The Results are In! We Reveal 2009's 30Under30 Winners

After the success of last year’s inaugural 30 Under 30 report, Travel Agent once again sought to highlight some of the brightest young travel agents bringing the industry into the future. Some of them are second-generation travel advisors. Some own their companies. But the common unique quality among all is that they are industrious hard workers who are keeping the industry vibrant and dynamic with fresh ideas and strong ambition.

Janet Acosta, 28

FUNtastic Getaways

Pembroke Pines, FL

Acosta began her travel experience as a part-time data-entry clerk at Royal Caribbbean’s headquarters office in the Port of Miami. After two years, she sought full-time employment and was offered the Group Coordinator position, and then spent three years at Carnival Cruise Lines as a Personal Vacation Planner. “I gained great knowledge at this position, but there was still something missing,” she says. She earned her BA in Business Administration and finally opened her own home-based travel agency. “I began part-time, working from a small desk in my bedroom, mainly working with friends and family members.” After her client base grew to over 700 clients (many of whom were client referrals), she leased office space from a corporate building close to home.

“Knowledge is power, and I love speaking to my clients from firsthand experience,” she says. “People save up all year for that one-week getaway to escape reality—I love to make that happen for them. I truly have a passion for what I do and I live by this saying: Do what you love and you will not work a single day in your life. I feel like I retired already!”

Tony Bonanzinga, a business development manager with Royal Caribbean, praises Acosta’s “marketing initiatives” and her ability “to think outside the box.”

Ja-Keé Alltop, 28

Smart Price Travel

Irving, TX


Ja-Keé Alltop’s arrival to the travel industry was, in her own words, “a bit unorthodox.” She studied acting and film production, and went to work for her mother’s agency when she needed a job during “off” months from working in film. She started working on group travel with the agency, and received her ACC Certification from CLIA. “In a short time, I was in charge of the client relations for our largest group,” she says. “We sail over 700 hairstylists on an annual cruise—and, of course, we get to escort the group! What I love the most about this group is that we are giving them a chance at a new experience in life. Being based out of Texas, we are dealing with clients who have never left their farm, so to speak, and we are taking them to exotic locations in the Caribbean.”

Tauni Alltop is not only the owner of Smart Price Travel—she is also Ja-Keé’s mother. Even with a mother’s love, Tauni was surprised at how vital her daughter became to the business. “She jumped right in with fresh ideas and a clear, objective perspective on the way business needed to be done,” she recalls. “Not only does Ja-Keé have great client relationship skills, but she is also a very creative mind and a ‘think outside of the box’ kind of person.” Although Ja-Keé now works in a different state, she is still an independent contractor and outside agent for the company.

Luke Breaux, 29

TravelCorp International

New Orleans

Breaux graduated from the University of Louisiana with plans to get his PhD in Sociology and teach at a university. But fate intervened, and three-and-a-half years ago, he started working with TravelCorp as a travel coordinator specializing in meetings and incentive groups.

“It is my job to ensure that [clients] have memorable moments whether they are shopping in Paris, scuba diving in Grand Cayman or trekking through the rainforest of Costa Rica,” Breaux says. “One of the most rewarding aspects of this career is having a repeat client have complete trust that I will turn their company’s event (and investment) into a week that they will remember for a lifetime.

“The art of travel planning has grown from a spark to a full blaze,” he continues. “Every step of the planning process excites me and makes me want to work harder, learn more and breathe new life into this wonderful industry.”

Joe Casciola, manager of leisure and groups and incentives, calls Breaux a “shining star,” and says that the young agent is like a magician—“producing proposals well received by clients, understanding pricing, carrying out the operation on-site at an event and stepping in regularly to meet and exceed our client expectations.”

Katie Brower, 25

American Express Travel

Cambridge, MA

After earning her degree in International Business, Brower began entertaining various career options. “I got a taste of the travel business as an intern for a tour organization but I wanted more,” she recalls. “I found an entry-level position with American Express Travel as an assistant to two top-selling agents, and learned many aspects of the industry.”  This experience propelled her to her current position as a Platinum Travel Agent for American Express. “I enjoy creating interesting and complex, high-end itineraries for my clients, but the best part is helping make memories, from children’s birthday parties to 25th wedding anniversaries. I am there for it all.”

