As we prepare to introduce our seventh 30Under30 class—the next wave of rising stars in the travel agency business—in our August 18 issue, Travel Agent has reached out to some of the past winners to see how they have been faring. We’re happy to announce that this sampling of alumni has only good news to report, be it a promotion, growth in sales revenue, additional accolades from other travel concerns or generally benefiting from a higher profile afforded to them by their 30Under30 status. One alumnus has even branched out into the travel app business and several of these agents are nurturing their fellow rising stars as members of the Young Travel Leaders Conference (YTLC) Steering Committee.
(The conference, to be held December 8 at The Palazzo in Las Vegas, caters to younger agents looking to further their careers through education.) All of these agents, as you will discover in the pages ahead, have insights and observations to share that neophytes and industry veterans alike may find beneficial.
Are you a 30Under30 alumni who has achieved great success? E-mail Editorial Director Ruthanne Terrero ([email protected]) so we can profile your achievements.
Classic Travel at Tackett’s Mill
Class of 2008
Heather Christopher was featured in Travel Agent magazine’s inaugural 30Under30 cover story back in 2008 and today she has seen her sales grow to roughly $1 million annually.
“The 30Under30 award I received in 2008 was really a turning point in my career,” she says. “I went from starting with very little experience in a profession that was said to be dying, and constantly considering how I could make this job work for the long-term, to becoming our agency’s social media director and manager while maintaining and growing my sales over $1 million annually.”
Christopher is also entering her third year on the Young Travel Leaders Conference (YTLC) Steering Committee and says her involvement in the popular conference has allowed her to connect with her peers, which “is one of my very favorite parts of this industry.”
“Combining my mentor’s experience that she has shared with me, my own sales knack, knowing how to network and always e-mailing the hotel ahead of time, has enabled me to feel very successful at eight years in the industry,” says Christopher. “I am so looking forward to seeing what is next for the new generation of travel professionals.”
All Inclusive Outlet
Class of 2012
Anna Cropper was a winner in perhaps the most successful year we had with nominations—the year we had to revise the name to “35Under30” simply because the pool of talent was so deep. She was also part of the subsequent Destination Immersion familiarization trip to Barbados that was offered to Travel Agent’s 30Under30s. “My experience in Barbados had an immediate impact upon my return from the trip,” she says. “I was the only person in my agency who had been to Barbados, so it was great to be able to tell others about the island and all it has to offer.” Based on what she saw and heard there, she was able to reassure clients who were interested in trying out a new destination. “It was also wonderful to meet so many other young professionals on the fam and bring home new ideas and perspectives to my office. We all still keep in touch, and it is nice to have contacts at other agencies that specialize in different types of travel.”
For Cropper, the biggest change as a result of her 30Under30 status is that she became the office manager at All Inclusive Outlet. Instead of making sales, she now oversees day-to-day operations in the office, delegates leads, manages the office calendar and works with the tech team to resolve issues and develop more efficient processes. She has also trained new employees and acts as the agents’ resource for any problems.
“The new position has been challenging and rewarding so far, and I love how each new day can be so different from the last,” she says.
Avenues of the World Travel
Class of 2011
Daniela Harrison is one of Travel Agent’s biggest success stories among the 30Under30 alumni. One year after being honored as one of our 30Under30, she was named as one of our Top 25 Agents of 2012.*
“Winning the 30Under30 opened the door to success for me,” she says. “I pinpoint all my success on this award and can’t tell you how thankful I am for everything. When I was selected, I was a new agent and didn’t really know anybody and even worse nobody knew me. The award was my first personal media exposure in the industry. Suppliers, my consortia and even my clients started keeping a closer eye on me afterward.”
Harrison also racked up her share of awards from other travel trade publications and is also entering her fifth year on the YTLC Steering Committee.
“I started to get invited to workshops, conferences and fam trips, and was able to form working relationships and strong friendships that helped me reach my goals and get me to where I am today,” she says. “Now I am booking travel for my regular clients, some of my preferred supplier partners and their families and even for some of my [fellow] consortia members and their families.”
McCabe World Travel
Class of 2011
Beth Jenkins’ business has doubled in the three years since she was named a top 30Under30 agent. “It is a great time to come into an industry that is currently fast-growing and with huge opportunity for continued growth,” she says. The recognition was a big step in her career, she adds: “It increased my exposure within the industry, and my confidence.”
