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Selling Family TravelFebruary 8, 2008 By: Debbie Strong Home-Based Travel Agent
Agent relies on vacation rentals, her own experience as a mom for success in her self-launched business
Tracy Dennis, who runs Four Seasons Travel out of her home in Mechanicsville, MD, has been selling family-friendly travel for almost three years. Since starting her company as an independent associate of New Mexico-based Dugan's Travels in 2005, she has attracted customers with her down-to-earth personality and expert knowledge of what families need when traveling. Still, no one was more surprised than Dennis herself when she was named Endless Vacation Rentals' "Agent of the Year" in December. AGENT BIO
"It was a complete shock," she says of her award. "I had no idea it was coming." Endless Vacation Rentals—which honored Dennis for 2007 based on her volume of bookings, feedback and overall knowledge of the product—offers vacation properties for rent throughout the U.S. and Europe and sells mostly to families, a niche where Dennis has tallied much success.
"Selling travel to families is easy in part because of my own family," says Dennis, who is mom to 12-year-old son Tyler and 15-year-old daughter Shelby. "I know firsthand what parents and kids need on vacations."
She adds that she can help families on a budget by suggesting different ways to cut corners in order to splurge in other areas. "I'm asked to make travel recommendations all the time by acquaintances and friends. Rentals have been a huge hit for me because it was something I was already familiar with—it's an option people don't always think of, but in terms of space and cost, [it] makes sense for families or groups. It's a more relaxing, home-style setting, which can be ideal."
Rentals constitute about 60 percent of Dennis' business. "Many are in combination with a Disney [Orlando] trip," she says, "so there are add-ons like park tickets, car rentals or trip insurance." The remainder of her business is split between cruises and all-inclusive resort vacations.
One Step at a Time
Dennis began Four Seasons Travel (named after the street where she lives) after years of holding various part-time jobs while raising her children. "As my kids got older, I had more time," she says. "Selling travel came naturally to me. I like making people happy and hearing about their trip."
She says that launching an agency out of the family room was a challenge at first, and she spent the first year or so slowly learning the business through much self-education—asking lots of questions, signing up for suppliers' online training courses and affiliating with CLIA and OSSN. Taking the time to educate herself about what she was selling was worth it, says Dennis, and she'd advise other agents starting out to do the same.
"You really need to talk to suppliers; they are one of my best resources. They want you to sell their product; don't be afraid to call and ask questions. Read up on destinations and products you sell or want to sell, take some of the many great online courses available. Become familiar with supplier web sites and booking engines.
"I strive to learn something new every single day," she continues. "It really does make a difference." Most of her clients come from her community or by referral. "I think I'm a pretty easy person to talk to, which definitely helps in this business."
Though she enjoys her career immensely, it's clear that Dennis' passion is rooted in her family. "While my husband doesn't actually do bookings, he's great about spreading the word and giving out my business cards. I've been able to put together a few nice trips for some of his co-workers."
And family trips, the key to her success, are also her own happiest travel memories. "Cancun has been the best place so far for my family," she states. "None of us wanted to leave." That's a feeling Dennis strives to achieve for her clients and their families. "It feels good to know I've been able to help someone create lifelong memories."