Diane Reposa, regional manager for American Express Travel, calls Brower “wise beyond her years,” and praises her “wealth of product and destination knowledge. She works in a call-center environment with many productivity metrics. One could be an order taker, but not Katie. She learned very early how to balance excellent customer service and sales, creating a strong repeat following.” Brower “gets it,” Reposa says, adding, “Treat your clients with extraordinary care and they will come back and even better, they will tell their friends. Katie is currently ranked number one in her peer group on both customer service and sales.”

Carmen Cowick, 27

Liberty Travel

New York, NY

Cowick’s interest in travel started while attending school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which had many international students. “It was wonderful to get to know these great people from places like Greece, Sweden and South Africa. While in school, I began working for America Online’s Travel Message Boards. Working as a message board manager for Peru, Argentina as well as New York City—and a trip to Europe soon after—cemented my love for travel. When I came home, something just clicked and I knew I wanted to be a travel agent.

“Being a travel agent has allowed me to help people experience the world as they truly want to see it,” she says. “The best part is being able to take a client’s kernel of an idea and turn it into a full-fledged dream vacation for them. Most of my clients are savvy, culturally aware travelers who want to experience what’s hot in travel right now.” She is a Las Vegas Specialist, a Thailand Golden Agent Specialist and a South African Fundi Specialist.

Flor Mota, team leader for Liberty Travel, praises Cowick’s determination and desire to learn and succeed. “She takes on the travel requests of all her clients with diligence and enthusiasm and sees them through, from start to finish. Her clients enjoy her friendly demeanor and appreciate the creative, personal touch she puts on their trips.”

Tara Dillberg, 28

Garber Travel

Marlborough, MA

Dillberg says that it was always a dream of hers to be in the travel industry. She was hired right out of Hesser College with a two-year associate degree in Travel and Tourism with a Business emphasis. She has been with Garber Travel as a Travel Consultant for more than seven years, specializing in Family Vacations, Cruises and Honeymoon & Destination Weddings. “Taking into consideration all the changes in the travel industry as a whole and the economic environment, I still love my job and I continue to be successful,” she says. “This is my third year surpassing my company-set sales goals.”

Carolina M. Murillo, leisure district manager at Garber, jokes that Dillberg, as the youngest member of the group, keeps the veterans on their toes. “She keeps updated on the latest technology, travel products, informed on promotions, and never stops learning…The best attribute she brings to her clients is that she has an innate sense to really listen to what they really want, and delivers with the proven ‘preferreds’ she can depend on with our Ensemble affiliation. She is a perfect example of what the young can do to a travel organization that has been around for over 62 years.”

Michael Distler, 26

Admiral Travel International Inc.

Sarasota, FL

Distler grew up with a passion for travel, and after graduating with a double major in Business Management and Hospitality from Florida State University, he was trained by Admiral Travel’s owners Ryan and Malaka Hilton, both highly regarded specialists for Egypt and Africa, respectively.

“In this economy, many transaction-based agencies have been forced to close their doors, and it is the innovative agents/advisors/specialists that are not only surviving but thriving,” Distler says. “It’s wonderful to be among the innovative that are privileged enough to provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences that shape how our travelers view the world around us.

“I love that no two experiences are ever the same,” he says about his business. “With so many options available in the marketplace, it is extremely important to remain knowledgeable and pair each guest with the appropriate itinerary, property selections and ‘wow factors’ that best suit their needs.”

Malaka Hilton, CEO of Admiral Travel International, says that the company depends upon Distler for a wide range of necessities, from training independent contractors to marketing efforts and IT development and maintenance. “We know he can—and will—get the job done well…When I see some of our industry veterans asking Michael (the youngest member of our team) for input and advice, I know we are on the right track, and helping bring the next generation into the industry.”

