When agents tell their stories of how they got in the business, a burgeoning love of travel at a young age usually tops the list. However, few agents can say that initial love of travel extended so far as to rating the digs of competing suppliers. "As a kid, when I would go on a family vacation I always wanted to see all of the other hotels in the area," says Jennifer Byrne of The Tropical Travelers in Malvern, PA. Agent Bio
Working the Net
As far as making travel a career, "I just fell into it," she recalls. She followed a friend's lead and worked with the Caribbean-oriented tour operator Apple Vacations. Fast-forward to 1997, after her time with Apple Vacations, and stints with a few agencies in between, Byrne found herself working at the cusp of the digital age. "In 1997, the Internet was just starting and people were using chat boards. Some travelers were in different locations and walk-ins were becoming fewer and fewer." Byrne's boss did not want to embrace the new technology, so she ventured out on her own.
These days, Byrne juggles motherhood with running her solely e-mail- and phone-based agency, which she started in 2001. Although she tries to work within the confines of 9-to-5, she does make herself available to clients after hours. "I work all the time. My husband is supportive and a babysitter is with my son, TJ, during the day," she says. "It can be crazy, but this is my passion and I did not want to give it up."
Byrne exudes a very casual and outgoing nature, so it is no surprise that 100 percent of her sales are leisure—75 percent of which are honeymoons. Many people don't have firsthand knowledge of their desired vacation destination, which she likens to buying a new car without having seen it. To make sure that special vacation is the right fit, Byrne gets to know her clients and inquires into their background, instead of just sending them off with several brochures.
To further act as an expert for her clients, Byrne travels three or four times a year. The places that top her list in the U.S. include Miami and Naples, FL, as well as Las Vegas. However, her passion is the Caribbean and her all-time favorite location is St. Lucia.
Besides traveling, Byrne stays abreast of what is going on in the industry by reading most trade publications and attending trade shows and tourist board events in Philadelphia. Ironically, her sole supplier is also someone who served as an educator. "I met the district manager of Travel Impressions at a dinner. She got on my case about branching off on my own and stuck with me while I was building my own business."
Although Byrne does not employ any outside agents, she has turned from protégé to mentor and has helped both her sister-in-law and a friend sell travel.
Following in Mom's Footsteps?
At 19 months old, Byrne's son will be going on his first trip with his mother this month as the family heads to Turks & Caicos for a vacation.
Although it is too early to tell if her son will follow in her footsteps, Byrne herself has not strayed too far from her roots as a curious kid on a family vacation. "I plan to check out eight other hotels while I am there," she says. "I usually go on a vacation for a week and spend two days touring hotels—it is a little work and a little fun." —Mackenzie Allison