Travel Agent’s 35 Under 30 for 2012November 5, 2012 By: Ruthanne Terrero, David Moseder, C. Elliott Mest, Meagan Drillinger, Joe Pike, Jena Tesse Fox, Adam Leposa Travel Agent
Once again Travel Agent magazine finds it necessary to supersize its annual 30 Under 30 feature to 35 Under 30, owing to the number of deserving nominees who made a strong case for themselves. Over the past few years this feature 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.
This year’s list of young agents in 2012, all of whom were under 30 when the year began, is a testament to our combined success. We trust that by being named to this list, the selected young agents will be encouraged to stay in an industry that so clearly embraces new talent. We are also inviting them to participate, along with past “Under 30” alumni, in our third annual Young Leaders Conference during Luxury Travel Exchange International in Las Vegas.
We’re not the only ones seeking to encourage new blood to come into the industry. Agency consortia have been doing the same, as has ASTA. We think it’s safe to say 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.
Now, read on for the 35 freshest and most innovative young travel agents in the business.
Sylvia Betesh, 26
Sylvia Betesh found her passion for travel during her study abroad program in Florence, Italy. When she was younger, her older brother would plan family trips to Israel, fostering her love of adventure. Betesh was pursing employment in the health field after obtaining a Registered Dietician certification from Brooklyn College and William E. Macaulay Honors College when she booked a trip with the Ovation Travel Group, managing to score an interview in the process.
“A job in travel was something I would never have thought of on my own, but it has changed my life in indescribable ways,” Betesh says. “I walked into the Ovation Travel headquarters a couple of days later and haven’t looked back since!”
Recently, Betesh won an incentive trip to Greece with Starwood’s Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts for booking Ovation’s highest volume into the country. “Greece was initially a tough sell due to the media’s portrayal of its current political climate,” Betesh says. “Nevertheless, there were many clients for whom it was ultimately a great choice. They’ve all returned with rave reviews, making it even easier to sell the destination.”
In the future, Betesh is aiming to become an expert in fitness and spa-oriented trips. “Given my background in health and nutrition, I will be an invaluable tool to my clients. My forte will be trips with wholesome food that combines the uniqueness of the destination with an active lifestyle.”
Praising her “creativity, tenacity, attention to detail, cheerful disposition and critical thinking,” Ovation Vacations President Jack Ezon says, “Sylvia is a star travel advisor. In less than three years she has gone from a novice to a $3 million advisor selling to top VIPs with great success.”
Andrew Browning, 30
Tahoe City, CA
Since starting in the travel industry five years ago, Andrew Browning has developed as a travel agent to a point where he has posted a sales volume of nearly $2 million so far in 2012.
Browning brings to the travel industry degrees in International Business and Spanish, as well as a passion for travel he developed studying abroad in Costa Rica and traveling in the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico and Canada. He has represented his company at several trade shows and is also responsible for developing business relationships with outside vendors.
Browning’s biggest challenge is dealing with errors that can affect clients. “In dealing with a large volume of clients and vendors, there are bound to be some mistakes,” he says. “Fixing these to our and our clients’ satisfaction is the biggest challenge I faced last year.”
He also notes that, “We’ve had some of our partner operators cancel entire travel seasons. This is a difficult part of the job because it is a lot of work with no increase in revenue for the time you spend working these situations out.”
“In addition to his spectacular sales success, Andrew has become an integral part of our company operations,” says Todd Smith, owner and founder of AdventureSmith Explorations. “He has created new sales reports, consulted on program development, and had significant contributions to our marketing efforts.”
Ann Coleman, 30
South Wayzata, MN
Ann Coleman had never been out of the country until she was 20 and took a job as a camp counselor in France, but since then she has never looked back.
“I was terrified stepping off the plane in Paris all by myself,” Coleman says. “But there was something combined with that terror. I was in love with traveling [and France] almost immediately. I went back for four more summers before entering the real world.”
Coleman worked in event planning and marketing for two years before joining Travel Beyond, first as an onsite trip director and later in a role that was more involved in the planning process of meeting and incentive trips.
For Coleman, one of the big perks of her job is exposing her clients to the world outside the U.S. “I have had the great pleasure of planning trips for clients who have never left the U.S.,” she says. “The thought that I have a hand in opening their eyes to even one other country and culture is a phenomenal feeling. In turn they come back as different people with new loves, appreciations and outlooks on so many things.”
“Having worked with many consultants, Ann is a rare find.” says Jim Bendt, owner of Travel Beyond. “[She] is not only a rising star at Travel Beyond but also within the travel agent community.”
Kate Corey, 26
While Currie & Co. is based in Atlanta, Kate Corey works from Edinburgh, Scotland, which has given her access to a more global clientele. “While it can certainly be somewhat of a challenge to maintain client relationships around the globe, we function as a team and I often work in tandem with my colleagues in the U.S. who provide my clients with support in multiple time zones,” she says. “Living in the UK also enables me to explore as I have some of the top emerging destinations at my fingertips.”
She knew that travel would be a difficult industry for her to get established in, she acknowledges, “but I also knew that it would be worth it if I could do what I love every single day.”