Caitlin Dobson, 24

En Route Travel

Pacific Palisades, CA

When Dobson was 14, she traveled as a People-to-People Student Ambassador for three weeks throughout Ireland and the British Isles. She graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Journalism—and, in her own mind, a third in Voluntourism. She studied abroad four times and led five Alternative Spring Break volunteer trips during her time in college. “When it came down to it, my college experience was more about the multiple travel experiences in terms of shaping me as a person,” she says.

Dobson says that she is “delighted” by the recent popularity of volunteer tourism. “In a world where clients, tourists and travelers alike are taking a great deal of inspiration from their travel experiences, I think it is just as important for people to somehow give back to the world at the same time.”

Still, she says, travel should also be enjoyable. “I feel it is my duty as an agent to stay positive, to help clients get excited, no matter what type of travel they’re doing. Otherwise, what’s the purpose of having such a fun, fulfilling job?”

Carole and Shane Paquette, En Route Travel’s owners and managers, say that Dobson has been “a catalyst for change for the rest of us in the office to start thinking outside the box in the way we approach the business…With her strong background in developing groups while at university, she has been very successful in promoting affinity groups to exotic destinations around the world.”

Julia Douglas, 28

Jet Set World Travel Inc.


Before graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science degree, Douglas received a fellowship to work at Lloyd’s of London. During her extensive travels in Europe, her focus constantly strayed from finance toward a career in travel, so in 2005 she returned to the U.S. to found Jet Set World Travel in Chicago.

Since then, Douglas has built an impressive client base with extensive repeat business, centered primarily around younger and more affluent travelers, but also seasoned with a sizable number of couples and families with discriminating wants and needs. She is an ASA for Virgin Galactic, and Jet Set was recently accepted into the Virtuoso network.

“What I love most about my job,” says Douglas, “is the creativity involved in designing a custom itinerary around my client’s specific interests and hobbies and collaborating on bringing their dreams to life.”

Cathy Holler, vice president, North America member sales and service for Virtuoso, says Douglas first impressed her as “a person with a strong business acumen, and a very clear vision of what she wanted to do within the luxury travel sector, the type of clients she wanted and a passion for servicing the luxury market in a way that would set her apart.”

Joanne Fegan, 28

VIP Vacations Inc.

Whitehall, PA

In 2002, Fegan applied for a job working at the Harrisburg Airport at the American Airlines ticket counter. “From that day on, I knew that this industry was for me,” she says. After working at the airport for a few years, she moved onto a local agency and finally found her home at VIP Vacations. “This industry is like no other,” she says. “It feels amazing to have a job making dreams come true every day. Most of my clients are honeymooners, and I love providing them with a romantic atmosphere for their first trip as husband and wife.”

“Joanne came to VIP with goals, ambitions and a fresh young attitude that is severely lacking in our industry,” says Jennifer Doncsecs, president of VIP Vacations. “Working with honeymooners in her same age group is the perfect fit. Joanne won VIP’s sales contest and always takes the lead in online training, attending seminars and uses social networks to her advantage.”

Danielle Foley, 28

The Travel Exchange

Westport, CT

Foley always knew she wanted to enter the travel business, and so she started by getting her degree at the Community College of Rhode Island in its Travel and Tourism Program. “During school, I completed an internship at a family-owned agency, and later worked there full-time upon graduation,” she remembers. “Also in that time, I became a Disney College of Knowledge graduate and a Hawaii specialist.”

In 2005, she made the transition to an independent contractor and relocated to Connecticut. After several successful years, she joined The Travel Exchange, a longstanding member of Virtuoso. “Travel Exchange has given me the opportunity to learn from the best agents in the business and through Virtuoso,” she says. “What I love most about the travel industry is that there is always more to learn and new destinations to discover.”

Barbara Herrott, president of The Travel Exchange, says that Foley has lots of enthusiasm for her work and loves planning trips. “The one thing that is the mark of an excellent agent is the willingness to go the extra mile,” Herrott says. “Danielle has always been willing to stay late, use her personal time and do whatever it takes to learn and grow her professional knowledge. Danielle’s passion for the travel industry is evident in everything she does.”

Jennifer Fox, 25

Sue Brown Travel Consultants Inc.

Boca Raton, FL

Fox started working at Sue Brown Travel while pursuing her management and hospitality degree in college. Working her way toward being a travel consultant, she learned all about hotels, cruises and resorts.

