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Travel Agent's 35 Under 30November 11, 2011 By: Adam Leposa, Jena Tesse Fox, Meagan Drillinger Travel Agent
Travel Agent magazine’s annual 30 Under 30 feature over the past few years has created a buzz in the industry and also helped to fuel a community of young professionals who all enjoy being a part of a special growing niche in the travel industry. Last year, we launched our first Young Leaders Conference in Las Vegas during Luxury Travel Expo, which was well attended by the 30 Under 30 alumni who have appeared on our lists, as well as some new entrants.
We’re not the only ones seeking to encourage new blood to come into the industry. Travel agency consortia have been doing the same, as has ASTA. We think it’s safe to say now that the travel agency industry is an attractive and viable one for those looking to start a career. There is still more work to be done, but we’re on our way.
Seth Apper, 27
New Act Travel
West Hollywood, CA
Seth Apper joined New Act Travel in May bearing a degree in Psychology with minors in Sociology and LGBT studies. There he parlayed experience as a personal assistant for a Hollywood personality into a specialty serving high-end corporate and luxury leisure clients, particularly those in fashion and entertainment public relations companies.
Looking ahead, Apper is poised to capitalize on the developing LGBT travel scene. “The gay community is an important new power player in the luxury leisure market–I can only imagine what happens when we get to plan their honeymoons and destination weddings,” Apper says.
Even during the recent tough times, Apper has taken the opportunity to improve his business. “Where I’ve encountered budget cuts, I’ve negotiated new RFPS and contracted my service fees so that in the end something lower is still keeping my income consistent,” he explains. “Instead of seeing it as a downturn I’d much rather consider it no where to go but up.”
Regarding his favorite trip, Apper recalls a wine-and-running tour that reconciled the needs of a couple with disparate travel desires. “The husband wanted to run through the Rioja and the wife wanted to drink the wine from the vineyards he was jogging through,” Apper recalls, adding, “though they loved to come together at dinner.”
Lili Dallal, New Act Travel’s president and owner, is impressed at what Apper “has achieved already in such a short time. We’re eager to see what he’ll accomplish as he gains more experience [and] excited at the potential of such a dedicated young professional,” she says.
Kristin Brear, 25
Worldwide Travel Adventures, Inc.
Saint Lucie, FL
Kristin Brear caught the travel bug young—as a child in Florida, she went on unique missionary journeys to countries all over the world. At the age of 20, she lived and studied in Egypt for two months, and started working for Worldwide Travel Adventures, Inc. upon her return.
Since then, Brear has developed a diverse clientele; she explains, “My clients range from honeymoon couples to those celebrating milestone anniversaries; from family vacations to retired couples discovering the world; from seasoned travelers exploring exotic countries to young adults seeking adventure.”
Brear has earned an ACC designation from CLIA and is working toward her MCC. She has put her cruise experience to good use creating a memorable itinerary out of Dubai, cruising the Red Sea and Suez Canal, with calls in Oman, Egypt, Jordan and Israel.
When the economy turned sour, Brear took it as an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with her clients. “I find it vital to understand the clients’ budget in order to find the dream vacation that is within their financial means,” Brear says. “Without making the clients feel they are missing out on anything, it is important to show them just how affordable travel can be.”
“Not only is Kristin a great asset to us, she is an exceptional contribution to the travel industry,” says Carolyn Hendricks, agency owner, Worldwide Travel Adventures, Inc. “At age 25, she has traveled much of the world and is a true inspiration to others. Kristin has an incredibly bright future ahead.”
Blake Brown, 28
Omega World Travel
Blake Brown knew he was going to be a travel agent as early as age six when he would send pretend clients all over the world. Before that dream became a reality, Brown worked as a customer service agent with Northwest Airlink while in college. He graduated from Sullivan University with an Associates Degree in Travel & Tourism Management, and earned the CTA designation from The Travel Institute. His career took him to Memphis where he joined the corporate travel department of Harrah’s Entertainment and eventually wound up at Omega World Travel.
Just as Brown fulfilled his own dream, he takes pride in helping his clients do the same. Most recently he booked a client to Nepal, where she will live three months at a monastery, teaching English to children. “This is why I love being a travel agent,” he says. “I get the opportunity to help my clients live their dreams.”
During the economic downturn, Brown observed that church and educational groups kept traveling. To help keep his business profitable, he worked closely with mission groups, sending help to Haiti and other destinations in need. He also sent college professors to India and Nepal to teach.
“Blake has the desire, passion and drive to be an exceptional travel consultant,” says Debby Harwood, branch manager of Omega World Travel. “In an ever-changing industry, Blake continues to further his education to better assist his travelers. He handles the corporate call with expertise and speed while still exhibiting great customer service. He easily shifts gears to handle the intricate, more time consuming travel of the leisure client.”
Danielle Carlson, 24
Passageways Travel Escanaba
Danielle Carlson’s fate was sealed on a family vacation to Daytona Beach. “I’ve lived on Lake Michigan my whole life, but the ocean captivated me and started my love affair with travel,” she says.
A specialist in destination weddings and honeymoons, Carlson has completed over 100 specialist programs. Her favorite recent itinerary was an itemized Hawaii tour that emphasized adventure travel, including motorcycle rental and hang gliding.
“They’re very adventuresome,” she says of her Hawaii clients, “so they’re pretty much going all out for Hawaii.”