Betty Jo Currie, owner of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited, says that Kate Corey has youth, determination, and experience—“the perfect combination for a fledgling travel advisor. Her tenacious work ethic provides her with the capability to handle everything from young honeymooners to CEOs. Her personal experiences with travel powering change and changing lives drives her unflagging energy. Kate is an ideal example of the new young face of our industry.”
Hannah Cotè, 24
When Hannah Cotè was a child, her family would spend a few weeks in Colorado every summer. “I was constantly looking for things to do, and planning ski trips with friends,” she recalls. “When I left my previous job, I wasn’t sure what direction I was going to go in, but Legacy Travel was the most amazing discovery. I didn’t know anything about the industry when I started, but…I dove right in.”
The biggest challenge Cotè has faced over the last year has been price matching the online booking engines. But this has had a notable upside: “I have learned how valuable I am and how much I bring to the table,” she says. “My clients have many times booked at a higher rate because they trusted me and wanted me to be the one assisting them during their booking and planning process.” But, she admits, “It can be very frustrating when you spend a lot of time and effort on a trip and then the clients find a lower rate online.”
Catherine Banks, co-owner and vice president at Legacy, says that from the moment Cotè sat down at her desk, “it was evident she was going to break the mold of what new agents were expected to do. Being recently married, she has a special compassion for the plight of today’s brides and the ones she works with love her.”
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Anna Cropper, 26
Anna Cropper joined All Inclusive Outlet as an administrative assistant, and in just one year she was promoted to travel consultant/groups coordinator and tasked by the owner to help the company revisit group travel and redevelop the destination wedding niche.
Since then Cropper has used her organizational skills to overcome a wide array of challenges, including one couple who wanted to find a rabbi in Mexico. “After exhausting all options, and finding out that the only available rabbi was on the opposite side of the country, I was able to work with the wedding coordinator and the person conducting the ceremony to incorporate some Jewish elements into the wedding,” Cropper says. “This was a make it or break it deal for a pretty large wedding, and I pulled it off!”
“I had luck on my side the day Anna Cropper showed up,” says Tom Carr, president of All Inclusive Outlet. “Anna was transitioning from the education field and was a good fit for us. She is extremely organized, thoughtful, personable, and dedicated. Anna has built our group business from the ground up. She’s developed systems for managing groups and streamlining our group quoting. In less than a year, she increased our group business by 700 percent! Our clients truly love her and we are glad she made the jump into groups.”
Ryan Doncsecz, 24
Ryan Doncsecz found his love of travel at a young age, traveling yearly to destinations such as Mexico, Alaska and Florida. He leapt at the chance to join the ever-changing travel industry after graduating from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.
Doncsecz was recently awarded the Chairman’s Royal Club title for selling the most possible rooms to a Sandals/Beaches resort after being in the industry for only two years. He also plans, coordinates and accompanies school trips for middle and high school students, as well as destination weddings.
Though Doncsecz is currently in charge of all incoming and outgoing transactions and payments for the company, he hopes to eventually take charge of the company’s accounting department. “I know it is out of the sales realm that is currently half of my responsibilities, but it seems like a reasonable step in helping our business grow even larger than it is,” Doncsecz says.
For other young professionals entering the travel industry, Doncsecz recommends finding a mentor immediately. “I work with some of the biggest leaders in the industry on a day to day basis. No one is too old, or too knowledged to learn how to do something better. Take this to heart, and you can resolve anything.”
“VIP continues to thrive on the new and innovative ideas that our young agents bring to the table.” says VIP Vacations President Jennifer Doncsecz. “Ryan is often the one team members turn to for help and advice in dealing with ‘high maintenance’ clients.”
Emily Fisher, 23
As a honeymoon specialist, Emily Fisher attends more than 20 bridal shows per year as a vendor to meet new brides. She actually met her boss when she was preparing for her own wedding…and, having been on both sides of the aisle, Fisher knows how the brides and grooms can often feel.
One of her biggest challenges was when one of her clients had to cancel her honeymoon because the wedding was canceled as well. “She had deposits down, air purchased and was just counting the remaining days,” she recalls. Fisher was able to commiserate with the client: “My engagement ended as well…and not with marriage. After knowing exactly the steps she had to take to cancel everything [since I, too, went through them all], we spoke on the phone for a few extra minutes and I was able to lift her spirits with some friendly words.”
At 23 years old, Fisher feels that her career is set in stone—“which is something not many people in their ’20s or even ’30s, can say!” she notes. “I love nothing more than setting goals for myself and hitting those goals, not by a little, but a lot. I love a good challenge.”
Jennifer Doncsecz, VIP’s president, says that in two years, Fisher has gone from participating at VIP’s booths at bridal shows to completely handling the contracts, staffing, and database management on top of working the booths. “It is amazing that she always arrives to the bridal shows [normally Sundays] with a happy face and determination. Emily’s sales are so strong that others at VIP turn to her for advice on destinations, tips for closing a sale, and help in booking properties. She is loved by our suppliers and vendors.”
Owen Gaddis, 29
Owen Gaddis has been traveling since the age of two, and used his childhood experiences as a window into what the luxury client looks for. As an independent contractor for SmartFlyer, Gaddis focuses on bespoke and unique itineraries, or what he calls “experiential travel.”