“Over the past seven years, the travel industry has evolved into a new generation of clientele,” she says. “Our clients are mainly the affluent traveler, expecting the ultimate in accommodations and service. With every trip, I dedicate myself to ensure that even the smallest detail is executed perfectly so as to meet or exceed our client’s expectations. I try to design trips with creative ideas, so as to turn their vacation into an unforgettable experience. Trying to find innovative vacations for our clients, for me, is what makes the travel business so exciting.”

Sue Brown remembers asking Fox to spend a weekend at a hotel, and return with a critique. “What I got was the most insightful report that one could ever ask for,” she says. “It covered all the bases. As we all know, it’s the service level—not the physical structure —that makes a property outstanding. Certainly that is true in a travel agency. Jen has brought that to the ultimate level…One only has to hear her deal with our ‘discriminating’ (and rather demanding) clients to see that she can turn almost any challenging situation into smooth results and happy clients.”

Aanchal Gandhi, 26

Protravel International


One could say that Gandhi has travel in her blood: She was born in India, raised in Hong Kong and Singapore, and moved to the U.S. to attend Tulane University in New Orleans, majoring in finance.

She began her career with Goldman Sachs, working as an equity salesperson. Her experience in the fast-paced and demanding world of Wall Street put her in a unique position to quickly understand the diversity of clients’ wishes and how to respond in an efficient and cost-effective way. “At the same time,” she recalls, “I recognized the importance of maintaining a standard of quality and excellence.” After four years, she decided to use what she had learned and apply it to what she had always aspired to do: work in travel and tourism.

“When I had a chance to join Protravel International in its London office I jumped at the opportunity,” she says, adding that her diverse experiences have combined to help her be a top seller of travel to a discriminating audience. “At the same time, I am indulging my passion for travel.”

Tina Rose, Gandhi’s manager, says that the young agent “takes personal pride in every transaction she is involved in and as a result is extremely thorough and diligent. In addition, she is a lot of fun to work with, and always makes sure that her clients are well taken care of and treated like royalty.”

Jamie Grulke, 29

Salentine Travel


Grulke has been in the travel business for eight years, with a specialty in leisure, group and incentive travel. She has designed websites for destination weddings and honeymoons, and planned and organized great incentive vacations for companies all over the country. She recently planned an incentive group of 300 guests to the Riviera Maya. In 2008, she managed the company’s online fulfillment center, with more than 20 agents providing customer service and auto ticketing.

Grulke is working her way through all 50 U.S. states and has crossed 27 of them off her list. In between, she has found time to explore the Caribbean (Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Jamaica), Mexico (Cancun, Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco) and Europe (Spain, Italy and Croatia).

Jacque Salentine Busby, president of Salentine Travel, remembers that Grulke only joined the company after being offered the job for the second time. “She was worth the wait,” Busby recalls. “She never says ‘no,’ and is always ready to take on new technology challenges. She is fast, yet friendly, and interfaces with all the incentive and group clients directly. I cherish her organization skills and attitude. My largest incentive client doesn’t even ask for me anymore. He goes right to Jamie, because he knows she gets the job done.”

Melissa Hancock, 29

AAA of Tidewater

Newport News, VA

Hancock’s career began 10 years ago as an airline ticketing agent in a call center. She has been with AAA for eight years and is now consistently one of her company’s top agents. She recently achieved the status of “Million Dollar” Agent.

Her clients include young couples planning weddings or honeymoons; friends and elderly clients wanting adventure or luxury travel; and grandparents planning generational family vacations. “The most interesting vacation I assisted with was for a ‘go as you please’ experience to Scotland for two women who wanted to do bed-and-breakfasts for 10 days,” she remembers. “I love being a travel agent whether I am creating excitement for my clients planning a celebration or if I am reducing the stress of those traveling for difficult situations.”