Carlson has called upon that same sense of adventure to help her company weather the recent tough times. “I focus on staying positive, treating even the smallest vacation with kindness and care, which translates to people’s fulfilled dreams and vacations of a lifetime,” she says. “Having repeat clients is the best compliment. I love knowing that I’ve made an impact on their lives by helping create lasting memories.”
“Dani’s age and energy has brought a new demographic to our office,” says Deedee Anderson, owner, Passageways Travel. “She has been instrumental in the implementation of new marketing ideas which have increased sales during this slow economic climate. She is well organized and is diligent with her attention to detail. Her clients appreciate and respect her highly focused and increasing knowledge of all aspects of the travel industry.”
Mimi Cassidy, 29
Since joining Moraga Travel in 2009, Mimi Cassidy has grown into an expert on destination wedding, honeymoon and family travel. A member of ASTA’s Young Professionals Society and a participant in the ExecConnect Elite Agent Symposium, Cassidy says that she became a travel agent because, “I love the flexibility to be a full-time mom to my two sons while still having a career that I’m passionate about, and get to help people make some of their most cherished memories.”
Cassidy’s favorite trip was a groom-planned surprise honeymoon to Fiji, Australia and Tahiti. “We came up with a mix of relaxation and adventure, complete with a helicopter transfer in Fiji and views of Vivid Sydney and more,” Cassidy recalls. “I love being an agent and I am happy I have found this profession at its rebirth.”
“I have had the privilege of working with Mimi since mid-2009 when I brought her in as manager and assistant travel agent,” says Ryan McGredy, owner and president of Moraga Travel. “In the short time since then, I have been pleased to watch her grow into one of the most caring, confident, and capable agents out there. She has re-invigorated our marketing, and has single-handedly built a successful wedding business unit. She does all that while managing the office operations and raising her two young sons.”
Susan Cauthen, 29
Susan Cauthen Travel
A former auditor at a Big 4 accounting firm and a former member of the finance and operations teams at Memorial Hermann Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital System, Susan Cauthen turned an early love for travel into her own agency, Susan Cauthen Travel.
Cauthen is a specialist in travel to Mexico, the Caribbean, Italy and Hawaii, as well as cruises. Her favorite recent trip creation was not about a far-flung destination or amazing itinerary, but rather an extraordinary family.
“The woman who contacted me had a son in the military and wanted to take a family vacation before he was sent to boot camp,” says Cauthen. “It really opened my eyes and reminded me of those who are willing to sacrifice their own life to fight for my own safety and security. I offered the family $100 in AMEX gift cards as a token of appreciation from Susan Cauthen Travel. It was the least I could do.”
Cauthen took the recent economic downturn as an opportunity to expand her business in unusual directions. She created “staycation” itineraries to help cash-strapped clients save money by traveling close to home, and she began work on a “Culinary Travel Series” to help clients experience destinations through food.
“Susan Cauthen has been a blessed addition to our agency,” says Angela Brown, manager of Cauthen’s host agency, Dugans Travels. “She is very active in our Agent Chatlist helping others with questions and is very thorough with her clients. Out of 650 agents, she is constantly in front of us for learning opportunities, feedback and is always pleasant to deal with.”
Csilla Dali, 28
Global Voyages / Sebok Travel
Originally from Romania, Csilla Dali has called the U.S. her home for the last nine years. She began her travel career working for an airline consolidator office in Miami. She then moved to Chicago to open a branch office for the company. Eventually she decided to open her own agency, Global Voyages. Earlier this year, Dali expanded to purchase Sebok Travel, a Hungarian agency with a 60-year history.
Today her business specializes in FITs and group travel to Europe, as well as honeymoons and family vacations throughout the Caribbean and Hawaii. Her own travels have taken her from Romania to Hungary, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. She is a board member for ASTA, as well, and has contributed to developing the chapter’s online presence.
“Csilla has a zest for travel with a variety of interests and is well prepared for the social interplay that goes hand-in-hand with being part of the travel industry,” says Jorge Sanches, president, Midwest chapter of ASTA. “She can relate to people in many ways and on many levels, and would make a tremendous spokesperson for whatever she decides to focus on.”
Taryn Elise DeClue, 23
Strong Travel Services
|Taryn Elise DeClue|
Taryn DeClue’s personal travels have taken her across Europe to China, down to Eastern Australia and New Zealand, so it only makes sense that she would choose travel for a living. In the end, she wanted a career that would allow her to expand her knowledge of the world and share that knowledge with others.
Recently the most interesting trip she put together for a client was a prize package for Gilt City where a raffle winner would have the opportunity to splurge on luxury in Dallas.
When the economy turned sour, Taryn continued to excel in customer service, which was what Strong Travel encouraged its agents to do. The delivery of “above expectations” services is paramount and that, more than anything, continues to drive business.
“Taryn has been a fantastic employee since she has come on board,” says Andrew Rocchio, luxury travel consultant with Strong Travel Services. “She has developed a great knowledge of destinations and products and continues to expand her expertise. She has an excellent rapport with our valued clients and I can honestly say that she is an extremely valuable asset to us.”
Melissa DeCourcy, 25
After three terms studying abroad during college, Melissa DeCourcy knew she was “addicted” to travel. She graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in International Business and went on to be a financial analyst in Houston. It was there that she quickly realized that her life would be incomplete without travel, so she packed a bag for New York to fulfill her dream.