“My ideal client will have a passion for adventure and exploration during the day, and a love for fine wine and luxury linens in the evening,” Gaddis says. “Given my background, and passion for adventure travel, I like my itineraries to have an ‘edge.’ ”
Gaddis’ enthusiasm for his itineraries created a learning experience for himself early on in his career. “In the beginning I felt that every client needed to be responded to within an hour or two for every communication,” Gaddis says. “After realizing that I am as busy as they are, if not busier, I decided it was OK to give a short, immediate response buying me time to work on their specific request and then get back to them in a timely manner.”
“Owen loves travel, he’s passionate and always willing to learn more.” says Michael Holtz, SmartFlyer’s owner. “He never hesitates to pack a bag at the last second to travel and learn about new destinations. That willingness to learn is irreplaceable.”
Miriam Geiser, 29
Miriam Geiser graduated from DePaul University in Chicago, and MoonRings was the first and only company she applied to, via Monster.com, after graduation. Geiser emphasizes getting to know her clients, and offers them 24-hour support during their travels.
“Each itinerary at MoonRings is built from scratch,” Geiser says. “By asking the right questions, I gain a solid understanding of who my clients are and what their travel goals are for each specific trip. I love educating clients on destinations under consideration and helping them to decide which experiences suit them best.”
Geiser was recently forced to deal with an interesting situation that is becoming less common, but is still a factor when interacting with clients. “I worked with a local client who did not have an e-mail address, and didn’t really use the Internet,” Geiser says. Unable to send links with information about hotels and tours, Geiser was forced to reassess the way she communicated with her clients. “By the end of the process I was crafting elaborate presentations and colorful documents to send by regular mail or give in-office. In the end they valued the way I worked with them.”
This is one reason why MoonRings President Carrie Wallace calls Geiser a “rock star” who “demonstrates wisdom beyond her years.”
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Lori Gold, 25
For Lori Gold, her love affair with travel began during a summer job five years ago when she was assisting senior travel agents in all sectors of the business, from data entry to invoicing to bookings. It was during this summer that she was bitten by the travel bug and went in search of her own clients. Today she calls herself a travel designer because, “in this position I am not simply a ‘travel agent.’ I design custom trips and vacations to suit each client’s individual needs,” she says.
Working for The Travel Network, Gold is responsible for everything from booking flights and car reservations to designing custom trips to exotic destinations such as India, Maldives, Dubai and Australia. Gold chose travel as a career because she had a desire to see places that were entirely different from Toronto. “Growing up, whenever I chose a calendar at the bookstore for the upcoming year, I always chose the one with tropical beach scenes and foreign landscapes.”
To visit those places was her ultimate dream, and today Gold is an expert on the Karisma brand of hotels and has achieved the highest level of certification from various cruise lines such as Princess and Paul Gauguin.
Agency VP Ilana Valo praises Gold’s work, especially in the realm of social media. “[She] has worked very hard over the last few years to establish her online ‘brand,’ which has led to many new leads and increased business,” Valo says.
Heather Brooke Hice, 27
|Heather Brooke Hice|
Heather Brooke Hice started with AAA as a Drive Vacation Specialist, but quickly became a travel specialist for the agency. “After a year of dedicated service I was promoted to the Senior Travel Consultant position. This supervisory position requires that I work with my team to ensure that AAA is represented with a positive and professional image to our members and clients. It is my responsibility to make sure that my team is knowledgeable in all things travel-related.”
Making sure her clients are as knowledgeable is a bit more of a challenge. “I have a lot of clients that walk into my office and say, ‘Well, I figured I could do it cheaper on my own,’ or ‘I can find everything that you can on the Internet,’ but my favorite is ‘It is easy to book online.’ Some people honestly believe that these statements are true until they book something on their own and have complications…I feel that it is my professional duty to inform people of the challenges and difficulties individuals can face if they book online by themselves without a professional agent to assist them.”
Mary Zimmerman, a service center regional manager, says that Hice is exceeding sales expectations and represented the club at Disney Earmarked Conference in the inaugural sailing of the Fantasy in 2012. “Heather was recently promoted to supervisor in the branch. I am confident Heather has many promising years ahead as a successful travel agent with AAA.”
Annie Humble, 25
Cedar Falls, IA
Annie Humble is a third-generation travel representative at Humble Travel Service, which has weathered the ups and downs of the travel industry for over 50 years.
“Like many young people before me, I initially rejected the idea of following in the family business,” Humble says. “I was tired of small town Iowa and wanted the excitement of a big city. So, I packed my bags shortly after graduating from the University of Iowa, and headed to Chicago. My timing could not have been worse. The economic crisis was in full swing, and the job opportunities were non-existent. Five dead end jobs [sometimes two at a time] in 18 months made me take a second look at the wonderful opportunity that had been just down the street from where I grew up.”
When she was promoted to Agency Sales Manager in January 2012, she found that, “Suddenly, I had our travel advisors all coming to me with questions and to resolve any issues that arose. My days now included marketing meetings. I was in charge of the Humble Travel ‘Alaska Show’ that we hosted at a downtown theater. The website was now my responsibility. All this, and my clients were still calling and counting on me for complicated travel arrangements.”