Sheila Hale, manager of AAA Tidewater Travel Agency, calls Hancock “one of the most thorough travel agents I have ever worked with. She is very knowledgeable in advising her clients about their chosen destination; and her clients have complete trust that she will cover all necessary details of their planning process—including following up with them upon their return. These characteristics have made her into a ‘million dollar’ agent with a very loyal clientele base. Melissa came to AAA with very little knowledge of international travel and with great determination. She has learned how to maneuver this very challenging industry into a solid career that she loves.”

Elizabeth Harvey, 24

Forest Lake Travel

Columbia, SC

Harvey got her start in the business about one year after graduating high school in August of 2004. “I consider myself lucky to have found my passion at such a young age,” she says. “There is no other career for me.” She is a graduate of the Disney College of Knowledge and a commodore of Princess and Cunard Academies. “My biggest accomplishment to date has to be in 2008 when I was named one of Royal Caribbean’s top-selling travel agents worldwide,” she says. “I am one of the few people in the world that get to wake up and go to a job that they love.”

Joe Bouknight, owner of Forest Lake Travel, praises Harvey’s passion for the Disney brand. “Her talent and specialty lies within the realm of creative thinking and understanding, allowing clients to have the perfect vacation or trip within their budgets. She puts a smile on the face of our customers and friends.”

Lindsey Hoffman, 29

Ultra Tech Travel

Etters, PA

Hoffman earned her degree in Travel & Tourism and started an internship with American Airlines. At the age of 21, she was offered a position as sales manager with Sandals. “This position was glamorous,” she says, remembering the jet setting, yachts and lavish dinners. Thomas Smith, president of Ultra Tech Travel, one of the most respected agencies in the Sandals family, gave Hoffman the opportunity to own and operate her own business—like a franchise without the fees, she quips. She now specializes in destination weddings, honeymoons and luxury travel. “By putting forth 100 percent and dedicating my life’s passion toward travel, I now own and operate Ultra Tech Travel in Etters, PA, achieving gold status with Sandals and rapidly working toward platinum,” she says.

Having known Hoffman for more than 10 years, Smith uses her as a role model with all new employees to show the success they can achieve if they do their job properly and professionally. “Lindsey is a pacesetter, and a person who has no problem thinking outside the box and coming up with creative ways to promote herself and her business,” Smith says.

Craig Hsu, 26

Travel Design USA Inc.

Torrance, CA

A California native, Hsu graduated from UCLA with a Political Science degree. He initially joined Morgan Stanley as a financial advisor, but eventually came back to help his family, working his way up from travel agent to vice-president. “What I love best about selling travel is helping people plan what may be a trip of a lifetime,” he says. “A solar eclipse tour to China was one of the most breathtaking experiences of 2009. My clients consist of mainly Chinese-American families, couples, students and corporate groups. Some of my ventures include China, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, India, Alaska and the Caribbean. I am humbled by the opportunity to run a family-owned agency, and am always excited to be a ‘stress doctor’ for our clients.”

Ignacio Maza, executive vice president of Signature Travel Network, calls Hsu “a leader in the next generation of travel professionals. Craig’s experience as a financial planner has given him valuable skills that he has effectively applied in the travel arena. As vice-president of Travel Design USA & China Discovery Tours, Craig has become one of the top sellers of travel to Asia…Signature Travel Network is proud to have Craig as a member.”

Patricia Hur, 26

Hana Travel Agency

Flushing, NY

Hur was 10 years old when she typed in her first travel language gibberish diligently into the big blue screen called Sabre at Hana Travel, her mother’s then-new agency. “Hmmm, today I want to go to Disneyland…101MAYJFKMCO…” She calls the playful typing “a brief escape from reality and an excuse to daydream about planning my future trip to a place called happiness, far away from problems—even if it was for a brief moment.”

Today, she says, she aspires to continue building the foundation her mother created through her hard work for the past 17 years. Hana Travel has more than 2,000 customers in the Flushing, NY, area. “We were nominated the top seller in the Eastern Region for Asiana Airlines in 2001,” Hur says. “I feel that the future of the travel industry is up to those within it to shape.” As for herself, she says, “I have a very simple list of places I want to visit: everywhere.”

Yunina Cho, president of Hanaro Corp. and its subsidiary Hana Travel Agency, says, “I trust Patricia to continue to expand Hana in the same business model I have started it with: customer service, dedication and—most importantly—passion.”