As a member of Liberty Travel, DeCourcy is able to talk about her passion every day. The agency’s Upper East Side location allows her to book and plan trips for a more mature, high-end clientele. Most recently, she sold a 12-day honeymoon to Thailand and a 17-day tour to China.
When the economy took a dive, she recognized the need to remain positive and to continue to offer the best deal to clients. “People always want to travel, and even though they might have a tighter budget, there is something available for everyone,” DeCourcy says.
“During her past year with us, Melissa has proven to be a great addition to the team,” says Gustavo Vegas, team leader of Liberty Travel. “She is genuinely kind to clients and passionate about the need for travel. She’s a pleasure to have as an employee because she is dedicated, has a thirst for knowledge and meets her monthly targets.”
Nadine Dimashkie, 26
Frosch Entertainment Travel
Woodland Hills, CA
Nadine Dimashkie began in the travel industry as a receptionist, but her potential was quickly recognized and she was snatched up to become a part of Frosch Entertainment Travel. With no prior study of travel, she has had to learn everything on the job and has taken to it like a natural.
Her most interesting booking involved a tour for a Canadian band that required a private chef, who cooked exclusively vegan food, in every city or village. Some of her most notable clients include famous bands and musicians, such as 3OH!3, Los Lonely Boys, Ben Folds and Weird Al Yankovic.
“Nadine is my rock star,” says Susanne Jones of Frosch Entertainment Travel. “I cannot do my job without her. Nadine can put together a tour faster and more comprehensively than anyone I know. She’s one of the sweetest and smartest young ladies, and I fully trust her with all of my picky and diva clients.”
Frosch Entertainment Travel is a 24/7 business that sends bands on tour 365 days a year. Even during the downturn, the company says it never had to search for business. Dimashkie is considered to be one of the best agents to handle clients’ needs because the majority of them are young and they can all relate to one another.
Carey Driscoll, 27
Beach Bum Vacation
Carey Driscoll’s career began when she booked several trips as a client of Beach Bum Vacation. It was clear from that point on that travel was her true passion, and she made the switch from public relations to travel sales. Today, she is a CSS Silver Agent with Sandals, and a Diamond Level One and GIWC with Karisma.
One of her favorite parts about the job is seeing a couple through the beginning of their honeymoon or destination wedding to the very end. “Sometimes I feel like I am playing matchmaker,” she says, “assessing the clients’ personalities and interests and then recommending the best resorts and destinations that will match their overall vision.”
Hayley Whorrall, president and founder of Beach Bum Vacation, says, “Carey is a tremendous asset to Beach Bum Vacation. She’s a natural concierge with a passion for service, creativity, people, organizational skills, and innovative, out-of-the-box thinking.” Driscoll is responsible for launching the company’s Facebook page, and she has sought out a role on the Board of Directors for Beach Bum CARES.
Michael Ertmer, 24
Michael Ertmer started in the travel industry seven years ago, working for Ambassador Travel as an executive assistant while still in high school. Since then he has risen to the position of leisure travel consultant, specializing in destination weddings and honeymoons, Mexico, the Caribbean and cruises.
Speaking of cruises, his favorite recent trip was a Rhine Discovery itinerary with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises he planned for several clients after experiencing the same itinerary himself in March 2011. “It was thrilling to come back to the agency, sit down with my clients and share my knowledge and firsthand experiences with them,” says Ertmer.
During the recent tough times, he got involved with two new community outreach programs his company launched to help keep business steady: The Ambassador Advantage and The Oshkosh Ambassadors.
“The Ambassador Advantage is a reward program for nonprofit organizations,” explains Ertmer. “When people register under one of the nonprofits and book travel with us, a portion of our commission is kicked back to the organization. The Oshkosh Ambassadors is a group of local businesses that work together to help promote each other throughout our community.”
“Throughout the past seven years, Mike’s contribution to the company has been nothing short of anything and everything,” says Susie Leib, owner, Ambassador Travel. “From answering phones to technical support to his most recent move to be a travel agent, Mike has been instrumental in the success of the business. Mike established himself as a leader [who] motivates others with his creative marketing ideas.”
Richard Ferrucci, 28
An entrepreneur from a young age, Richard Ferrucci started his first business, a computer technology servicing center, in his basement at the age of 16. He worked in a salon and spa while completing his B.S. in Business Management, where he turned his reputation as a “go-to guy” for booking travel for staff and clients into an innovative business model that serves a very specific travel clientele.
“I have three main groups of clients,” explains Ferrucci, “Singers/songwriters (as well as their families/friends/fans), honeymooners and young families.”
Ferrucci markets unique offerings such as “Perform on a Cruise” and other music competitions locally and through social media, allowing him to combine travel for aspiring musicians with a chance to showcase their talents.
His favorite itinerary, however, is closer to home. “Without a doubt, the most interesting travel I have ‘sold’ lately was to my six-month-old son, who recently experienced his first cruising adventure, reinforcing my passion for the value of creating memories.”
Ferrucci holds an ACC designation from CLIA as well as specialist certifications with numerous hotel chains. He is often asked to speak at national travel and trade conventions regarding social media and technology.
“Rich Ferrucci epitomizes the new breed of travel professional that our industry needs so badly,” says Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion. “He brings innovative ideas to the table and has found a way to blend his passion for music with his travel agency business. You can count on Rich to embrace new technologies to communicate with his customer base the way they want to be communicated with.”
Erica Fox, 26
All Inclusive Outlet
Erica Fox’s passion for the travel industry began at age 11 when she took her first trip to Costa Rica. Before beginning her job at All Inclusive Outlet, she spent a month backpacking overseas, and it was then that she decided that travel was her future.
