Like many people in the travel industry, Thomas Jackson, president of Santa Ana, CA-based World Travel, says that his early travel experiences helped lead him to his career path. "My very first trip was when I was eight years old," he says. "I flew with my parents to Mexico City in an ancient DC 3 in 1948." Jackson has parlayed his extensive travel experience and the wisdom of his father, who started World Travel, into a successful career in the industry.
Jackson, as an only child
growing up in Santa Ana,
recalls working for his father's agency early. "I started in this business
with my dad at age 12, stamping folders, filing stuff, going to the bank,
selling tickets to Catalina Island on the Big
White Steamer ferry," he says. "My father bought this business in
1939 for $100 while he was a college professor teaching business
"I Want To Be An Agent!"
Originally, his father didn't want his son to follow in his
footsteps. "My father wanted me to become a CPA and an attorney," Jackson confides. "I
said, 'I can do but do that, but man, how boring would that be? I want to be an
agent.' Travel is pervasive, addictive, I'm good with business and finance, I
communicate well and I understand people; this job was made for me!" He
followed his gut instinct, and has never looked back.
World Travel currently has nine offices in California. "We go from OrangeCounty
to Carmel, and our head administrative offices
are in Santa Ana," says Jackson. "Vendors come to me there,
while the other eight locations are all retail street-level, full-service
travel agencies with typical nine-to-five hours."
The agency's business mix is currently 75 percent leisure
and 25 percent corporate, whereas 10 years ago it was 50-50. The shift can be
attributed to the loss of airline commissions. "We used to do an awful lot
of corporate air, but we're doing better business than we've ever done before,
and it's because of the Internet," Jackson
stresses. "We have better access to information; for example, in order to
book a tour to Mongolia, sometimes it used to take four or five months to get a
response," he says. "The Internet is our friend; it has pushed away
all the 'looky-lous' and allowed us to focus on the serious clients."
agency does charge fees. "We tell them, 'At this juncture let me introduce
you to our plan-to-go fee, a deposit that we will apply to your trip should you
book with us,'" says Jackson.
"Four out of five say, 'Gee, I don't think so,' and that's fine with us;
we're doing a smaller percentage of the overall travel spend; we used to do 80
percent, and now it's 50 percent, but we're doing more sales overall," he
says. "More people are traveling than ever before, and customers are
coming back who have used the Internet in the past; they're realizing it's not
Training New Agents
says that when hiring new agents, he prefers to train his own people.
"We've hired individuals with no prior experience, and it's either make it
or break it. One woman who had owned her own business was smitten with travel
and expressed a desire to get involved; we set her on the track and now she's
an agent," he says. "These people can get the best education from
their peers. That's why we do in-house training; we're not interested in
grabbing other people's agents."
That's not to say that Jackson
doesn't value formal training. "One of our requirements is that all of our
managers must participate in the Travel Institute program to become Certified
Travel Counselors (CTCs)," he says, adding that he values longevity.
"Our agents average over 15 years of experience on a per person
basis." While Jackson
does encourage his agents to get specializations, he always tells clients,
"We specialize in knowing the customer, not in a particular cruise line or
tour company; we're not a cookie- cutter agency."
has no plans to call it quits any time soon. "I'm 67, but why retire? What
am I going to do, retire and travel? My dad worked till 86, and it'll be the
same for me, God willing."
He has even participated in Virgin Galactic's accredited
space agent training, available via his relationship with Virtuoso. He's
looking forward to the launch of commercial suborbital travel in spring 2009,
and may consider a gravity-free trip himself. Either way, he'll continue to
reach for the stars.