Unlike many agents who close up shop at 5 p.m. or are closed on weekends, Michelle Duncan, owner of Odyssey Travel, Inc., of Centreville, VA, believes it's imperative to field a 24/7 operation. Duncan's home-based agency, which also employs 20 other home-based agents, touts around-the-clock access as a critical client service. "In this fast-paced age, we have to be more flexible to meet the needs of our guests," Duncan stresses. Agent Bio
Duncan credits this flexibility for her success. "As our guests know, they can get me seven days a week, whether at my home number, cell number or elsewhere," she says. "People are more than welcome to come to my home, or I will go to their office or wherever they need me to go."
Duncan's business philosophy also is based on detailed follow-up for everything about the client relationship. "They're allowing you to work for them," she says, "so you must follow up on everything—e-mails, letters and phone calls." For example, when a client cruises, she mails a "welcome home" letter while they're on vacation, so when they arrive home it's waiting. She thanks them, tells them she hopes they enjoyed the vacation, explains her desire to chat with them about the trip and asks if they have any questions or whether everything was okay. She also tells them that if anything wasn't to their liking, she wants to hear about it.
"Just being proactive is imperative," she says. "Otherwise, you're not going to stand out." She also says it's important to do what's right when things go wrong. "Don't panic—jump in, go with it and fix it," Duncan says.
For example, she once booked a couple on a Tahitian honeymoon, but was given some bad advice by a land vendor about the groom's entry requirements. A non-U.S. citizen, the groom was subsequently denied boarding to fly to Tahiti because his documentation wasn't in order. Taking charge and at her expense, Duncan flew the clients to Los Angeles on full-fare tickets, paid for a hotel in Los Angeles along with limousine service, and spent hours on the phone back and forth with travel and consulate officials.
Finally, the trip was cleared, the couple only lost a day of their trip, and today they remain valued clients. Despite the difficulties, "the commitment was there [to the clients], and they saw it," says Duncan. "It was a learning curve for me to 'always do your homework' and 'don't take anything for granted.'"
A former broadcaster, Duncan has owned her agency for more than 11 years. A member of NEST, her agency sells a mix of vacation products, but her personal passion is cruising. She holds Master Cruise Counselor (MCC) and Luxury Cruise Specialist (LCS) certifications from CLIA and is working on her ECC.
"Cruises are the best vacation value for the dollar," she says. "People can sample a destination before they say, 'I want to go there for a week.'" She says that whatever type of trip clients are seeking, "normally I will throw a cruise option in there." Incidentally, Duncan was one of 100 travel agent nominees chosen during Royal Caribbean International's recent Liberty of the Seas godmother competition.
Married with three sons, Duncan is past president of the Charter Rotary Club of Centreville. Bowling is a passion for her, and Duncan heads a local Vacation Cruise League in which the bowlers start by picking a cruise vacation they plan to take. They pay for the trip over the course of the weeks of league play. So whether on the professional or personal front, Duncan's love of travel shines through.