Brooke Johnson, 28

AAA of Tidewater

Chesapeake, VA

Johnson joined the travel industry eight years ago. “After graduating college with a degree in Travel Management, I chose to work for AAA because of their fantastic reputation for customer service and loyalty,” she remembers. “After my first year as an agent at AAA, I received the Rookie of the Year award.” Since then, she says, her sales have consistently increased, and she is currently the youngest Travel Agency Supervisor in the AAA Tidewater Club. “Besides my degree I have obtained my CTA, Destination Specialist certifications for Hawaii and Caribbean, Sandals Certification, Commodore status for both Princess and Cunard and I am a Disney College of Knowledge graduate,” she says.

Sheila Hale, manager of AAA Tidewater Travel Agency Services, describes Johnson as a flexible, organized and enthusiastic travel professional. “As the branch supervisor, she is a strong leader and high producer of travel agency revenue; and her clients come to her with the utmost trust that she will take care of their planning details thoroughly and efficiently. Brooke has completed several destination and cruise education courses; and she contributes many significant ideas to make her branch more successful. Her knowledge of the travel industry has awarded her a very loyal clientele base and she continues to prove that outstanding customer service is a key factor in an agent’s achievements.”

James (Jamo) Ladd, 29

Park Avenue Travel

Swarthmore, PA

As a child, Ladd would stare out over the water of the Alabama Gulf Coast and wonder what lay beyond the horizon. “I would close my eyes and imagine distant lands that I had heard about or seen on television or in National Geographic,” he says. “I am so lucky to work in an industry that helps me satisfy this lifelong curiosity.

“Not only do I find my career personally rewarding, but I see it in my clients as well,” he continues. “My clients are surprised after a trip when they realize they have learned more about themselves than the cultures they experienced while abroad. Families return happier and closer than ever and honeymooners return even more in love than when they were married. I can’t imagine doing anything better and I am proud to be a part of it.”

Debbie Bush, president of Park Avenue Travel, says that Ladd’s passion for the job is immediately obvious. “But he takes it to another level when he crafts trips for some top clients, including professional sports figures. His trips, rich in detail and defined by their finesse, have led to a constant stream of referrals—the hallmark of a great agent. James continues to grow his business by referral and has created a fantastic niche in luxury travel.”

Stephanie Lee, 29

Travel Quest

Albertville, MN

Lee says that she grew up in the travel industry, since she works in a family-run agency. “I graduated from the College of St. Benedict with a Liberal/Environmental Studies degree,” she recalls. “I worked in the environmental education/social service fields for the next five years. Fate happened, I was in between jobs when my family needed help in the business and the rest is history.” The company is a host agency, and Lee works with its independent contractor agents. “I organize and build our agent program. I don’t sell travel directly to clients; I train our agents on how to sell travel and assist them with bookings.” Since joining the family business, she has shot up through the ranks, earning ASTA’s Young Professional of the Year award in 2008.

Her favorite thing about the travel industry, she says, is that it is never static. “There’s so much room for creativity!”

“Steph is a great asset to Travel Quest since she joined in 2006,” says Bonnie Lee, owner of Travel Quest. “At that time we had around 30 agents and no formal host-agency support or programs. She had decided to revamp the program. Since then, we have grown to over 200 agents and tripled our revenue to $40 million-plus. We now have a comprehensive program for agents that includes a dedicated support staff, training, marketing and website programs. Our host agency program has grown tremendously and Steph has done a great job of bringing her passion for the environment to our office and integrating social media.”

Amber Lock, 30

Protravel International Inc.

New York, NY

When Lock first started in the travel industry, she joined a boutique travel agency specializing in entertainment travel. “Having always been a music lover, I soon acquired a special interest in the logistics and needs for bands on tour,” she says. Over the past 10 years, she has learned just how different this niche of the market is. “I’ve built longstanding relationships with established artists and continue to develop new ones with up-and-coming bands,” she says. “I visit with them ‘on the road’ and actually see the work they do, in order to understand the full scope of their travel needs.” And with clients like Elton John, No Doubt, Santana, Neil Young, Madonna, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, she knows the hotels have to be top-notch.

