort zone is a tough ask. Yes, change can be difficult, but it can also bring incredible rewards. Husband and wife team Matthew and Kadi Coyle, of the Melbourne Travel Project, know only too well that change can come at the most unexpected time, and that it is how you respond to those challenges that matters.

Picture this; November 2019. The word pandemic was not in our vocabulary and Matt and Kadi, along with their young family, have recently moved back to Matt’s birthplace of Mornington. They are excited to launch their new travel businesses in Blake Street, with an aim to be ‘not just another travel agency’. They want to do things a little differently, so they invest in some hi-tech virtual reality headsets as a way of reinventing the traditional travel brochure. Customers use these to get a greater insight into the trip they are considering. Simply by putting on the headset they can feel what it’s like to be on a cruise ship and see if it is the right sort of holiday for them.

A few months into opening, COVID-19 devastated the travel industry. Matt and Kadi couldn’t sell holidays to exotic destinations, so they had to change it up. They looked at local cafes pivoting to sell takeaway and decided to create a takeaway holiday experience. Using their knowledge of virtual reality technology and building on the low tech ‘Google cardboard’ concept, they worked with a local manufacturer to create recyclable, low-cost virtual reality headsets that could be mailed safely and economically.

Then, drawing on their extensive travel industry network, they pulled together a huge number of virtual holiday experiences to create their own digital library. They wanted to replicate the instore version levels of excitement but make it affordable. They wanted to be able to offer people a way to be able to get away from the pandemic for a while by traveling - virtually – from their loungeroom.

To date they have created more than 90 travel and holiday experiences that can be experienced from the comfort of your own home. Everything from climbing Mount Everest, swimming with dolphins in the Maldives, to riding a roller coaster in Disneyland, or cruising Cuba in a classic car. From a full-on Las Vegas experience, to riding a double decker bus in London, and more. Some are narrated, some not; but their clients have access to them all using their smartphone.

Customers buy the headsets online and Matt and Kadi snail mail them out with instructions. It’s as simple as scanning the QR code, downloading the YouTube app, and then the phone does all the work turning everything into 3D – surrounding you for a full immersive experience. The feedback has been phenomenal.

More than a year down the track and they started to notice how marked the impact of people not travelling due to COVID-19 was. The canals in Venice have become cleaner, wildlife has returned. It made them very aware of the 8 per cent global carbon footprint that the travel industry has and reassess the impact of travel on the environment.

Matt and Kadi didn’t want to lose that inadvertent positive outcome of the pandemic and looked for a way to address their own business’ impact on the environment. They worked with Climate Active to become the first certified Carbon Neutral Travel Agency. A real commitment to a more sustainable industry ahead.

It doesn’t stop there. When a recent chance came along to take over the coffee shop next door, they jumped at it. It had been there since 1995 and was one of the reasons they located their travel shop next door.

Matt shared, “It’s yet another great opportunity. We always try to look for silver linings. We want to come out the other side of the pandemic in a better place. Coffee and travel go together. They are both about growing your community – and a chance to enjoy special moments.”

Armed with an innovative approach – and great coffee - they certainly are ready for the travel boom ahead.

As our local businesses continue to reinvent local experiences, we can all make a difference. Stay, play and explore local – you might be surprised what you rediscover in your own backyard.

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