Travel Agent's 35 Under 30November 11, 2011 By: Adam Leposa, Jena Tesse Fox, Meagan Drillinger Travel Agent
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.”