Reinventing to remain relevant is a key industry success strategy. It’s one Vicki Lundy-Revels has deftly managed in a career spanning nearly thirty years.
A native of the Northern California suburb of Mountain View, Revels attended San Jose State University. After graduating with a business degree in marketing, she was looking for something to do.
Inspiration came from a higher authority.
“I was active in a church in San Jose, and enrolled in a two-year Bible College there. Our pastor had a very vibrant missionary program. I signed up to work in Guatemala. I got my first passport stamp there. And, I guess that’s where I got the travel bug,” said Revels.
After Guatemala, she spent time in London working for her church.
“I felt that there was something else I needed to do back home. I came back to the states and saw an ad for a travel agent training pilot program. Ten of us were selected and three of us completed the program,” said Revels.
She began working in the Silicon Valley before it even had that moniker.
“I was hired by the largest independent agency west of the Mississippi. It was corporate business, and I really didn’t enjoy it. I was with them for a year,” said Revels.
In 1988, she moved to the corporate desk at another major Silicon Valley travel agency.
Eventually, she managed Uniglobe and Carlson Wagonlit travel agencies, handling both corporate and leisure business.
Along the way, she developed a distinct preference for one over the other.
“Corporate was pretty cut and dry. It was air, car and hotel. The job felt more like an order taker. Leisure was more creative and interactive. And it gave me the opportunity to travel to various destinations on familiarization trips,” said Revels.
There was, however, one benefit to corporate work.
“With the corporate agencies, I learned how to do the weekly IATAN report. As a qualifying manager, it enhanced my resume,” said Revels.
Armed with an impressive work history, she found work with a leisure travel agency in Cupertino, CA. The agency owners were an older, retired military couple who gave Revels lots of travel opportunities.
“That’s where it began for me. I met my husband there. He was a client. I sold him a cruise even though I hadn’t even been on one myself,” said Revels.
She was with that agency for two years. But, when one of the owners got sick, they decided to close shop.
Revels was devastated. But, she needed to keep working. When she and her husband relocated to Antioch, CA, in San Francisco’s East Bay, she made a big change.
“In 2003, we purchased a home while I was working in downtown Oakland. We had construction going on. We were building a pool. There was so much going on. My husband said, ’maybe you should work from home.’ And, that’s when I decided to become a home-based agent,” said Revels.
Her company, Carefree Travel and Entertainment, focuses on luxury travel to warm-weather destinations. It’s a niche she’s worked hard to perfect.
One of her first proactive steps was to get involved with the Caribbean Tourism Organization. She served as president of its Northern California Chapter, and has earned major recognition from the group.
“I go to the Caribbean so often and have been to islands that some people don’t even know about. I also sell Hawaii, Mexico, the South Pacific, Greek Islands and French Riviera. It’s always easier to sell what you love,” said Revels.
Her business plan has never involved a host agency or consortium.
“I’m independent. I’ve worked in the industry long enough to know my suppliers. I had my IATAN number. I belong to ASTA, NACTA and other organizations,” said Revels.
Continuing education is a non-stop process for Revels. She keeps up with resort properties and emerging destinations. She attends high-profile international and national conferences. And, she takes advantage of fam trips that can help her bottom line.
“I can interest clients in a destination if I’ve just returned from there. That’s why I really like fam trips. Last year, I went to Punta Cana. I’d never been there and wanted to see what all the hype is about. I feel more comfortable selling it now that I understand the layout and what to expect,” said Revels.
Bookings have grown year-over-year, making Revels “more than happy.”
Clients come mostly from referrals and word of mouth. She launched an agency Facebook page in July of last year. She’s also on Instagram.
“I feel like a dinosaur in some ways. I’m not familiar with all the ins and outs of social media. I might go somewhere to learn how to utilize it. But, I use it to post stuff and share information,” said Revels.
After sharing information from a Jamaica fam on Facebook, Revels landed a booking for more than $7,000.
She now faces a common dilemma in the industry, which is, how to attract more Millennials.
“Millennials have the resources and don’t always need a travel agent. But they have access to so much information, it can be intimidating. They need someone to decipher it and make it helpful,” said Revels.
Carefree Travel and Entertainment’s bookings come from family travel, couples and girl’s getaways. Revels is not in love with destination weddings, though.
“They’re not my thing. I don’t like to get so involved. I can refer people to someone who loves doing them. To me, they’re a headache. I will do the room part, but getting involved with brides, no thank you,” said Revels.
She steers away from mega-cruise ships. Though, she likes (and sells) medium-size luxury lines. She and her husband recently celebrated their 20th anniversary aboard an Azamara Club Cruises voyage from Monte Carlo to Barcelona.
Relationships make the travel industry tick, and Revels has worked hard to cultivate them.
“Good relationships with suppliers, tourist board reps, hotels and resorts can enhance your client’s experience with special amenities such as upgrades, VIP welcome gifts and extras. That gives you an edge over the OTA's like Expedia,” said Revels.
Revels is cutting back a bit on the networking activities, though.
“I was getting burned out going to events three times a week. I’m getting more selective. I know some agents who go to events almost every day. I try not to go just to go. Most of the events I attend are in San Francisco. It has to be something I sell or something I’m really interested in selling,” said Revels.
Making the cut recently: an ABC Global Services' "UpClose" event with a private tour of the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel. Also on her calendar last month were functions with Preferred Hotels, Leading Hotels of the World, the Hawaii Tourism Board and Apple Vacations. She recently attended the CCRA Home-Based Travel Agent Forum in Las Vegas.
On the books for the rest of the year are ASTA conferences, Sandals and Beaches Resorts fam trips and a birthday celebration in Venice and Monte Carlo.
Frequent travel is the glue that holds her business model together.
She began 2017 by chartering a boat in British Virgin Islands. She went to Puerto Rico for a couple of days before and afterwards. Then, she attended a Sandals home-based agent conference in Nassau. She followed that with a trip to Puerto Vallarta.
In the early spring, she returned to one of the cities from her missionary days.
“I went to London. Every now and then I get the bug to go back and see what’s going on. It was so crowded. You could hear so many American voices. Lots of people were traveling and it wasn’t even spring break yet. I took the Eurostar over to Paris for a day, which was so much fun. After all these years, it’s still exciting to be in this business,” said Revels.