“[Annie] is a tireless worker who is constantly multitasking and getting things done for clients and our staff,” say Vice President Arlene Humble, to which President Gregg Humble adds, “We have watched her develop from a novice agent just under four years ago, to a competent manager and expert travel professional. We can think of no one more deserving of this prestigious award.”
|Lauren Ashley Leayman|
Lauren Ashley Leayman, 25
After graduating from the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Temple University in Philadelphia, Lauren Ashley Leayman began her search for a future in travel.
“While the presence of traveling was very slim in my childhood and adolescence, my passion and drive to see the world was stronger than ever,” Leayman says. “I decided upon my major of Tourism and Hospitality management after realizing that travel was always an underlying theme in my life, something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Eventually landing a spot as a destination weddings specialist for VIP Vacations, Leayman is responsible for detailing all wedding contracts, assisting guests with their travel arrangements, negotiating rates for wedding groups and more. She also works with onsite wedding coordinators at the resorts to ensure that all details are confirmed for the soon-to-wed couple.
After accepting the position with VIP, she was immediately offered the opportunity to visit Turks and Caicos to observe a client’s destination wedding. She then went on to visit the Bahamas, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. She was certified as a Sandals WeddingMoons Specialist at Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau.
“Every aspect of this industry changes regularly,” she says. “You have to understand your client and know travel trends to be able to provide them with an experience that they’ll never forget. I am not sure where this road will take me in 10 years, but I strive to continue to grow as a young professional and increase my knowledge, experience, and resources so that I am prepared for the journey ahead.”
VIP’s President Jennifer Doncsecz calls Lauren VIP’s “guardian angel,” noting that “I continually receive unsolicited letters from Lauren’s clients singing her praises even before they travel.”
Donna LeClair, 29
“Working on complex itineraries for adventurous clients is what makes me tick,” Donna LeClair says. “I live for the excitement of piecing together all the many travel arrangements. Currently I am working on staying up to date on new technologies and getting our agency out to the world via Facebook, Pinterest and having an easily accessible website. I try to attend as many webinars as possible to stay current with these trends.”
LeClair feels that her greatest challenge is competing with online rates. “They often want the same deal from us,” she says. “They don’t realize that there are so many restrictions on Internet offers and sometimes it is a scam and they lose their money using their credit card online. I try to let them know that they get a personal service from their travel agent at all times for more than likely a better price than online pricing and if things go wrong, their travel agent will be there for them and help them out day and night. Can the Internet offer that service?”
Coworker Diane Africano has great praise for LeClair’s ability to “facilitate all types of travel packages up to the most detailed international trips with great skill and professionalism. She’s our lead technology travel consultant in revamping our agency’s website and social media forums and better integrating these technologies into our overall agency marketing/sales plans. She has been able to utilize her photography and computer skills to single-handedly upgrade our agency’s Internet presence to an attractive, interactive experience.”
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Stephanie LeCompte, 25
Stephanie LeCompte fell in love with cultures around the world during her travels as a child, and recently joined LeCompte Travel in 2011 as an Independent Contractor. She works closely with Ellen LeCompte, who was ranked on Travel + Leisure’s A-List as the top UK specialist in the U.S. since 2003.
LeCompte frequently works with clients requesting complicated custom itineraries on short notice, but she recently worked with a couple who booked a last-minute honeymoon one week before departing. “They had just purchased airline tickets, but there was no availability in any of the hotels they wanted,” LeCompte says. “I was able to secure them an ocean-view room and arranged private transfers and adventure tours, but when the guests arrived they were not given the correct room category and many of their activities were not included. Fortunately, we were able to upgrade their room and were refunded the cost of their tours.”
As an affiliate of Brownell Travel, travel advisors for LeCompte are required to complete several mentor programs such as the Celebrity Cruise Program, CLIA Fleet Review, Cruise Vacations training, Cunard Commodore Training Program, Princess Commodore Training Program, RCCL WOW- Expert Level Training Program, Orient-Express Ambassador Program, Rail Europe Trac Training and Marriott Hotel Excellence Program.
“Stephanie is taking that knowledge and wisdom and applying her own ideas and innovations through social media,” says Brownell President and CEO Troy Haas. “She is certainly a rising star of our mentoring program.”
Michael Majcherczyk, 22
Michael Majcherczyk has been a travel consultant for Classic Travel since March 2008, and recently graduated from Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, N.J. He began traveling with his father at a young age, visiting areas in Europe and South America.
“I decided to take the advice of my father to go with a job that I would always be happy doing, rather than one I would eventually dread,” Majcherczyk says. “I am excited to see what the future holds for me, and I see many opportunities in the travel industry.”
Though his travel career has just begun, Majcherczyk has already had to deal with high-pressure situations. “A honeymoon that I had planned for a couple went wrong recently,” he says. “Their suitcases never made it to their destination, and the transfer to their hotel had gone and so they had to book a taxi themselves.” Majcherczyk resolved the situation by finding their luggage with the airline and offering the couple complimentary massages at the spa, as well as upgrading their room to an ocean view. “It was a frustrating process for me; a honeymoon is once in a lifetime!
“My past travel experience has led to where I stand today,” he says. “Involved and in love with the industry.”