Prior to beginning her career, Fox studied Hotel Management and Tourism. She was referred to the position by a friend and in just two and a half years worked her way up to a full-time travel consultant. Throughout her career she has received awards that distinguish her from her peers, including All Inclusive Outlet Rising Star, Couples Resort Expert, GIVC agent for Karisma Hotels & Resorts and, most recently, a Melia Hotels “Know-it-All Romance Specialist.”
In light of the recent economic situation, many of Fox’s clients have wanted to downsize their vacation budgets. To combat this, Fox prides herself on working to balance price versus upscale inclusions. “Since we only offer all-inclusive vacations, I have been able to find value in the luxury market by selling more Mexico. This has allowed my business to continue to exceed even my wildest dreams,” she says.
“Erica came to us via a referral from my marketing director,” says Tom Carr, president of All Inclusive Outlet. “I instantly saw that she had the personality for travel. I didn’t have an opening in sales at that time, so we put her in customer service. It didn’t take long for her to make the switch. In the last year she has handled 1,284 bookings for $4,200,000 in leisure business.”
Joad Hamed, 29
American Discount Cruises & Travel
North Englishtown, NJ
For Joad Hamed, what started out as a pre-med career at Rugters University took a drastic turn toward the travel industry. In 2003, he began working for his mother’s travel agency where he climbed the ranks to eventually become a manager and later the company’s vice president.
Hamed understood the role of Internet early in his career, so he began teaching himself web design, which has only enhanced his success. Today, he oversees the agency’s daily operations, with a focus on marketing and web development. He has also developed several high-traffic sites for the agency. What started as a local presence has blossomed into a national one, with an in-house staff of almost 30 and some 60 independent contractors nationwide.
The agency is accredited with titles such as Northeast Partner of the Year with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, Excel Gold with Princess Cruises, Centurion status with Holland America Line, NCL’s President’s Club and the President’s Award from Vacation.com.
“Joad has been the single most important contributor to the success of our company,” says Marcy Hamed, owner of American Discount Cruises & Travel. “Without any outside direction, he has figured out a way to give a small company a nationwide presence.”
Lisa Harper, 25
Cruise Planners/American Express
Lisa Harper has been working in travel since January 2005. “I first worked for United Express/SkyWest Airlines at my local airport,” she recalls. After an injury on the job that limited her to deskwork, she remained in the industry and took a job with CWT Sato Travel as a travel counselor at her local navy base, arranging official military and government travel.
Today, she is a franchise owner with Cruise Planners/American Express, having joined the team in March this year, and a Sandals Certified Specialist and a Norwegian Cruise Line Freestyle Certified Agent, as well as a honeymoon and destination wedding specialist. She appreciates the challenge and fun of vacation planning (as opposed to the official travel she organized at Sato—“leisure is significantly more fun and less risky,” she says).
When the economy went south, Harper found little response to local advertising. As such, she turned her marketing strategies to the Internet. “This has enabled me to reach a wider number of people,” she says. “The majority of my business has been coming directly from my Internet marketing. Also, I put in well over 40 hours of work each week. If I had not adjusted my marketing strategy and did not put in as many hours, my business would be dead in the water.”
Michelle Fee, CEO and cofounder of Cruise Planners, says that Harper’s sales volumes “are very promising for a newcomer to Cruise Planners,” and that she predicts “great things for her in the future.”
Daniela Harrison, 28
Avenues of the World Travel
Born and raised in Dusseldorf, Germany, Daniela Harrison moved to New York after high school and worked in broadcasting, pharmacology and the restaurant industry before becoming a travel consultant. She now has certifications as a PSA with Sandals Resorts, a Princess Commodore specialist, and others from Walt Disney Travel, SeaWorld and various hotel programs, as well as Hawaii and Mexico.
Her favorite part of the business, she says, is creating FITs, “as they allow me to learn about new destinations and revisit old favorites.”
To stay afloat in a turbulent economy, Harrison says that she and her team are using social media—both online and in person, such as handing out fliers and brochures at gyms, doctors’ offices, hair salons, and local colleges and universities. “Apartment complexes in town let us compose ‘move-in’ specials to provide to new tenants,” she says. “This is free advertising, and [has] helped us expand our client base quite significantly. I’m attending more local events—for example, I attended the Celtic Festival to promote Ireland and Scotland FITs and was quite successful. I’m attending university events once every other month as well.”
Yves Leuenberger, owner of Avenues of the World Travel, says Harrison’s enthusiasm for her job has passed on to her clients. “Her clients always come first. Whether it’s a suggestion for a personalized shore excursion or a bakery in Paris they have to visit, her clients are well taken care of from the start of the planning stages until the return from their vacation.”
Leyna Huber, 23
Camelback Odyssey Travel
Leyna Huber’s exposure to the travel industry began early on, traveling with her family. She grew up in Kelowna, British Columbia, and spent her summers and high school days working in the food and beverage industry, which, she says, was a wonderful starting point toward making memorable experiences for her customers today.
Her first client experience was the planning of a wedding in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the Balmoral, followed by a honeymoon throughout France and Italy. “I designed private tours in Paris that offered them an insider’s perspective of the city, private cooking lessons in Venice, iconic sights of Rome, and culminating in a stay at the Palazzo Sasso in Ravello,” says Huber.
