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30 Under 30 2008November 24, 2008 By: Jena Tesse Fox Travel Agent
Experience is priceless, but without a regular infusion of young blood, an industry will grow stale and get lost in its march forward. To celebrate the newest shining stars in the travel agent community, Travel Agent asked up-and-comers under the age of 30 to tell us why they are industry leaders. Of the hundred responses we received, we selected 30 who are blazing trails to the future. Some of them are second-generation agents. Some of them own their companies. All of them are industrious hard workers who are keeping this industry alive. From ages 21 to 29, we present to you our “30 Under 30” report.
Marilee Foukal McLean
Marrilee Foukal McLean, 27
Alabama World Travel
McLean graduated from Huntingdon College in 2003 with a business administration degree specializing in marketing, and earned her MBA from Troy University two years later. She has been a travel counselor for three years, and is a certified specialist in several regions for a number of cruise lines and resort properties. “My clients tend to be a bit older,” she says, “and I work a with large families and intergenerational ‘travel vacations.’”
Amy Daniel, sales manager at Alabama World Travel, says that McLean’s clients know they can call her at any time to take care of whatever they might need. “She always goes the extra mile, works the extra hour and never complains.” McLean always sends her clients personal thank-you notes, and will send postcards to children from “Minnie Mouse” if they are going on a Disney cruise.
Morgan Strobach, 26
All About Honeymoons
As the name suggests, All About Honeymoons specializes in honeymoons and destination weddings. Strobach feels that first-time brides like the idea of working with someone young and with similar interests as themselves. She especially likes planning destination weddings, she says, because no two are the same. “There are not many travel agents my age,” she notes, “and I like the fact that I am doing my part to bring some young blood to an established industry.”
Greg Strobach, Morgan’s father and the company’s owner, says that “Morgan has done an incredible job as an agent and owner of an All About Honeymoons franchise.” Many brides, he continues, appreciate her “age, enthusiasm, customer service and knowledge of destinations…She captures these young brides and grooms during their 20s and keeps them as customers for life.”
Cory Chambers, 29
After earning his bachelor’s degree in sales and marketing, Chambers went to work with JetBlue. At All-Travel, he has helped the company become one of the top-two producing agencies for Club Med in the U.S., and earn the 2008 Trendsetter Award. “I love receiving a personal e-mail from a client upon arrival from their trip, sharing with me all the wonderful memories they have made,” he says.
David Van Ness, vice president of sales and marketing at All-Travel, praises Chambers’ “desire to put his own spin on a profession mostly characterized by women two decades his senior. One of his main strengths is his ability to connect with the client and listen to their needs, [and] his business has soared with both land and cruise bookings.”
Nina Van Harn
Nina Van Harn, 25
Ambiance Travel Consulting
Van Harn combined her studies of history, geography and small business to become the owner of Ambiance Travel. She is a Cunard and Princess Commodore and Silversea Specialist. Her clients, she says, tend to be upscale, well-traveled people who are looking for a more cultured or enriching journey instead of a vacation. “Being a professional travel consultant is not for everyone,” she says. “It takes a dedication to continued education, excellent people skills and great attention to details to deliver the high level of service our clients expect.”
Randi S. Hoffmann, CTC, district sales manager of Princess and Cunard Line, says that Van Harn combines “a creative, caring approach to luxury cruising with the most advanced electronic methods of communication. Nina understands the importance of education in our industry, and seeks out opportunities to increase her knowledge; she earned the first Cunard Commodore status in West Michigan.”
Georgia Morgan Johnson
Georgia Morgan Johnson, 22
AMT American Express Travel
Johnson started at AMT American Express Travel as a file clerk in high school in 2002. In 2005, she started AMT’s wedding and honeymoon division, which made about $500,000 in sales in its first year. She specializes in FITs, and has become adept in researching and piecing together complex packages. “When I sell a travel package,” she says, “I basically create a trip that I would like to go on…I like being a travel agent because our industry is changing, and that means there is a place for innovators to make themselves known.”
Andrea Andrade, AMT’s office manager, remembers that “when Georgia made a formal presentation about creating a new wedding division within our company, we were extremely impressed. Our CFO offered Georgia another promotion, making her the director of sales and marketing for the wedding division. Georgia leads by example, and many people here find her enthusiasm and dedication both inspiring and motivating.”