Katherine McRae, 28
Katherine McRae is new to the industry, but already has lofty aspirations and excellent mentors to learn from. She learned about the travel industry through a friend who was able to introduce her to Century Travel owners Gene Lashley and Peter Lloyd, who decided to take a chance and hired her as their assistant.
Before her career, she had the opportunity to travel quite a bit. She spent three years abroad in London earning her Masters Degree in the History of Art and Connoisseurship from Christie’s and the University of Glasgow. While living in London she was able to travel throughout the UK as well as continental Europe.
“With an eye for beautiful places and things, I have long had a passion for travel and the arts,” she says. “I believe that travel broadens your sense of self and place. Every experience, every culture and person you meet shapes you in some way.”
Her goal for the next 10 years is to become a successful advisor and develop the knowledge and contacts to send anyone anywhere in the world, and to be the expert on their destination. “I will challenge myself and learn as much as I can while I’ve been given this incredible opportunity to work as an assistant to two of the most knowledgeable experts in the business.”
Kristy Melse, 29
Kelowna, British Columbia
At just 29 years old, Kristy Melse is already the owner of her travel agency, working as a destination wedding specialist. Melse created the business after planning her own destination wedding. “I saw that there was a lack of specialists that were our own age available to assist with our group needs,” she says. “Our wedding was perfect and I believe that every bride and groom should have a perfect destination wedding just like ours and the only way a specialist can give advice on this specific type of travel is to have firsthand experience.”
Today, Melse works with brides and grooms all over Canada to help them decide which resort to choose for their wedding within their budgets. She then coordinates and books all of the guests’ travel arrangements so that they can attend. One of the greatest challenges she has faced in her career is increasing sales this year.
“The way we had to resolve this change in our business was to hire new staff who were able to act as assistants when it came to booking a destination wedding.” Melse is constantly training her staff to make sure they are up to date with what it takes to book a successful destination wedding. In the next 10 to 20 years, Melse hopes to expand the business by bringing on more staff members potentially located throughout Canada.
Ryan Mielke, 25
Fort Lauderdale, FL
The first stamp in Ryan Mielke’s passport was from Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands at a very young age, and ever since then he has been enthralled with all things travel. He considered entering the travel industry during his studies at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh after a geography course, where learning about other cultures interested him more than his business classes.
“I was still a little hesitant to fully commit to the industry until I took my first trip out of the country, back to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands,” Mielke says. “It was as I was seeing and experiencing that culture that I caught the travel bug, and I knew right then that I wanted this.”
For new travel agents entering the industry, Mielke recommends staying up to date on company policies and sales contracts with airlines in order to avoid penalties and debit memos. “The key to keeping up with the changing trends, policies and contracts is organization,” Mielke says. “Technology helps with organization. I have many excel sheets and word documents to make contracts, accounting and book keeping easy and organized. A simple excel sheet can make a process that could take weeks into just days of work. Good organization is fail proof.”
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Jacqueline Miller, 23
Jacqueline Miller holds many roles at her travel agency. “I am a sales consultant for individual, groups and FIT travel along with being the owner’s assistant. I also handle the majority of the detail work for special request and special needs.” She credits her success to her ability to listen. “With my great listening skills, I knew I would be a perfect fit: To be a travel agent you have to listen to what your clients want.”
Dealing with airlines has been Miller’s biggest challenge. “I had an older couple on their way to catch their cruise to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. They missed their connection flight because of an airline delay. I was able to sweep in and work directly with the airlines to secure my clients on another flight and get them to their destination safely. They made their cruise and had a wonderful time! Those are the clients I’ll have for life.”
Another client posted a public letter to Miller on WeddingWire.com: “The resort was simply wonderful, we had an amazing time! We were talking and would definitely go through Active Travel again for our next vacations! You made it very easy and stress free and Apple was amazing since the time we got there until we left!”
Zachary Moses, 29
Key West, FL
As the marketing director for HE Travel and Alyson Adventures, Zachary Moses is the agency’s “Swiss army knife.” His day-to-day involvement includes market research, ad design, tour design, leading tours, publishing articles and engaging clients through social media.
It was an odd turn of events that led him to a breakthrough career. “My dog was sick and I ran him out the front door. It turned out that the owner of HE Travel lived across the street [from me]. We hit it off, and when the job opened up he offered me the position. I was in the right place at the right time,” says Moses.
Before working as a travel agent, Moses had plenty of experience booking his own travel as a stand-up comedian, which was a perfect entry into his career as a travel consultant. “I love helping travelers forget their worries and remember their dreams, even if only for two weeks,” he says.
Moses came to the position during the height of the recession and was given the task of having to turn business around. “I led the discussions and fast-tracked the changes that have led us to our most profitable year in history,” says Moses. “Despite a faltering economy, our reservations have increased by 20 percent in the last 18 months.” Moses helped to re-brand the company as a more luxurious adventure company, and is constantly helping to update tour designs. He also took charge of streamlining the business operations to reduce costs. “My goal is to have built the company strong enough that I can retire in the next 10 years, and join the trips we create,” he says.
Kathleen O’Connell, 27
Long before Kathleen O’Connell started at Frosch Travel last fall as an administrative assistant, she was planning itineraries for vacations with her family at a very young age, prompting relatives to dub her the family’s “cruise director.” Vacations, she says, “provide unparalleled bonding and build memories that can last for decades. As a very Type-A, organized child, I saw the weeks before our trips as an opportunity to plan them out in detail.”