For Huber, it is all about enticing her clients with exotic destinations. She has driven the length of Canada, spent summers in Palm Beach, and visited Spain, Mexico, Italy, the Caribbean, France and Alaska.
In the face of the financial crisis, Huber turned to marketing, not just travel but also herself. “Social media is a great way to get your thoughts out to the public, and when utilized properly is a wonderful tool. I take steps to ensure that what I am offering to my clients is the best value for their money,” she says.
“Leyna Huber brings an enthusiasm to each client whom she works with,” says Shelby Donley, owner of Camelback Odyssey Travel. “She has an infectious passion for creating world-class experiences, so much so that it resonates with other travel advisors in our office.”
Erin Ann Jamison, 24
Strong Travel Services
|Erin Ann Jamison|
For Erin Ann Jamison, the love of this industry comes with the dynamic and ever-changing facets, and she brings that desire to learn and plan travel with her to Strong Travel Services. Her passion for the business has led her to France, Spain, Costa Rica, Hawaii, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Bahamas and more.
Last July, she was lucky enough to help plan a trip to France for Paris Fashion Week, but most recently she has worked with the Dallas Museum of Art to help provide travel packages for its annual charity auction.
“While Erin has been with us for only a short time, she has done wonderful things for our agency with her passion, work ethic and knowledge of travel products,” says Andrew Rocchio, luxury travel consultant with Strong Travel Services. “She continues to exceed expectations and goes above and beyond the call with each request that I assign to her.”
During the economic downturn, Rocchio urged his agents that service is still the number one key. He stressed to his employees that continued exemplary service would carry the business through. “I am proud to say that Erin is a valuable asset to our company and we look forward to her continued success at Strong Travel,” he says.
Beth Jenkins, 24
McCabe World Travel
In just two years with McCabe World Travel, Beth Jenkins has risen to positions of leadership among the next generation of the travel industry. She serves on the steering committee for the Young Leaders Conference at Luxury Travel Expo, has assisted with Virtuoso’s NextGen training at this year’s Travel Mart, and last year received the Rising Star Award from our sister publication, Luxury Travel Advisor.
Jenkins has used her B.A. degree in International Relations and Latin American Studies to develop a specialization in travel to Latin America, serving a clientele across all age groups.
“The most rewarding trips are those in which I am able to offer clients something they didn’t know they could have,” Jenkins says. “This Christmas I have a family traveling to Rome, a city the mother ‘never dreamed’ she would get to see. In partnership with a wonderful on-site, I arranged for the family to attend Christmas Midnight Mass at the Vatican given by the Pope. My client is still in disbelief when she talks about this upcoming experience.”
During the recent tough times, Jenkins took the lead in developing her company’s online and social media presence. Over just a two-week period last year, her company’s Facebook page saw a 52 percent increase in monthly active users.
“Beth is the type of candidate I hoped existed,” says Anne Morgan Scully, president, McCabe World Travel. “One who has a passion for travel but professionalism beyond her years. Her educational background is so suited for the game of travel, but it is her personality that will win her top clients for years to come.”
Karoline Jewell, 26
All Inclusive Outlet
Unlike most travel agents, travel didn’t come easy for Karoline Jewell. In fact, her first trip abroad occurred after becoming employed at All Inclusive Outlet. After taking the position at the agency, she had the opportunity to travel outside the U.S. for the first time—to Mexico.
“It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she says. “It allowed me to experience a new culture and discover a new love for travel.”
Jewell worked in operations for a few months before there was an opening in the sales department. A year and five trips later, she has made a niche for herself in the industry as a destination wedding and honeymoon specialist.
When financial woes made folks rethink the way they spent their vacation time and dollars, Jewell, as a destination wedding and honeymoon specialist, took the opportunity to help couples get married in beautiful settings for a low cost. “The economy has not affected how many people fall in love each year and choose to get engaged and married.”
Tom Carr, president of All Inclusive Outlet, says, “One would never think of a one-year veteran of travel as being a top 35 Under 30. However, Karoline is very unique. Since October 2010, she has been responsible for 1,065 bookings; over 2,500 passengers and over $3.6 million in leisure production.”
Georgia Johnson Kicklighter, 25
AMT American Express Travel
West Covina, CA
|Georgia Johnson Kicklighter|
Georgia Kicklighter built her career from the ground up, beginning in high school as a file clerk and climbing the ladder to receptionist, then agent and finally to marketing and sales director. This afterschool job blossomed into a full-time career– one in which she has been named A-List Travel Agent by Travel + Leisure three years in a row.
The most interesting travel to sell for Kicklighter are mega FITs– trips longer than two weeks for clients of all ages who want to immerse themselves in the culture of a destination. Typically she sends them to Southeast Asia, multiple countries in Europe and the South Pacific. Though her own travels have taken her across the globe, she says that she still would love to see Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, Japan and the southern United States.
Kicklighter prides herself on working smart. In the current economic climate, she has no problem turning down requests that do not appear to be serious or profitable, and recommends that these travelers seek service elsewhere. She also puts an emphasis on automatic marketing with current and prospective clients.
“Each year Georgia comes up with fresh ideas to grow our business, and I see an increase of at least 15 percent in her personal sales year after year,” says Frank Morgan of AMT American Express Travel, noting that it was Kicklighter who proposed–and launched–the agency’s successful wedding and honeymoon division.