Not only has her volume increased significantly since 2011, Jenkins feels that her expertise has improved and allowed her to expand her reach. “I have become capable of handling clients at the more luxury level, so the average spend of my clients is also higher,” she says.
Her top advice for new travel advisors—“and what I wish I had known myself,” she adds—is to accept that one person cannot know everything. “The world is huge and our product knowledge is vast,” she says. “Always ask questions, learn from your colleagues, fellow advisors and supplier partners. Relationships and partnerships in knowledge are key.”
Since Travel Agent’s 2011 30Under30 story was published, Jenkins has been named Travel+Leisure magazine’s A-List of top travel agents in 2012 and 2013. “I was also voted Virtuoso Rising Star in 2013 by Virtuoso travel suppliers,” she adds.
Avenue Two Travel
(formerly Park Avenue Travel)
Class of 2009
When Jamo Ladd, then 29, made our list, he was working for Yahoo! full time while also devoting several hours a week to building his travel business. “Even my vacation was spent attending Virtuoso Travel Week,” he recalls. (He has also been nominated for Virtuoso’s Rising Star Award for the past two consecutive years.) He has now been working as a full-time travel advisor for three years.
Since the recognition, Ladd says that his book of business has experienced “significant” change. “From my start with friends, relatives and colleagues, my business has quickly grown on the strength of referrals. I now have a very solid group of core clients, most of whom I’ve never met. While I continue to do a lot of work for friends and relatives, my business was built on their referrals. Those one-time referrals are now sending new clients to me on a consistent basis.”
Ladd advises up-and-coming agents to focus on their points of differentiation. “You need to be able to demonstrate value, connect emotionally, and create a bond and sense of loyalty with your clients and your suppliers,” he says. “Those relationships are going to generate a sense of trust and a steady stream of business. The relationships you build with suppliers will allow you to provide access and make things happen for your clients that couldn’t be done otherwise. You can’t put a price on that.”
Party Time Travel
Class of 2010
It takes a self-assured salesperson to win a 30Under30 award, and Lynda Lettre is certainly all that. But since earning the coveted spot back in 2010, she says confidence among her clients in her ability has grown as well.
“Receiving the 30Under30 has aided in the increase of sales and clients, but it primarily adds to the confidence new clients have with me,” she says. “Some people feel that anyone can be a travel agent,” she adds, noting that distinctions such as the recognition she received from Travel Agent help the cream rise to the top.
Earning status as one of the industry’s young up-and-comers “has helped me in many ways,” she says. “There is a need for young travel agents; our industry is not a dinosaur. It also has given my agency and myself recognition with our tour operators, such as GoGo Worldwide Vacations, for example. But most importantly I have established and maintained relationships with other young agents—my peers. When I am in need of advice or need opinions on properties or destinations, I can turn to them and vice versa.”
Lettre tells us that looking back on her career, the most important thing she has learned is that touching base with existing clients is imperative. The sale is never over. Keeping in touch with clients by phone, not just e-mails, is crucial. She also notes the importance of having a great agency manager. “You need the support, leadership and backing of a good agency to help close sales, or guide you on properly qualifying clients for their vacation or special-occasion trip.”
To future winners, Lettre advises prioritizing education to keep learning about new properties, trends and destinations. It is also important to participate in any webinars, fam trips and seminars. “Also, using the 30Under30 accolade in your e-mail signature and social media is a good tip,” she says.
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Class of 2012
Ryan Mielke says winning motivated him to take more responsibility in the office, especially in regard to “updating” current ways of working (organization mostly). Since making his mark on these pages two years ago, he is also entering his second year as a member of the YTLC Steering Committee.
Being the office manager on top of a travel consultant, he really has “my hands on everything in the office from accounting, payroll, debit memos, bookings, contracts, etc.”
“I wish I would have known then how much easier life as an agent could be with a few easy organizational tips,” says Mielke, “like keeping a detailed calendar of events and due dates, keeping all contracts in an Excel file instead of paper copies, and utilizing agent tools for quicker responses and more knowledge.” The main difference between then and now is the network he has formed.