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in Arts in American Culture, she was ready to turn her childhood hobby into a career after graduating from the University of Michigan. But a cruel economy dragged her pursuit to become an agent out for a few years until she landed a role at the very prominent travel agency, Frosch Travel, last fall.
She got her feet wet answering phones, sending new clients to the appropriate agents and other entry level tasks until the folks at Frosch thought it was time to put O’Connell’s true potential to task. After in-depth training under Judith Wolf, a Travel + Leisure A List agent, O’Connell began working as a leisure agent in January and hasn’t looked back since.
In fact, her manager, Joanne Esplin, was so pleased with the way she had grown as an agent that she asked her and a colleague to work together to develop a training manual to help future new hires learn and grow.
“One thing that I love most about my job is that no two trips are ever identical; they really must be catered to the personality of the travelers,” she says. “Attention to detail and excellent customer service skills are a must for any successful leisure agent.”
Jessica Ourisman, 30
Jessica Ourisman is the co-owner of Ourisman Travel along with her father-in-law, David Ourisman, and both are independent associates of Brownell Travel, a Virtuoso agency. “I manage my own client list and specialize in trips to Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America,” she says of her job.
But, she adds, she has only been an agent for one year, even though she helped develop Ourisman Travel. The agency started just as social media began to take off, and she leveraged the nascent technology to its full advantage.
“Today, we are one of the top sellers of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, and I think that is a great testament to the way we chose to direct and focus our marketing message,” she says. “I was more than eager to get involved on a new level, to take real ownership in the business, and to start thinking about the next growth stage for us.”
Troy Haas, CEO of Brownell Travel, has high praise for her. “Jessica has masterminded one of the most successful ‘new models’ of travel we have seen in our long history at Brownell. Even before she entered the travel business she advised her father-in-law, David Ourisman, on use of social media for leveraging his deep passion and knowledge of hotels. Today David is our top seller of luxury hotels as a result, and Jessica has joined his practice to help develop that amazing success she helped create.”
|Meagan Parker Levine|
Meagan Parker Levine, 29
For the last six years, Meagan Parker Levine has steadily worked to develop her client base at Protravel International while establishing herself within the industry. Although selling honeymoons is her forte, she also provides leisure travel services to a wide range of customers. Within just the last few years, she’s also added a growing number of corporate accounts to her client base.
“My age has provided a great opportunity to successfully position myself as a honeymoon specialist,” says the 29-year-old. “It is within this niche, I strive to show new clients the benefits of booking with a travel agent. This practice builds a solid foundation for my career to grow as my clients’ travel needs develop.”
It was a career placement test she completed as a college student that recommended she become a travel agent. “I recognized an opportunity to combine an education in marketing and a fast growing passion for travel,” she says.
After a short stint as an administrative assistant at MTA Travel, Parker Levine was networking with friends and family with hopes of finding trips to book in order to familiarize with the process.
“During down time at the office, I would complete Sabre training classes or other industry education courses,” she says. “I became really excited about helping people plan a trip to a place I had been or would love to see. It did not take me long to realize that I could learn about the world and help others experience it while making it my career.”
Among the assets her manager at Protravel, Carol Ecob, finds most impressive is “her poise under pressure and confidence in dealing with clients and vendors. [She] represents her generation in the business with great brilliance.”
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Melissa Pugh, 30
Traveling was never a big part of Melissa Pugh’s life until she spent a college semester abroad during her junior year at Lake Forest College. “I had never been out of the country before and I was salivating at the very thoughts of experiencing a new country, a different culture, a whole new world,” she says.
After her semester abroad, during which she navigated almost every inch of New Zealand’s South Island, North Island, and traveled to Australia and Fiji, she returned to Lake Forest College to graduate, then moved to Ireland with no job, no family, no friends and no place to live.
“I was constantly doing research projects of where I wanted to go next, what culture I wanted to experience, where the wildlife was that I wanted to admire in their natural habitat, and what languages I wanted to struggle with,” she says. “I continued to do these research projects to help me decide where I would travel for the next five years.”
Pugh currently works as a luxury travel advisor at Jet Set World Travel, a Virtuoso agency, where she started working three months ago as part of a four-person team planning as many as 30 trips at a time. Prior to that, she was an assistant travel advisor at R. Crusoe & Son. Regarding her future goals, Pugh aims to be an expert for Central and South America, New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia.
“I want to play a big role with young professionals and encouraging young people to join our field,” she says. “I will find myself always researching what is new and active in the destination and never becoming reliant on what I know now.”
Citing Pugh’s “energy, enthusiasm, professionalism, and worldwide connections,” Virtuoso Director of Professional Development Helen Nodland, calls her a “travel advisor for all generations.”
Brandon J. Rugg, 28
Walnut Creek, CA
For Brandon Rugg, the foray into the travel industry began at an early age. He was born and raised in Napa Valley, CA, where his family owned a B&B. During high school, he worked as a bellman at high-end Napa hotels such as Meadowood, Auberge du Soleil and La Residence. In 2005 he was promoted to front desk manager at La Residence, where he stayed for many years. It seemed only natural to follow a career path in the travel vein.