Cassandra Bookholder, 24
Camelback Odyssey Travel
Bookholder grew up traveling across Australia with her family, and experiencing the desert, oceans and rainforests. After earning her Tourism Operations Management diploma in Australia, she moved to Arizona. After two years in the U.S. travel industry, she has clients whose tastes range from moderate to extreme luxury. “The Virtuoso Consortium and my agency have helped me accelerate within the U.S. industry,” she says, “and I feel confident I will be a part of the tourism industry for a long, long time.”
Barbara Magnino, manager of Camelback Odyssey Travel, remembers that Bookholder joined Camelback Odyssey Travel in 2006 as the receptionist before educating herself and becoming a travel specialist in several areas of the world. “Her stint as receptionist did not last long,” Magnino says, “as she quickly proved herself a capable and hard-working travel consultant.”
Janelle Reibling, 29
Carlson Wagonlit Travel
Reibling’s interest in travel started in the summer of 1996, when her family hosted an exchange student from Austria. The next summer, she embarked on her own exchange trip to Germany for one month. She enrolled in a two-year Hospitality and Tourism Management program at Lambton College. After graduation, she went on a backpacking adventure to Australia and New Zealand for six months. She has worked with CWT for the past six years, becoming a CTC. She is an Aussie Specialist, Certified Sandals Specialist and a Contiki Youth Travel specialist. “I love to sell travel so others can experience the diversities of other countries, too,” she says.
Teresa Payne, owner of CWT, calls Reibling “very adaptive,” and adds that “being creative in selling travel is definitely her niche.”
Heather Christopher, 21
Classic Travel Inc.
Christopher graduated high school in 2005, and received her travel agent degree in 2006. Debra Overing, president and owner of Classic Travel, took a “leap of faith” with the ambitious upstart and offered her a job. Classic was rated Best of the Best from Travel Impressions seven years in a row, Readers’ Choice Best Travel Agency of Prince William County two years in a row and earned five stars from Consumer Checkbook, as well as other cruise line awards. “I love interacting with clients and getting them excited over a vacation,” she says.
Overing calls Christopher “a breath of fresh air for our industry...Her youth, her enthusiasm and grasp on today’s technology actually took me to school. Young, talented people like Heather are needed to reinvent this industry and take it to the next level.”
Justin Carriello, 29
Cruise and Travel Authority
Carriello attended Boston College where he majored in marketing. Before co-owning Cruise and Travel Authority, he worked for Grey Worldwide and then as an agent for six years. In his two years as a co-owner of his agency, sales increased 400 percent.
“What I love about selling travel,” he says, “is linking a person’s personality to a resort or trip that suits their flair. I try to give every client the ‘wow’ experience.”
Lynne Carriello, owner of Cruise and Travel Authority, remembers that the company “began here as a mom-and-pop shop with a great local following. Justin has taken us to the next generation with his insights and marketing programs. Our client base has broadened to a global level with clients in dozens of countries. He began doing outside sales in college for spring break groups and I could tell early on that he had a passion for travel and a desire to explore.”
Monika Weinsoft, 27
Cruise Masters/Concierge Travel Advisors
Weinsoft started her career in travel after earning her B.A. in English in 2003. She started as an administrative assistant, which allowed her to familiarize herself with the inner workings of the industry. “I love selling travel because I don’t feel like a salesperson,” she says, “but rather a trusted representative that my clients have selected to plan what may be one of the most important experiences of their lives.”
Paul Niskanen, owner of Cruise Masters/Concierge Travel Advisors, calls Weinsoft “a serious contender as a travel advisor.” She sells more than $1 million per year in travel, he says, and hosts groups of up to 600 travelers. “Monika brings passion to her profession and takes special care that every traveler enjoys a perfect journey.”
Sarah Elizabeth Gladstone
Sarah Elizabeth Gladstone, 26
Gladstone earned her B.A. in Spanish from the University of Arkansas in 2004 after studying abroad in Spain, and came to work at Destinations after college. She is a CSS with Sandals Resorts, and will complete her ACC through CLIA this month. During her tenure, Destinations has received three top awards from Sandals Resorts, and in her second year as a full-time leisure agent, she has increased her sales by 118 percent. She enjoys her job, she says, “because it is rewarding to help people fulfill their dreams.”
