Thomas Jackson, President of World Travel

Like many people in the travel industry, Thomas Jackson, president of Santa Ana, CA-based World Travel, says that his early travel experiences helped lead him to his career path. "My very first trip was when I was eight years old," he says. "I flew with my parents to Mexico City in an ancient DC 3 in 1948." Jackson has parlayed his extensive travel experience and the wisdom of his father, who started World Travel, into a successful career in the industry.  Thomas A. Jackson World Travel 620 N. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92701 Affiliations: ASTA, Virtuoso, ICTA, ATN, Orange Coast SKAL Club

Jackson, as an only child growing up in Santa Ana, recalls working for his father's agency early. "I started in this business with my dad at age 12, stamping folders, filing stuff, going to the bank, selling tickets to Catalina Island on the Big White Steamer ferry," he says. "My father bought this business in 1939 for $100 while he was a college professor teaching business administration."

"I Want To Be An Agent!"

Originally, his father didn't want his son to follow in his footsteps. "My father wanted me to become a CPA and an attorney," Jackson confides. "I said, 'I can do but do that, but man, how boring would that be? I want to be an agent.' Travel is pervasive, addictive, I'm good with business and finance, I communicate well and I understand people; this job was made for me!" He followed his gut instinct, and has never looked back.

World Travel currently has nine offices in California. "We go from OrangeCounty to Carmel, and our head administrative offices are in Santa Ana," says Jackson. "Vendors come to me there, while the other eight locations are all retail street-level, full-service travel agencies with typical nine-to-five hours."

The agency's business mix is currently 75 percent leisure and 25 percent corporate, whereas 10 years ago it was 50-50. The shift can be attributed to the loss of airline commissions. "We used to do an awful lot of corporate air, but we're doing better business than we've ever done before, and it's because of the Internet," Jackson stresses. "We have better access to information; for example, in order to book a tour to Mongolia, sometimes it used to take four or five months to get a response," he says. "The Internet is our friend; it has pushed away all the 'looky-lous' and allowed us to focus on the serious clients."

Charging Fees

Jackson's agency does charge fees. "We tell them, 'At this juncture let me introduce you to our plan-to-go fee, a deposit that we will apply to your trip should you book with us,'" says Jackson. "Four out of five say, 'Gee, I don't think so,' and that's fine with us; we're doing a smaller percentage of the overall travel spend; we used to do 80 percent, and now it's 50 percent, but we're doing more sales overall," he says. "More people are traveling than ever before, and customers are coming back who have used the Internet in the past; they're realizing it's not any cheaper."

Training New Agents

Jackson says that when hiring new agents, he prefers to train his own people. "We've hired individuals with no prior experience, and it's either make it or break it. One woman who had owned her own business was smitten with travel and expressed a desire to get involved; we set her on the track and now she's an agent," he says. "These people can get the best education from their peers. That's why we do in-house training; we're not interested in grabbing other people's agents."

That's not to say that Jackson doesn't value formal training. "One of our requirements is that all of our managers must participate in the Travel Institute program to become Certified Travel Counselors (CTCs)," he says, adding that he values longevity. "Our agents average over 15 years of experience on a per person basis." While Jackson does encourage his agents to get specializations, he always tells clients, "We specialize in knowing the customer, not in a particular cruise line or tour company; we're not a cookie- cutter agency."

Jackson has no plans to call it quits any time soon. "I'm 67, but why retire? What am I going to do, retire and travel? My dad worked till 86, and it'll be the same for me, God willing."

He has even participated in Virgin Galactic's accredited space agent training, available via his relationship with Virtuoso. He's looking forward to the launch of commercial suborbital travel in spring 2009, and may consider a gravity-free trip himself. Either way, he'll continue to reach for the stars.