Today he works as a travel counselor for American Express, mostly assisting Platinum and Centurion Card holders. His main focus is private jet charters, which is something else right up his alley, as he has a BS in Aeronautical Science and is a commercial pilot.
Rugg says that one of the greatest challenges he has had to face on the job was arranging airlift for a client that wanted to attend a party at a secluded resort, but could not because of airline scheduling. He began the process of chartering a jet to SFO from Southern California, then a helicopter from SFO to the resort. The toughest part about this challenge was that he had just two hours to complete it.
Matthew Kohls, the agency’s team leader, says that Rugg “consistently displays the attributes that will define the successful travel professional of the future.” Rugg also sees a bright future for himself: “In 10 years I see myself managing my own American Express Travel Office. I also see a passport full of beautiful stamps.” he says.
Kristin Schoettmer, 29
Kristin Schoettmer’s love for the Caribbean was enough to pull her from the classroom and into the world of travel.
A former teacher, Schoettmer spun her relationship as a client with Beach Bum into one of their most successful young agents. “Life has a way of changing when you least expect it and when I had to make the choice to run my own classroom or travel the world. I made the decision to pursue my passion and love for island living and having my toes in the sand,” she says.
Prior to working for Beach Bum Vacation—where she is “always first to lend a helping hand wherever needed,” says the agency’s owner Hayley Whorrall—she explored the U.S. with her husband, traveling all over the midwest and east coast. She celebrated her honeymoon and an anniversary in St. Lucia and Jamaica prior to coming on board as a travel concierge.
“My top priority is to never do a mediocre vacation and to ensure my customers receive the best in service, making myself available 24/7,” she says. “I do not keep strict office hours and always ensure that I am there when I am needed to take calls, ease worries and create a stress-less experience.”
As far as her future goals go, she is constantly looking to “get outside of my comfort zone” and plans to become acquainted with such non-Caribbean hot spots like Europe, Bora Bora and Australia. “This will ensure that my scope is endless when a client comes to me for a recommendation,” Schoettmer says.
Maren Silberstein, 24
Even after graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in Psychology, Maren Silberstein was still unsure whether or not she was on the right career path. “During my time off at school and after school, I always traveled and went somewhere new,” she says. “After doing all of this traveling and putting more and more itineraries together, I realized I should be in the travel business.”
She got bitten by the travel bug when she visited Belize at the age of 16 for a community service project and couldn’t get rid of it since. During her junior year of college, in fact, she studied abroad in London. That semester alone, she visited Spain, France, Italy, Ireland, Austria, Morocco, Poland and the Netherlands.
“Every time I travel…I realize how lucky I am to live in the U.S. and it makes me want to help others,” she says. “There are so many people who have never been out of the country or even their state. I think it makes a huge difference to see the world around you.”And now she finally gets the chance to help others do just that.
She started at Frosch Travel last December as a leisure travel consultant. Since then, she has been marketing to clients and making sure to give them the most up to date information on tours, cruises, and destinations. She also has her own travel blog and has even started making her own personal city guides.
“I love all the experiences I have been fortunate enough to have,” she says. “My goal is for people to have the same experiences and feelings as I do when I go some place new. The worst feeling, for me at least, is going somewhere far and not visiting all the most important sites or getting to know the local way.”
Bernadette Sperrazza, 26
After graduating college in 2008, Bernadette Sperrazza got involved full-time with The World Awaits Travel, where she developed creative ways to promote the company.
“I help promote The World Awaits Travel through social media tools such as Facebook and Instagram,” says Sperrazza. “I have also utilized the relationship I have with a swimwear showroom in NY to help promote the agency to its clients and sample sale customers. Learning new ways to promote the business is something I am always eager to explore.”
Sperrazza’s biggest recent challenge was making last-minute travel arrangements for a group of models involved in a photo shoot. “With only days before the shoot, I had to find flights from all different airports and for all different arrival and departure times,” Sperrazza says. “Complicated flights weren’t the only issue. After searching for hotels in NYC, I came to the quick realization that it was way too last minute and everything was sold out. Fortunately, the Marriot in Brooklyn still had availability for the group and I was able to book them there. It was a stressful few days but thankfully it all worked out and the client was happy.”
“Some people are just born with it—the ability to make friends easily, and feel comfortable anywhere,” says Camille Pepe Sperrazza, owner and founder of The World Awaits Travel. “Bernadette possesses these personal qualities that are so essential to the travel profession.”
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Jessica Sussman, 27
Before Jessica Sussman took on her role in Frosch’s Group department, she wore a number of hats at the company. She began as an assistant in an independent contractor’s Entertainment division, booking major band tours and record label executives’ travel, which Sussman enjoyed immensely, having a major passion for music. She then moved to the role of marketing coordinator.
This position incorporated vendor relations, which allowed her to develop connections with suppliers and allowed for innovation and resourcefulness in marketing endeavors. She also worked as Production Coordinator in Private Client Services, Frosch’s members-only division.