Marina Kiriazi, 28
Upper Montclair, NJ
A luxury FIT travel specialist, Marina Kiriazi started her career in news organizations, including CNN, before transitioning to travel three years ago. Since then, she has been promoted twice and has developed a luxury clientele that spans multiple demographics.
“My clients include couples, friends, or families in their late 20s to 60s and up,” says Kiriazi. “Many of them are planning big memorable trips to celebrate honeymoons, anniversaries, reunions, or other occasions. They range from young professionals, just starting out, to presidents and CEOs of multinational companies.”
While Kiriazi books destinations all over the world, her most memorable recent trip focused on Greece. “I sent a family from California on a custom tour that included stays in Mykonos, Santorini and Crete along with four days on a private yacht discovering more remote spots in the Aegean,” says Kiriazi. “I was so excited for them.”
She notes with pride the team effort through which her agency has met recent challenges. “Travelive has been highly proactive in combating the economic downturn, and in particular, the weakening dollar. The company negotiates fixed, favorable USD rates so that our clients are not losing in the exchange or being subject to fluctuating rates.”
“Marina has proven herself as an emerging leader in luxury FIT travel,” says Mina Agnos, cofounder and vice president of sales and client services for Travelive. “Marina is dedicated to educating herself about each destination she sells by reading, asking the right questions and traveling (a lot). She provides in-depth consultations to ensure that each experience is tailored to the individual.”
Joshua Monahan, 26
Cruises & Tours Unlimited/OutsideAgents.com
Joshua Monahan has been a part of the travel industry for 20 years. His mother was one of the first 50 CLIA-accredited agents, and when he took his first cruise at age 6, he knew he had found what he wanted to do when he grew up.
“Josh is the ‘poster child’ for the new breed of agent,” says Chad Burt, co-owner, Cruises & Tours Unlimited/OutsideAgents.com. “He fully leverages technology to boost his sales, streamline customer service, maximize product knowledge, and work as efficiently as possible. As a result, his year-over-year sales growth continues to soar.”
Monahan’s technology expertise manifested during a recent challenging itinerary, which he booked for a group of close friends with less than two days in hand before the trip’s departure time.
“At the last minute, I was able to find six of my friends a great deal at the Marriott Cypress Harbor in Orlando, and a three-day pass to Universal Orlando Resort that included the Frequent Fear Plus Passes to Halloween Horror Nights,” he says.
Monahan continues to help adapt his business to meet the challenges of the current economy. “We grow each and every day by molding a changing business model to make sure Cruises & Tours Unlimited remains on the top of the travel world,” says Monahan. “All you have to do is to make sure the community does not forget your name, get out there and let people know that using a travel agent is best!”
Jamie Mussolini, 27
At just 27, Mussolini is the owner of her home-based agency. She graduated from IONI College with a BBA in marketing and management and first began working in the industry as an executive assistant booking travel within her corporation. “I was booking so much travel that I began to love planning trips,” she says.
After a year in that position, she became an independent agent for a travel agency to learn the trade. In February 2007, she opened up her own business and took off from there. She predominantly books vacations for couples or families looking for luxury trips or honeymoons. Mussolini is IATA accredited, as well as a destination wedding specialist and a TheKnot.com travel specialist for brides.
Mussolini considers her greatest asset to be the ability to relate to her clients. She herself had a destination wedding and now plans her own family vacations with her husband and three-year-old son. “I can relate to many clients in all of these scenarios because I have been there. I know what to expect and what to look for, and that’s what makes me the perfect planner,” she says.
Kristen Korey Pike, 28
Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited
|Kristen Korey Pike|
Kristen Korey Pike’s leap into the travel industry began at a very young age. Raised by a Romanian mother and a Lebanese father, she spent much of her childhood in the United Arab Emirates and England. She also studied abroad in London and Paris. It was this international upbringing that sparked her desire to see the world. Her love for different cultures and foreign adventures is what helps her sell travel.
She brings her curiosity for travel with her every day on the job. Most recently she planned a client’s 30th birthday in Turkey and became so enamored with the destination that she decided to take a trip there herself. “My role in creating unforgettable, life-enriching experiences is both exciting and fulfilling,” she says.
“Kirsten Korey Pike’s success in this industry began with her determination to work with seasoned advisors,” says Betty Jo Currie, owner of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited. “She is global. Service and support come easily, and she understands the importance of knowing exactly what she is talking about. Her membership in Virtuoso ensures upgrades and VIP status for clients. Add that to her ability to lower consulting fees, her constant availability and an office team committed to backing her up, and clients have something they cannot possibly get on their own for the same price.”
Michelle Pragnell, 29
Jet Set World Travel
While all of our candidates have made their mark on the travel agent industry before the age of 30, few of them have mastered two industries like Michelle Pragnell. She started her career, after graduating the Airline and Travel Specialist program at the International Air Academy, working for SkyWest.
“After four years of being on the ‘other side’ and working everything from the ticket counter, gate to ramp, I decided I was ready for a change and accepted a position at a travel agency,” says Pragnell. Her airline expertise allowed her to start out as a primary air specialist while she learned the agency side of the industry.
Today, Pragnell specializes in honeymoons, adventure tours and travel for young families. She is a Tahiti Destination Specialist and Hawaii Destination Specialist—as well as a Virgin Galactic ASA Mission Supporter. Her favorite trip, however, is more down-to-earth: a honeymoon in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
“Mixing Sri Lanka, which is full of culture, activity and history, along with the relaxed, beach destination of the Maldives made for a unique and well-balanced combination,” she says.