“My clients’ needs include 24/7 service, and by making myself available to them, I’ve become an integral part of their touring family,” she says. “Due to this specific dynamic, I have to remain ‘in the know, in the now.’ I believe that music, as well as travel, will always remain relevant to our culture and I look forward, with renewed passion daily, to growing with both industries.”

Priscilla Alexander, president of Protravel, praises Lock’s ingenuity and dedication. “She works 24/7 to tend to [her clients’] needs,” Alexander says, “and she certainly knows how to fit the right client with the right property.”

Vanessa McGovern, 29

Vanessa’s Vacations

Tamarac, FL

As an entrepreneur with experience in sales, sales management and business development, McGovern started out as a history major, became an art auctioneer, and applied her skills to successfully launch a home-based travel business.

After starting out as an art auctioneer on cruise ships, McGovern accepted a management position with Park West Gallery in 2004. This year, she bought a Cruise Planner franchise. “Within a month, I launched a referral campaign, joined multiple networking groups, attended workshops and reached out to local businesses,” she says. “I tackled social media outlets and partnered with an online bilingual community website as the official sponsor of their travel section. My drive is rooted in my passion to share how travel can open your mind and offer you unforgettable memories. I plan on matching my clients with the right type of travel to create memories and experiences of a lifetime so they keep coming back to me as their preferred agent.”

Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, says that it is “very rare to find a young individual that has drive, perseverance and structure all rolled up into one person.” McGovern, she says, caught her eye by standing out amongst her peers. “Vanessa has shown that with a few good ideas you can be on your way to becoming successful. Her well-thought-out and planned approach has shown me that if she continues to work her plan, she will be a ‘rock star’ at Cruise Planners.”

Amber McLaughlin, 28

Travel Leaders

Maple Grove, MN

McLaughlin studied Travel and Tourism at an Iowa college and at the Travel Academy in Bloomington, MN. “My previous career was in child care,” she recalls, “but after selling travel for five years, I know this is my career and look forward to growing in the travel industry.
“It is my goal to help others discover the joys of travel, experience new cultures and visit the places of their dreams,” she says. “My favorite part of the job is touching base with a happy client upon their return and hearing their stories from their travels. I learn just as much from those conversations as I do while researching a destination. I use those feedback calls to help determine what the best travel options are for that client the next time.”

She is a Karisma GI Specialist, a Sandals Certified Agent and a Disney Authorized Seller. Her main focus is on destination weddings, honeymoons and family vacation travel to the beaches of Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico. She is currently working on the Travel Leaders Travel Specialist program, and hopes to become a Costa Rica specialist.

Kristine St. Cyr, general manager of Travel Leaders, says that McLaughlin’s “willingness and excitement to expand her knowledge through education and specialist programs shows her dedication to not only her clients, but her coworkers as well. She consistently goes above and beyond. She is knowledgeable, supportive, efficient, embraces change and is a caring individual. Amber is a true ‘package,’ and her performance is outstanding.”

Marcie Muensterman, 29

Beach Bum Vacation

Fishers, IN

Muensterman has been a Travel Concierge for Beach Bum Vacation for three years, and specializes in Caribbean and Mexico travel. “I love working with couples and groups, creating lasting relationships with people,” she says. “I especially love working with destination wedding couples and being a part of the most romantic day of their lives.”

She knows firsthand how important a good agent is to a destination wedding: “My inspiration is our owner, Hayley Whorrall, who helped my husband and me plan our own Jamaican wedding,” she says. “It was an experience I will always treasure and wanted to give to others.”

“Marcie has been employed for only three years, and she is reaching $750,000 in annual sales,” says Whorrall. “She is extremely organized, communicates well, works independently and effectively multi-tasks.” Whorrall adds that Muensterman takes “a special, personal interest in every trip, creating lasting relationships and qualifying every client to ensure their vacation memories are nothing short of amazing.”