“Being a part of 30Under30 and YTLC has opened up so many doors to fellow agents and suppliers,” he says. “And instead of being in competition with other agents, we are constantly helping each other. For example, if I have a client who wants to go to Fiji and I’ve never been, I can think of one of the 100 new friends in the business I have on Facebook and send them a quick note and have a list of recommendations in minutes.”
Key West, FL
Class of 2012
Another member of the impressive 35-winner year of 2012, Zachary Moses is one of the best young travel agents specializing in LGBT travel.
“The challenge for me professionally is helping my company evolve to continue to be a top competitor in the gay industry, as more and more ‘non-gay’ companies now compete aggressively for our customers,” says Moses. “An interesting evolution of my career is the sudden popularity of my gay travel blog that is hosted at www.hetravel.com. It seems that I am now being recognized more and more as an expert in the gay travel industry. Each day brings new, unexpected surprises, and it’s created a wonderful and varied profession for me.”
HE Travel’s client base has grown dramatically in the last two years, doubling its annual sales following each year. He was also recently elected to the Board of Directors for the National Tour Association.
Moses says the one thing he would change now from when he started as a travel specialist is that you always need to wear proper business attire.
“Nobody is going to trust you with their money if they think you are going to spend it on yourself,” he says. “I live on a beach, so it’s hard to lose my flip flops, but when I’m dealing with customers face to face, I now know that I need to be dressed to impress.”
So, what advice would he give to this year’s crop of winners?
“Be nice to everyone,” he says. “You never know who somebody is. I can’t stress this enough. The nicer you are, the more successful you are. That doesn’t mean that you have to be anyone’s pin cushion, but always give everyone a smile, and generously give your time.”
Santa Monica, CA
(Greater Los Angeles Area)
Class of 2013
Just a year removed from being heralded as a rising star by Travel Agent magazine, Katelyn O’Shaughnessy is also a member of the YTLC Steering Committee. She is more than qualified; in fact, at 27, she is considered one of the experts in the field when it comes to networking with young travel leaders.
In addition to running TripScope, her startup company, she is also an independent agent for the Virtuoso agency Coastline Travel and is the national director for the Millennials in Travel, one of the largest organizations for young travel professionals.
The 30Under30 story was the first time her TripScope mobile app for travel agents was publicized and because of the exposure, it became incredibly successful. In fact, it now has more than 3,000 users and was awarded $100,000 for winning Social Media Week’s CROWDFUNDxLA Pitch Competition.
“My mission is to innovate the travel industry and modernize the travel agent profession through the adoption of technology. I want to open the door to growth, efficiency and awareness for travel agents all over the world, allowing my fellow Millennials in Travel and I to flourish in our careers for years to come,” O’Shaughnessy says.
“There is no definitive right or wrong way to be a travel agent,” she adds. “You don’t have to follow the guidelines or rules to be successful in this industry. Find your niche, find what you’re knowledgeable of, find what excites you, then take these skills and put them to work.”
The World Awaits Travel
Class of 2012
Bernadette Sperrazza, a home-based agent, is yet another of several former winners to be appointed to our YTLC Steering Committee this year.
“Since I won in 2012, I have become more confident and eager to obtain business for The World Awaits Travel,” she says. “This year I booked my first actual wedding that took place aboard a cruise ship. I have also been planning more honeymoons, and bachelor and bachelorette parties than ever. I am going to the Dominican Republic this September where I will go through the Colin Cowie Wedding and Honeymoon Program [at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel Punta Cana] to learn more about booking and planning destination weddings and honeymoons and in the end will become a certified WOW Specialist [a program exclusive to Hard Rock Hotels]."
And winning must have rubbed off on her family as Sperrazza’s mother, Camille Sperrazza, who works with her daughter as a home-based agent at The World Awaits Travel, was named to our Top 25 Agents list of 2013.
“The beauty about working in my family travel agency with just my mom and I is that we really work for ourselves,” says the younger Sperrazza. “I’ve learned a lot from my mom, and although she isn’t my manager per se, she does help me become more knowledgeable and encourages me to be more active in the industry. We share contacts of various suppliers we meet, which benefits our clients, and most importantly travel together to do site inspections so that we can become knowledgeable about what we sell.”
*Correction: The initial version of this article misstated that Daniela Harrison was the only 30Under30 alum to also be honored as one of our Top 25 Agents. Terrah Rominger of Legacy Travel also won both distinctions, in 2009 and 2011.