When asked why he is so ambitious, Bob Lyons doesn't hesitate with a response—"I just have an entrepreneurial spirit." The owner of VacationTime Travel, near Columbus, OH, got into the travel business in the first place to fulfill a curiosity. "I answered an ad in the paper about selling travel and was curious if anyone would buy from someone selling from their home," Lyons says. Not satisfied with just getting his feet wet, Lyons started his career running, as both a travel agent and host agency head.
Today, this 12-year vet of the travel business operates a host agency with 34 outside agents. All of the agents are based in the greater central Ohio area, which, as Lyons says, enables him to look after them. Agent Bio
Although mostly self-taught, Lyons credits his old Carnival rep for showing him the ropes when he first started. When he started his own agency in 1997, his wife, Donna, also got on board. When asked if he is her mentor, Donna can be heard in the background jokingly saying to her husband, "Now I mentor you."
Running a Small Host Agency
Training and mentoring seem to be part of the Lyons' philosophy when it comes to their relationships with their agents: Their mantra is "Training, Communication, Support." They have meetings with them once or twice a month and often bring in reps from their top suppliers, which include such big names in cruises as Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line. By land, some of their top picks are Apple Vacations, Southwest Vacations, Holland America and Travel Impressions.
The training Lyons provides his agents has helped more than 20 become accredited CLIA members. The support, close proximity and trust also aided Lyons in building a close organization. All of his agents have been to his house, and they often take fam trips together. "We are not trying to be coast to coast if you will," he says. "It's hard to look after agents if they span six states."
Now, all of Lyons agents are just as familiar with each other as they are with their host agency. In fact, many rely on each other's specialties as a guiding point.
Lyons' affiliations include ASTA, IATAN, CLIA and more recently, NEST, which he joined in January 2005. Lyons says he liked that it was a consortium being developed with the primary focus on home-based agents. The organization's small size was also a desirable factor.
When looking for new agents, Lyons strictly relies on referrals. The agents don't necessarily have to have a sales background. Two of the main requirements are that they have a passion for travel and go into the business for the right reasons.
Lyons reports that 100 percent of his sales are leisure. Coming from Ohio, most of his clients are looking for three ingredients: sun, sand and water, he says.
However, Lyons' personal travel preferences aren't so clear cut: "They are all exciting and a new adventure," he says. For example, in October 2005 he went to Cancun on a three-night fam trip and got caught in Hurricane Wilma. "The three-night trip turned out to be nine nights. Now that's what I call exciting, and what an adventure it was!"