On the job, Sussman is constantly presented with challenges, from bumped safari lodge accommodations for a VIP group to unacceptable last-minute air schedule changes. In these scenarios, Sussman prides herself on recovery. “It requires a certain level of composure to be able to see past the alarm and work towards the resolution, and this is something I am learning as my time in the workforce carries on,” she says. In the coming years, Sussman looks forward to adapting to the changing environment of selling travel. She wants to be part of the innovations necessary for the industry to adjust to the transition of travel sales to the online marketplace.
“Jessica Sussman is one of our rising stars, leading our office to the forefront of innovation and stellar customer relations,” says Samy Ghachem, managing director, Frosch New York. “Jessica has an incredible ability to incorporate the best practices of social media, creative marketing, and refined service to not only satisfy existing clients but also develop a new client base.”
Allison Kuykendall Tuck, 30
|Allison Kuykendall Tuck|
A winner of Travel Impressions’ new Ambassador Program for Aruba, Allison Kuykendall Tuck made the jump from print journalism to travel, and she credits the professional mentoring she received at Travel Center of Lexington with helping her make the transition.
“In my current position at The Travel Center I have learned more and been mentored more than I have ever been during my career as an agent,” says Tuck.
“Meetta Simpson who is the owner of The Travel Center of Lexington is an inspiration in herself,” Tuck continues, citing Simpson as a professional mentor. “She has a level head and is the best person to work with, period.” Simpson, in turn, praises Tuck for “constantly thinking outside the box to help those hard to handle clients.”
Part of her time at the Travel Center has been spent learning not to neglect even the smallest clients. “You can’t turn away the small fish because you might miss the big catch,” Tuck says. “I have often heard the term of ‘firing clients’ and believe me when I say I have thought about that from time to time. I once tried it this past year and I learned a big lesson. If you think those little clients are pains in the neck, the truth is they are, but one day they may come in and bring you a huge wedding group or a larger luxury booking.”
Ashley Walker, 25
Point Pleasant, NJ
Just two years after receiving her degree in Global Tourism from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, in 2009, Ashley Walker of TravelSmiths was accepted into the Hawaii Travel Exchange in October 2011, as well as the Tahiti Travel Exchange in November 2012.
“As one of 10 frontline agents I work on all aspects of travel for clients from honeymoons, group getaways, cruises and destination weddings,” says Walker. “Today I am always trying to put new group trips together. I am currently working on a group yoga retreat, four destination weddings, a group ski trip to Whistler, and an Oktoberfest trip for 2013.”
One of the most pressing challenges Walker has found in her time at TravelSmiths is managing unrealistic client expectations. “I strive to fulfill every clients vacation needs and turn them into a lifetime of memories,” Walker says. “The problem falls when clients have unrealistic expectations. I just got a call the other day that honeymooners wanted to go to Tahiti for $4K. In most cases we try to set clients realistic expectations within their fiscal boundaries. I try to capture what their hopes and dreams and yet maximize their vacation experience.”
“Ashley has proven herself as one of our top agents,” says Sally JaneSmith, owner, TravelSmiths. “She is growing her business more and more everyday and I am thrilled to have her on our team.”
Kristin Wiese, 29
Kristin Wiese parlayed her experience working for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League into her dream career as a travel agent. Working for the Ravens in a public relations capacity, she now provides marketing support for McCabe World Travel.
“Marketing is fundamental to the growth of any organization in order to remain relevant and connected to our present and prospective clients,” she says. “Service is paramount in our industry and positioning ourselves to provide the best possible experience for our clients is what drives us.”
Wiese caught the travel bug at an early age on such family vacations as a car ride to Cape Cod, a Caribbean cruise or a European adventure. Her most significant travel experience, however, was one that she spent alone.
“I spent a summer in high school living with a family in Nagoya, Japan, studying Japanese and learning the ways of the culture,” she says. “I found myself fully immersed in a culture that was unlike anything I knew at home. I cannot wait to return to Japan.”
Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, says, “Kristin is a natural teacher who has inspired our entire team to become more knowledgeable about social media and is a star with marketing strategies.”
Zach Wolf, 27
New York, NY
Prior to his career in travel, Zach Wolf worked in the television industry as a production assistant and coordinator. While some may argue that the jump from TV to travel is dramatic, Wolf found the two to be surprisingly related.
“I would be asked by my superiors in production to go online, on OT websites and airline websites, enter dates, times, city pairings, etc.,” says Wolf. “While doing this constantly, I enjoyed the concept of travel and I decided to enter the industry of travel with no ‘real’ experience. I had to go on luck.”
Wolf has found his forte as he now works within the Tzell Travel Group under Jeannie Fernandez and Mireille McQuade. What first started as an administrative position has transformed into a booming travel agent career, as Wolf now assists in booking corporate and leisure travel for some of the company’s biggest accounts. While Wolf enjoys his position immensely, it is not without its challenges, but his hands-on approach is what sets him apart from other agents in his field.
“In my first week working for Tzell, New York was battling a vicious winter—one that had totaled 24 inches of snow in certain parts of the city…causing our clients to be stranded not only in the U.S., but all over the world,” he says. “Although my knowledge was incredibly limited at the time, I was forced to act quickly, intelligently and efficiently to avert the crisis and produce alternatives to the situation that most of our travelers were in.” This gave Wolf the confidence and expertise to handle any other obstacle that would befall him in the future and has not detracted from his love of travel.