Tracee Williams, manager of Destinations, calls Gladstone “a true visionary. She brought enthusiasm, youth and a new way of thinking to our agency…She started with support and secretarial duties, and is now a very successful full-time leisure agent who continues to gain repeat and referral clients daily.”
Katharine Schultze, 29
As a child, Schultze’s favorite pastime was studying maps and figuring out how the world fit together. Working in the industry, she feels, she can encourage her clients to become at home in the world. For 12 years prior to joining Esplanade as general manager, she ran her own summer business and traveled around the world during the off-season, visiting 32 countries and 46 states. “I love my job because no two days, nor itineraries, are alike,” she says. “Favorite itineraries target my clients’ special interests, sending them beyond normally traveled routes.”
Jacky Keith, owner of Esplanade Tours, says that Schultze has “the unique ability to describe in the first conversation exactly what the client should do and see in a particular country.”
Bethany Hunkele, 26
Frontiers International Travel
Hunkele studied International Business and French throughout college, and graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. and a B.A. Her job at Frontiers grew into her current position as program manager specializing in barge cruises throughout the waterways of France. “I enjoy selling travel to families,” she says, “as it enables multiple generations to develop long-lasting bonds.” She speaks from experience as a travel consultant, a wife and a mother of an eight-month-old daughter, balancing both the demands of work and motherhood.
Mollie Fitzgerald, co-owner of Frontiers, credits Hunkele’s university degree and fluency in French for her skill in selling high-end FITs and deluxe canal barges. “She has embraced all aspects of the travel industry and has an expert eye for logistical details,” Fitzgerald says. “She has a lovely manner with clients, works well under pressure and consistently delivers high-caliber documentation to our demanding clientele.”
Allison Colby, 26
Garden City, NY
What began as a part-time job at a cruise agency to help pay for college turned into an amazing career for Colby. After graduating college with a degree in business administration, she accepted a full-time position at the cruise agency, and eventually was promoted to manager. She realized that if she wanted to grow, she would have to move to a larger company, and accepted a job at Liberty Travel, where she is now a Princess Commodore, Royal Caribbean Expert. “I feel blessed to have a career that I love, and doing work that exhilarates and never bores me,” she says.
Jeanne Fernandez, Liberty’s district sales manager, calls Colby “one of our brightest stars, attending Flight Centre’s 2008 Global Gathering just eight months after joining our team…I have elected to appoint her a Future Team Leader in recognition of her leadership skills and commitment.”
Cory Orchin, 25
New York City
Orchin began her career in the travel industry by working at a well-known hotel after studying hospitality management in Florida. She then decided to shift direction and started working for a New York travel agency. She joined Linden Travel as a Honeymoon Specialist, and her client base has been steadily growing. “I love planning honeymoon travel because it offers a newlywed couple their first moments of privacy together,” she says. “It is an honor when a couple invites you to turn those moments into a trip that’s incredibly intimate and deeply personal.”
Barbara Gallay, president of Linden Travel, calls Orchin’s enthusiasm for travel “infectious,” and says that “her positive energy was evident right away…One reason Cory’s clients love to do business with her is her ability to offer special tips and advice as she creates their trip. Cory understood very early on in her career how much the ‘little things’ matter in developing memorable itineraries.”
Janet Mihalic, 29
Martin’s Travel & Tours
Mihalic went to the College of New Jersey to study criminal justice, but when she discovered the travel industry, her plans changed. She has since become a specialist for numerous destinations, including Hawaii and Australia, and is continually taking specialist courses. “I enjoy planning my client’s dream vacation and sharing in their excitement—what a great feeling!” she says.
Susan Tanzman, owner of Martin’s Travel & Tours and an Ensemble board member, says that Mihalic has a great ability to communicate with younger clients. She came to Martin’s Travel with no previous experience in the travel industry, Tanzman recalls, but the eager student learned an incredible amount in a short time. “Her energy and enthusiasm is fantastic to work with,” Tanzman says, “and she shares my passion for travel.”