“Michelle was destined to work in travel—it, quite simply, is in her blood!” says Julia Douglas, president, Jet Set World Travel. “As a consummate professional who consistently goes the extra mile and takes immense pride in her output, Michelle receives rave reviews from clients across the globe.”
Emily Prentiss, 23
Valerie Wilson Travel
Before graduating from Bucknell University with a double major in Anthropology and Women’s and Gender Studies, Prentiss decided to explore her passion for travel and sought out Valerie Wilson Travel with the desire to become a travel consultant. Her persistence shone through and after graduation in 2010, she joined the company and hasn’t looked back.
Prentiss’ clients range from international jet-setters to families looking for a quiet getaway. She also plans honeymoons through Valerie Wilson Travel’s exclusive alliance with Kleinfeld Bridal. According to Prentiss, her most challenging booking involved planning a two-week, privately guided honeymoon to Argentina. The trip combined cities, history and culture with outdoor activities around the country.
During the economic downturn, Prentiss recognized that her clients would continue to travel. She took her cue to still offer the highest level of personalized travel assistance. Prentiss used Valerie Wilson Travel’s “Power of Access” to maintain an extensive network of resources and relationships to provide exclusive rates, trip features and service.
“Focus and determination are what Emily brings with her every day to work,” says Kimberly Wilson Wetty of Valerie Wilson Travel. Wetty was also the consultant whom Prentiss reached out to while she was finishing up her degree. “She delves into her responsibilities with enthusiasm and an upbeat eagerness to learn, accepting every challenge presented.”
Mindy Sly, 26
Beach Bum Vacation
Mindy Sly started out as a wedding planner, where she realized that planning destination weddings, honeymoons and vacations would allow her to realize the passion for travel that she had developed while studying abroad in London.
After only a year at Beach Bum, Sly has already received GIVC and Wedding Specialist status with Karisma, Sandals and Beaches Silver Certified Specialist, Gold Royal Weddings Specialist and St. Lucia and Mexico Specialist certifications. Her favorite travel experiences include biking through villages in Belgium; hiking in the mountains of Cinque Terre, Italy; climbing waterfalls in Jamaica; and planning a Tahitian wedding on the island of Bora Bora for her clients.
As the financial crisis dragged on, Sly turned to her knowledge of social media to help keep her business. “Social media is a great way to have your name recognized and gain referrals for free,” she explained. “Partnering with resort [companies], I can offer my clients amenities and perks other sources can’t…I treat all clients the same, no matter what their budget may be.”
“Mindy Sly is a delight and a pleasure to work with and a huge asset to the Beach Bum team! Mindy’s ‘can-do’ attitude, and passion for travel and people radiates through her positively zealous personality,” says Hayley Whorrall, president, Beach Bum Vacation. “I love Mindy’s ability and determination to find the absolute best arrangements to match her clients’ dreams and turn them into a memorable reality!”
Kira Solomon, 24
My Paradise Planner / OSSN
Kira Solomon launched herself into the travel industry by starting her own company when she was 21. After one year, she joined the Outside Sales & Support Network (OSSN) and almost immediately was asked to take the position of OSSN Chapter Director for the New York City area. Most recently, she was named OSSN Chapter Director for Tampa Bay. She is also a silver level Certified Sandals Specialist, and her company, My Paradise Planner, is a Sandals Preferred Agency.
Solomon has a unique perspective on the recent downturn, having started her business in 2008 just as the economy crashed. “Even in a bad economy, I found that people were vacationing, honeymooning and traveling for business,” she says. “I knew if the sky was full of planes, people were going places and that meant potential clients.”
Solomon’s favorite recent trip was a Halloween cruise that visited famously haunted houses in Jamaica and Key West. “We had two professional paranormal investigators who signed up to do lectures for our group during the day at sea,” says Solomon, who called it “an awesome experience!”
Among Solomon’s admirers is OSSN President Gary Fee, who notes that in the short time that he hs known her, “I have seen Kira go from working under a host agency struggling to get into the industry part-time, to working full-time, free from a host agency with her very own TRUE code, bringing on independent agents under her company.” Fee adds that, “She is very driven and determined to be successful in this industry and we cannot wait to see what else is in store for her future.”
Nicki Squittieri, 23
The newest member of the Legacy Travel team, Nicki Squittieri is a specialist in destination weddings and Mexico travel, as well as an AMResorts Master Agent. In her short time with the company, she has already assisted in the opening of Legacy’s second branch in Chicago—the first time the agency has operated more than one location in 23 years, She credits her specialty with helping to buffer her agency against the recession.
“[Weddings are] an important event in couples’ lives and they don’t want to hold back when it comes to their big day,” Squittieri says. “I do my best to find exactly what they’re looking for. No matter how bad the economy is, I believe that people are always willing to pay for good service and expertise.”
The trip Squittieri cites as her most interesting, however, isn’t a wedding, but more like a bachelor party. “A group of guys…told me that they wanted to have a weekend ‘Like the movie The Hangover,’” she says. “It was so much fun helping them pick out where on The Strip they were going to stay, what room, what type of limo, etc.”
Philip Banks, president and owner of Legacy Travel, notes that, “In a short time, this wonderful young lady has become a $1,000,000 leisure producer and handled 23 destination weddings in 2011.” Such trips can be difficult, he says, “but Nicki has performed beautifully. Besides being a great agent, she is my ‘go-to’ person for my special projects. We are currently collaborating on a system for using technology to better connect with our clients.”
