Kim Ayesha McNamee says that she “stumbled into” the travel business. But, she’s taking deliberate steps now to build up her Germantown, MD, agency, “Voyages by Kim.” She’s proving what strategic Internet marketing, free local media attention and profile-raising community involvement can do.
A brightly-colored “Sandals Resorts” wrap on McNamee’s car (which also lists her website) doesn’t hurt, either.
“People see me driving around town and say, ’there goes my travel agent,’” said McNamee.
Like many in the business, McNamee traveled from an early age. She grew up in Germantown, a suburb of Washington, D.C., but had family abroad. Her Caribbean-Latin background provided relatives from the Caribbean to the U.K.
“My mom sent me off everywhere. I spent summers overseas. My grandparents lived in England. I visited family in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Travel was a natural thing for me,” said McNamee.
Eventually, McNamee began her professional career working for State Farm Insurance. She also had a close family friend who was a travel agent. The two spoke often about their shared Caribbean heritage and love of travel.
When it came time to plan a vacation for her family, McNamee used State Farm’s travel agent. The experience didn’t go well.
“She was the worst. She kept my husband and me on the phone while she spoke with consolidators. It didn’t matter to her that we were at work,” said McNamee.
McNamee went back to her friend, and asked to learn the business.
“I was at State Farm all day. At night, I’d come home and work on travel bookings. I gradually spread the word about what I was doing,” said McNamee.
She launched Voyages by Kim in 2009, backed by two host agencies.
“I belong to KHM Travel Group from Brunswick, Ohio. I’m also with the Avoya Travel Network. KHM lets me be an independent owner and do my own thing. Avoya, they give me leads. Each of them offers different commission rates and services. I like the balance I have with the two. My mom works in the stock market and she’s always telling me to diversify,” said McNamee.
Voyages by Kim specializes in group travel, primarily to the Caribbean and Mexico. McNamee has booked destination weddings to all inclusives, singles cruises on major cruise lines and even fitness trips led by well-known trainers.
In addition to group travel, payment plan travel is a popular product. It allows clients to make interest-free payments on trips planned from three to 13 months in advance.
McNamee originally hired other independent contractors to work with her. But, the training proved too onerous.
“You hire other people to do what you don’t like to do. But, I was an insurance agent. I like to sell. I use Avoya’s tools because they’re so easy to book with. All the cruise information I need is right there. They have a great call center and good travel deals. Both of my host companies offer something special for my brand,” said McNamee.
Running Voyages by Kim on her own is a full-time job with a steady routine. McNamee is awake by six and answering emails by seven. She gets her two boys, aged 16 and 10, off to school. And then she usually works till ten at night.
Providing personalized service is especially important.
“My clients are busy people. A lot of them are first-time travelers or elderly,” said McNamee.
Her business has grown steadily each year, with an especially big jump after 2013. That’s when the local CBS affiliate listed Voyages by Kim as one of the “Top Ten Travel Agencies in the D.C. Area.”
McNamee has no idea how she made the list. But, she’s extremely grateful for the resulting notoriety. Since then, she’s also done some travel segments on local talk radio. The efforts have brought in added business, without an out-of-pocket outlay.
That suits McNamee just fine.
“We always track where people heard about us. The CBS list, Avoya leads, search results and other advertising all bring in clients,” said McNamee.
Social media is where she excels.
“I have a personal page and business page. I did a radio spot and my personal page went viral. I hit the maximum number of allowable friends. People said they’d never heard of that. I guess all the algorithms must have clicked for me,” said McNamee.
Her business page strategy has also clicked. Visitors to the Voyages by Kim page see a steady stream of promotions, discounts, flyers and calls-to-action for upcoming group trips. Featuring prominently is a Voyages by Kim “Jamaica Jam” at Moon Palace Jamaica Grande Resort and Spa, set for this July.
“Social media is amazing, I do most of my marketing that way. Sharing, putting the best deals out there and running campaigns has really worked for me. People respond. I had over 600 shares for one event I’m doing,” said McNamee.
Those events include a “Kim’s Got Talent” singing contest earlier this year. Hosted at a local restaurant, McNamee enlisted the help of a popular D.J. from WPGC 95.5, a top area radio station. Participants were enticed by a grand prize free cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line, as well as other giveaways.
McNamee has cultivated relationships with local business, such as the Buffalo Wild Wings sports bar. The two have worked together on travel promotions and community activities. Her business strategy also includes paid advertising to enhance her name recognition in the area. In addition to the splashy car wrap, she’s taken out an ad in the Washington Redskins Yearbook.
Determined to give back to the community that has supported her, McNamee is working on some charitable causes. Among other things, she’s forming a charity to help victims of domestic abuse.
“I did a Back to School event at the local Boys and Girls Club. We got local realtors, insurance companies and other business to participate. We gave away backpacks and school supplies. I have the name recognition to bring in other business people. I network a lot and it’s paying off,” said McNamee.
In addition to making her mark locally, she’s intent on growing her national and international client base.
“We had a London group that came into D.C. We had a family group based in Canada. We also have a group of nine ladies from California who are in their seventies. They’re doing Munich to Munich on a tour,” said McNamee.
One of her goals is to become more active in travel industry groups.
“I haven’t even gone on a fam trip. I get lots of offers. KHM gives me trips. I do try to attend trade shows and get lots on online training. But I’d like to get more involved with travel agent groups,” said McNamee.
As for sales goals, one destination she’d like to sell is Africa.
“I traveled to Africa about a dozen years ago and had an amazing time. I’d love to help clients have the same experience,” said McNamee.