Tiffany Shepperd, 26
Resort Reservation Services
Shepperd was born and raised in Indiana, and after attending college for office administration, she moved to Myrtle Beach, SC, in 2005 and was hired at an agency. She is now senior director of travel at her agency, and oversees 14 employees. “The realization of a dream trip is key when booking my clients,” she says.
Larry Lott, owner of Resort Reservation Services, says that Shepperd’s “knowledge of destinations and the industry has far surpassed many agents that I know who have been in the industry 10 years and more. She is a hard worker and dedicated to maintaining a great relationship with her clients. She has created many training avenues for the agents she oversees and believes that knowledge is the key in this industry.”
Tamara Olton, 25
East Lansing, MI
Olton has been a travel addict since she was five years old, when her grandparents showed off their photos and stories from their many travels. She studied anthropology and international studies (including geography, history, Italian and Spanish) for her B.A., and is currently enrolled in grad school at Michigan State, studying sustainable tourism and international development. Her clients are mainly students, so they relate well to a young agent. “The best itineraries, I think, are the ones planned with enthusiasm, not necessarily the ones that travel farthest,” she says. Olton should know—she has traveled to 25 countries so far.
Eddie Lindow, STA Travel branch manager, calls Olton “a valuable asset to the office and to the travel industry. She brings great enthusiasm for culture, travel, education and adventure to the office every day…Due to this enthusiasm, she has yielded a Gold Top Achiever award and has been in the top 5 percent of revenue achievement for the company.”
Christine Deming, 29
Travel Headquarters/Flying Wheels Travel
Deming attended Central Lakes College and graduated from the travel and hospitality program. In 2004, she began working for Travel Headquarters/Flying Wheels Travel in Minnesota as a leisure agent in a storefront agency. She has now expanded into arranging travel for persons with physical disabilities, and recently arranged a wedding anniversary trip to Maui that let the husband, who uses a wheelchair, fly over the island in a helicopter. “I love to see the difference I make in my clients’ lives by providing the opportunity to open the doors to the world that they thought they would never see,” she says. “I strive to make all of my client’s dreams a reality.”
Barbara Jacobson, president of Flying Wheels Travel, says that in addition to being an outstanding salesperson, Deming travels with some of her disabled clients/groups. “Her personal goal and mission is to fulfill the dreams and expectations of our disabled clients,” Jacobson says. “She exemplifies the image of a successful travel agent.
Carissa Sticha, 26
Travel Leaders/Market Square Travel
Eden Prairie, MN
After graduating with a degree in business management, with an emphasis on travel and tourism, Sticha jumped right into the travel industry, but continued her education. “Whether I’m heading to the Outback of Australia on an educational trip, spending time reading about a destination, or participating in a seminar, the continuous learning experiences I have in my career are extremely rewarding,” she says. She is one of Travel Leaders’ few Certified Travel Specialists, and has received other awards and recognition from suppliers for her sales performance. “The ability to share my passion for travel with others helps make my career exciting and challenging.”
Wendy Schwartz-Mix, operations manager of Market Square Travel, calls Sticha “a shining star who continuously goes above and beyond for customers, coworkers and vendors…The ability to wow customers and expand her knowledge through education and travel is a true testament to Carissa’s exceedingly high performance in an ever-changing and challenging industry.”
Emily Pedersen, 28
Pedersen was instilled with a love of travel when her grandparents took her to Hawaii, their birthplace. After graduating from the University of Iowa, she moved to Denver and jumped into the business. “My mentor is very involved in the travel industry,” she says, “and challenges me to do the same. He always encourages me to experience vacation destinations and, more importantly, find the niche I’m most passionate about.” She is one of 70 certified Master Oahu Destination Specialists nationwide, as well as a Certified Honeymoon and Destination Weddings Specialist. “Assisting clients with creating memories of a lifetime and experiencing travel myself is why I wouldn’t choose any other career!”
Chris Russo, the owner, president and CEO of Travel Partners, says that Pedersen “is the perfect example of the type of young professional with great enthusiasm the travel industry is dying for.”