Terrah Rominger, 24

Legacy Travel

Plano, TX

While attending college to be a dental hygienist, Rominger sold vacation packages for a few months with Legacy Travel, and she was hooked. She specializes in destination weddings and honeymoons, particularly in Hawaii, Mexico and the South Pacific. She is a Maui, Oahu and Hawaii Destination specialist as well as a Certified Destination Wedding Specialist and a Karisma Gourmet Inclusive Vacation Consultant. Rominger produces over $1 million in leisure sales per year for Legacy Travel and has sold 23 destination weddings so far this year. She was recognized by El Dorado Seaside Suites as one of the Top 10 Producing Agents of 2008.

Philip Banks, owner of Legacy Travel, says that Rominger is “a fantastic salesperson who has achieved her high sales with an enthusiastic and caring nature. Our team can always count on her to go above and beyond and to strive for complete customer satisfaction.” One particular innovation Rominger promoted for Legacy Travel was a wedding blog, which Banks says has improved their destination wedding sales. “If I could find four or five more Terrahs to hire, Legacy Travel would advance from ‘excellent’ to ‘unstoppable.’”

Sarah Strand, 29

Salentine Travel


With eight years’ experience in the travel industry, Strand has worked with Salentine Travel for six of those years, specializing in Mexico and Caribbean travel. “I have been to many of the islands, and feel very comfortable advising my clients of where is right and where is wrong for them to go,” she says. Balancing corporate travel with leisure, Strand landed a contract with the second-largest convention-planning company in the U.S. two years ago.

“The best part about being a travel agent is when a family comes home from a vacation and tells me that they had an absolutely wonderful time,” she says. “There is nothing more rewarding than that.”

Jacque Salentine Busby, president of Salentine Travel, trusts Strand not only as an employee, but also as her own travel agent. “She books all of my personal travel and I trust her implicitly,” she says. “There are no words to express for someone who thinks the way you think before you say it yourself. She always goes the extra distance and looks out for her clients.”

Carmen Teresa Targa, 27

Condado Travel

San Juan, Puerto Rico

After graduating in 2004 as a political science major from Villanova University, Targa went to work in the family travel agency, which has been around for 40 years. “I love the challenge when my clients call me to ask me where they should visit, trusting my travel expertise,” she says. One memorable trip involved a family that had no idea where they wanted to go. “All they knew was that they wanted to travel,” she remembers. “I sent them to five Asian countries for a month. A travel agent never has a dull moment. There is always something new to learn. It’s a passion for learning about history/destinations, and making travel dreams come true.”

At 2008 Virtuoso Travel Mart, Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, mentioned Targa in the opening ceremony as one of Virtuoso’s Rising Stars, and 2009 Virtuoso Travel Mart suppliers nominated her as one of the top five Rising Stars in Virtuoso.

Upchurch calls Targa “a dedicated professional who exemplifies the sophistication needed to serve an increasingly sophisticated and wired consumer. She shares her passion for travel with her clients and inspires their travel dreams. A talented travel advisor, she personally creates unique itineraries customized to fulfill her clients’ desire to experience the world firsthand.”

Lisa Zwissler, 28

Beach Bum Vacation

Fishers, IN

Zwissler has been working as a certified travel concierge for two years. Before that, she was a marketing coordinator for a year in California right after college, and then taught for three years in two inner-city schools. When she joined Beach Bum Vacation, she says, she found her love. “Traveling gives us a broader perspective of life,” she says. “Knowing I have a small part in that transformation is truly my love.”

As an example, she mentions a client who wanted to take his father to Vietnam. “His father is a Vietnam veteran and wanted to see the country from a different perspective. Both the father and son said it was an amazing experience to see the world from a different light.”

She is a Master Agent with AM Resorts, a Sandals Silver Specialist (soon to be Gold this coming spring), a Palace Resorts Specialist and an expert on many specific destinations. She was also recently named chair of the company’s nonprofit organization to help the less fortunate in the Caribbean islands and Mexico.

“Lisa is passionate about travel and making dreams come true for her clients,” says Hayley Whorrall, president of Beach Bum Vacation. “Lisa fervently believes in responsible tourism helping to ensure that her clients, the environment and the local people and culture all have wonderful experiences through tourism.”

* Those whose ages are noted as 30 turned 30 after the nomination process began.