Kimberly Tobias, 29
Tzell Travel Group, a Division of Travel Leaders Group
Kimberly Tobias specializes in coordinating travel for big-name clients in the entertainment industry. “In addition to their personal travel, I coordinate the travel for their tours, including hotels, private transfers and jets,” says Tobias.
“I pride myself in offering full service that is truly 24/7,” she adds. “Some of the biggest names in the music industry rely on me to deliver superior services with speed, efficiency, accuracy and care.” While Tobias has carved out a name for herself creating travel experiences for celebrities, her favorite trip was to support her other passion.
“I enjoy competing in horse shows as a jumper,” says Tobias. “One trip to Germany afforded me the opportunity to stay with a family in Dusseldorf to experience the culture and country as a local. We toured farms and I met my future horse.”
Tobias credits her unique market niche with helping her weather the financial storm. “A simple philosophy of providing services to my clients they don’t get elsewhere and building lasting relationships with them has helped me maintain their confidence and has built a business of referrals,” she explained.
“Ms. Tobias is a prime example of what a top ‘Under 30’ candidate epitomizes,” says Gina Gabbard, vice president, Tzell Travel Group. “Not only has she proven herself through her work ethic, but she has shown amazing talent and passion for what she does as well. She has exhibited her strong leadership qualities for the entirety of her six years working for Tzell.”
Julie Vonder Haar, 26
Tiger Travel Service
|Julie Vonder Haar|
Julie Vonder Haar developed her love for travel during a study abroad program in New Zealand. After a stint as an event coordinator and later director of events for the St. Louis Travel Show, she started her own wedding planning company that soon morphed into a combination wedding planning and wedding travel business with gross sales of over $300,000 last year.
A Certified Sandals Specialist, Amstar Master Agent and Outrigger Specialist, Vonder Haar specializes in Mexico and the Caribbean, but she is always looking for new options in order to increase her business.
“I have been expanding my luxury travel market to the South Pacific, selling cruises on Paul Gauguin and stays in overwater bungalows,” Vonder Haar explains. She also has a special love for booking travel to Australia and New Zealand, the places that inspired her to join the industry in the first place.
Vonder Haar credits her unique combination of wedding planning and travel with helping her weather the recent tough times. “Between my promotions on TheKnot.com and my social networking, I cultivate many leads along with repeat business and referrals,” she says. “To ensure my business is profitable, I use our preferred supplier list to guarantee I am making the most of each booking.”
“Being a well-established agency since 1972, Tiger Travel welcomed the enthusiasm and energy Julie brought to us in December 2009,” says agency owner Jamie Walter. “Having the gumption to work on a commission basis only added to the belief that she would be successful. Her attention to detail and ‘go get ’em’ personality brought a new outlook to our agency filled with 20-year-plus veteran agents.”
Hilary Wallace, 24
After her own dream vacation to the Riviera Maya, Wallace knew it was her destiny to make dreams come true for other travelers, as well. She immersed herself in seminars and travel publications and kick-started a new career. She now holds certificates for Honeymoon and Destination Wedding planning, and is a specialist for Las Vegas, Cancun, Riviera Maya, AMResorts and Couples Resorts.
Most recently Wallace booked a honeymoon to St. Lucia that included exclusive touches such as helicopter transfers and spa treatments under the stars. “It was full of romantic surprises and little extras that made their trip special,” she says.
“The bride decided to surprise her groom with a helicopter transfer, romantic dinner, and snorkeling trip,” Wallace explains. “The groom wanted to surprise his bride with an upgraded room with private pool. I decided to surprise them both with a handwritten note welcoming them to St. Lucia. (I had been on a FAM that was leaving the day they were arriving so I was able to drop it off before they got there.)”
“Hilary Wallace always has innovative ideas for developing new clients and has been instrumental in building a program to continue to service existing clients,” says Laura Frazier, founder, Bliss Honeymoons. “In less than a year Hilary has managed to establish herself as the go-to romance travel expert in her area, and has established fantastic working relationships with other local wedding professionals.”
Sarah Warner, 25
Sanders Travel Centre
Fort Worth, TX
As a student at Texas Christian University, Warner earned her BA in Sociology and double minors in Religion and Japanese—a diverse course of studies that prepared her for a life in the travel industry. “I learned about people and societies around the world, fueling my passion for experiential travel,” she recalls. After college, she traveled throughout New Zealand and the South Pacific, before returning to Fort Worth to work with Sanders Travel Centre.
One of her favorite bookings was for a large group—fellow TCU alumni—going to Los Angeles to watch their alma mater win the Rose Bowl in January 2011. In addition to arranging travel for others, she has visited every continent on the planet—“except Antarctica, where I hope to go in the upcoming years.”
Warner started in the business just as the recession hit, and has only known challenging times in her professional life. “I have seen that people still yearn to travel, but are not sure whether they can allow themselves that luxury,” she says. “My goal is to show them fabulous destinations where their experiences are well worth their dollar. I have [done] this by hunting out great specials; advising my clients of more affordable, quality destinations; and providing added value through our preferred vendor relationships.”
Kirk Coleman, CEO and owner of Sanders Travel Centre, has high praise for Warner’s ability to learn quickly and apply her knowledge. “Sarah has gone from not knowing one thing about Sabre or how to advise clients to booking amazing client itineraries,” he says. “Nothing is out of her realm, and her clients love working with her.”