Valerie De Jianne
Valerie De Jianne, 26
Point Pleasant, NJ
Seven years ago, De Jianne was calling every travel agency in the phone book. Almost all of them said that they didn’t need an inexperienced 19-year-old; but she did get one interview, and spent two summers answering phones and paying attention. After graduating from Northeastern University, while working in hospitality, she noticed TravelSmiths was going storefront. “Since going back, I feel as though I haven’t worked a day. I love having a hand in giving clients lifelong memories…I think everyone in this industry is young at heart.”
Sally Jane Smith, owner and president of TravelSmiths, says that it is rare to find “an individual so young who wants to work in our industry…[It is] a breath of fresh air to have a bright, industrious agent who can think outside the box. Since joining our team two years ago, [De Jianne] has directly and consistently contributed to our unprecedented growth.”
David Huber, 29
Huber has been in the travel industry for nearly 10 years, starting in the Pacific Northwest, where he worked as a ticket agent for a major airline. For the past four years he has worked as a business consultant for TravelStore, with clients ranging from local government agencies to nationally known foodservice organizations. His annual sales total over $1 million, which has earned him a place in the Presidents Club since 2005. “Being a travel agent is more than just a job,” he says, “but a passion, and an essential part of my life.”
Trudy Flores, TravelStore’s senior vice president and general manager, Northern California, calls Huber “an enthusiastic, energetic and professional corporate agent. His clients love his care and attention to detail.”
Justin French, 25
Ultimate Cruise & Vacation
French got into the travel industry as an 18-year-old in 2002 when his father, Jay, decided to open an agency soon after 9/11. “It was a tough but extremely rewarding time, as patience and the ability to persevere were there to showcase,” he remembers. Being in the family business is a great source of pride for French. “The thing I love most about the industry is the fact I am able to actually help relieve stress for customers and find the perfect vacation for them and their families.”
Jay French admits to familial bias, but insists that his son has earned his stripes on his own. “When we opened our storefront agency in 2002, he came onboard full-time and continuously developed,” he remembers. The younger French has developed his own clientele, his father continues, and never travels without arranging independent destination and resort inspections. “As our agency has grown, Justin has accepted additional responsibility and leadership.”
Ryan Christoff, 27
Uniglobe Wings Travel
Blue Bell, PA
Christoff has been in the travel industry since earning his B.S. in geography, regional development and tourism from Shippensburg University. He now has specialist certifications for Cancun, Princess Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Australia, South Pacific, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Dominican Republic, AMResorts, Apple Vacations, Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. “Being a travel agent is very satisfying and rewarding,” he says. “Helping plan clients’ vacations and seeing their enthusiasm for their upcoming trips is a very good feeling.”
Mitch Gordon, manager of Wings Travel, praises Christoff’s dedication to continuing his education, completing courses from vendors with high scores. “He’s advanced every day in learning, as well as taking on new ventures,” he says.
Stefanie Shay Steiner
Stephanie Shay Steiner, 29
Steiner has been a travel consultant for 10 years, starting her career in 1998 with a mentorship program at VIP Travel. After graduating from the Office Assistant program at the Wayne County Schools Career Center, VIP offered her a full-time position as a travel consultant. She specializes in honeymoon and Caribbean travel. “Travel is my passion,” she says. “I have been blessed with wonderful, loyal clients and I strive to make their dreams come true.”
Linda Phillips, VP of V.I.P. Travel, remembers that “it was clear from the beginning that Stephanie was someone interested in making a career for herself.” One area that caught Steiner’s interest was honeymoons, and she took it upon herself to learn all she could about the resorts that catered to this niche. “We went from having very little honeymoon business to it being a very profitable piece of our leisure travel department.”
Erin Koutsoubis, 29
VIP Vacations Inc.
After graduating high school, Koutsoubis moved to the Jersey Shore, where she spent three years as a paralegal before taking a vacation to Jamaica using VIP Vacations Inc. “That vacation changed my life,” she remembers, “because I realized that travel was the career for me.” In 2003, she started working at VIP Vacations as a home-based agent, and is now a Preferred Sandals Specialist, Couples Specialist, Destination Wedding Specialist and a Gold Sandals Agent.
Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations, remembers that Koutsoubis began selling honeymoons and romantic vacations only after she took courses, visited popular resorts and got certified so that she could market not only her skill, but also her expertise. Doncsecz says, “Erin is living proof that travel agents are not a dying breed.”
Will Ismaeil, 29
Windward Travel/Tzell Travel Group
Red Bank, NJ
Ismaeil was born in Cairo and arrived in the U.S. at the age of eight. He earned his B.S. in industrial and manufacturing engineering with a minor in business administration, and became a project manager for an architectural firm. After a few years, he realized he wanted to get into an industry where he could utilize his sales skills. He purchased Windward Travel, a branch office of Tzell Travel Group, in June 2005. “One of the many contributing factors for our success in the industry is our alliance with one of the most successful travel agencies in the states,” he says.
David Holyoke, vice president of business development for Tzell, has been impressed with Ismaeil’s ambition. “He knows the world and its intricacies, which he translates well to his clients,” Holyoke says.
Donnie Brummer, 26
World Travel Holdings
Brummer studied business administration and enjoys the challenges of the travel industry. “A married couple I was working with had visited 49 out of the 50 states,” he recalls, “and wanted to finish up the states by visiting Hawaii.” The problem was that they didn’t fly. Instead, Brummer got them on a cruise to Hawaii, fulfilling the couple’s dream. Brummer sold $1.5 million in sales in 2006, and has been in the Navigators Club for sales excellence ever since.
Jeff Smith, vice president of sales, remembers that Brummer “came to work for us in the fall of 2005 with absolutely no experience in the travel industry. What he brought to us was an infectious enthusiasm, a love of travel and a passion for service. Since then, Donnie has continued to improve his sales performance each year while expanding his base of loyal clients.”
Julia Kostenko, 28
WRR Travel Partners (a subsidiary of Altour Travel)
New York City
Kostenko came to New York at 17 to study travel. After college, an internship at Sunexpress Travel, a small agency in New York, gave her a start in the industry, and her first paying job in travel was at Linden Travel. Her clients include corporate and leisure travelers, multi-generational families, honeymooning couples and high-powered CEOs. Most recently, she helped create a three-week honeymoon to India and Bhutan. She is a Master Orient Express Bellini Ambassador. “What I love about being a consultant,” she says, “is creating a tailor-made trip for my client, and being a part of their special planning experience.”
Anna Rueda de Leon, a partner at WRR, remembers that the team gave Kostenko a chance despite her limited experience because “she was so enthusiastic and willing to do anything to get her first break. Julia has earnestly devoted her time to learning about destinations, properties and what it takes to make each client’s experience special.”
Coastline Travel Advisors’ Rising Stars
Travel Agent’s sister publication, Luxury Travel Advisor, recently ran a cover story about Garden Grove, CA-based Coastline Travel Advisors, an agency that has made the youth movement a major part of its success strategy. Three travel consultants from Coastline nominated themselves for "30 Under 30," and we present them here as an added bonus—proof of just how difficult it was to narrow down this impressive list.
Caitlin Murphy, 24, believes “our clients want only the best: luxurious accommodations, white-glove service, and so on, but they also want to be sure they are receiving the best value…I love being a travel agent because I have the opportunity to learn about the best of the best in regard to accommodations, tour operators and cruise lines.”
Jay Johnson, president of Coastline, praises Caitlin’s dedication, attention to detail and bravery. “Literally, the sky is the limit for her,” he says.
Vanessa Sawtell-Jones, 24, says that her “clients are adventure seekers that like to travel ‘outside of the box.’ Traveling has given me an education I didn’t even know I was receiving. Being a travel agent gives me the chance to open people’s eyes to the world.”
Johnson says that Sawtell-Jones “is able to converse with [clients] on destinations as though she was a travel professional veteran of 30 years,” and adds that she is “incredibly knowledgeable about our world.”
Leah Erin Bergner, 29, began her travel career after working as a schoolteacher. “I took interest in the luxury travel industry,” she says, “and continued to have a great passion for learning outside what textbook pages could offer.”
Johnson remembers that “in less than a year, [Bergner] was leading the pack in sales, and has demonstrated her ability to be a team leader. Dedicated, passionate, intelligent are just some of the ways to describe this bright young woman.”