As we prepare to introduce our fourth annual class of “Top 25 All Stars” in our November 20 issue, we reached out to a number of our past winners to see what they are up to and how they are faring today.
We also checked in on some of the notable agents from the preceding years of our original “Top 25” series who we feel are worthy of All Star recognition — professionals who have proven to be skillful, savvy problem solvers and out-of-the-box thinkers who are strongly devoted to their agency and clients. These top-notch advisors generate upwards of $1 million in annual sales for their agency and, with one exception, have 10 years or more industry experience under their belts. Some have seen their revenue increase significantly, risen to positions of greater responsibility, garnered additional accolades — or all of the above. These agents, as you will discover in the pages ahead, also have insights and observations to share that neophytes and industry veterans alike may find beneficial.
TerryB Luxury Travel
Greater Los Angeles
Terry Bahri, who launched her own agency, TerryB Luxury Travel, in January, was in her sixth year as an advisor with en Route Travel in Los Angeles when she landed on the Top 25 list in 2013. The honor both surprised and delighted her. And although she loved the attention she received from her clients, she says it was the relationships with hotel companies, tour operators and such that have been helped the most by her winning the award.
“My clients were very happy and thought that the honor was well deserved,” says Bahri. “However, I felt that the hoteliers and other suppliers were more excited and viewed this award as [going to] someone serious about their business and looking at offering the best services to their clients. I think the award gave me more credibility with the suppliers as well. It indicated that I was an advisor that got things done and done right.”
And what tips would she give advisors looking to follow the same path?
“Just keep on offering a great service,” she tells Travel Agent. “Travel is not a job for me, it is my passion and helping clients comes from the heart.” So, where have her travels taken her recently?
“I just got back from the Private Luxury Forum, which took place in Montego Bay,” she tells us. “I stayed for two nights at the GoldenEye Boutique Hotel & Resort [in Oracabessa, Jamaica] and really loved it.” Born in Egypt, raised in Lebanon and French-educated, Bahri began traveling throughout Europe in her late teens and is fluent in English, French and Arabic, and can successfully dabble in Spanish and Italian.
The Tropical Travelers
Although she had already been a successful advisor for close to 20 years, Jennifer Byrne’s career in travel took an even more positive turn when she notched the Top 25 honor back in 2012.
“My entire career changed after this for quite a few reasons,” says the advisor with The Tropical Travelers. “I felt confident in my work and wanted to take things to another level.
“I joined a group of like-minded consultants that year and have never looked back,” she continues. “The relationships, the friendships, the partnerships, the best practice discussions with my peers have all led to new ideas and better business all around. My company has definitely moved to the next level in the past five years with a jump in revenue and sales force.” And getting to that next level not only requires passion for travel, but also a narrowed focus.
“There is no other way to truly make it in this industry,” she says. “You have to find your specialty and own it. Always look outside the box for fresh ideas and delight your customer. Push yourself to better your business.”
Byrne has also won the SmartCEO Brava Award in 2013; Travel Impressions’ Globe Award twice; has been on Travel Impressions’ Best of the Best for 11 years and has won several Karisma Hotels & Resorts Diamond Awards.
“I believed from very early on in my career that it was meant to be,” says Byrne. “I fell in love with travel and that love has enabled me to continue on this path for 23 years.”
MK All Around Travel, Inc.
Oak Lawn, IL
If you ask Karen Daly of MK All Around Travel, Inc. how she made the Top 25 list in 2013, she’ll tell you it was all about delivering excellent customer service, a big part of which was being an advocate for travel insurance.
“I believe being passionate for the business and continuously learning about new resorts, destinations, etc., is also very important,” she tells Travel Agent.
And like most advisors who made the prestigious list, the amount of free publicity also didn’t go unnoticed for Daly.
“It was great for public relations,” she says. “A local paper featured a page-long article about me. It would end up being an insert in a larger paper. Even a year later, new customers were contacting the office about the article they had seen and wanted to book with me because of the award.”
Daly’s last trip was to Las Vegas, “not because of the destination, but because I definitely wanted to see Cher before she finally retires.” Next up for Daly is Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, for the 2017 MAST All Star Trip at Secrets Cap Cana in November.
If you didn’t know how fast word can spread when an advisor achieves the Top 25 recognition, consider Stan Godwyn and the letter he received when he cracked the list four years ago.
“I won in 2013, and yes, it was a huge surprise,” he tells us. “I still do not know who nominated me. I filled in the application with zero expectations. I still have the original magazine at home. I even got a letter from my representative in the state senate congratulating me.”
And like other winners we’ve spoken to, it served to further boost his credibility.
“I have had the note that I won the award on my signature line on my e-mail ever since,” he says. “I believe it adds a substantial level of credibility when I communicate with clients for the first time.”
With the Top 25 honor and also being named in Travel + Leisure’s “A List” the same year, Godwyn says his sales went through the roof. He tells us that he now regularly exceeds the million-dollar sales volume mark annually.
“And, more rewarding from my perspective, I can now truly focus on my area of expertise,” says the TravelStore advisor. “I still sell other forms of travel, but I get to spend a lot more time and energy on Asia, which I truly enjoy.” As noted is his original Top 25 profile, Godwyn speaks fluent Mandarin and has made some 30 trips to China.
Kim Goldstein was a veteran travel advisor with Journeys, Inc. when she was named a Top 25 All Star in 2015. This year, she bought the agency.
Goldstein says her ability to “establish a consistent book of business,” while continuing to grow her relationships with tour operators and resorts is responsible for the 25 percent increase in business she’s seen over the last few years.
“My group business has increased quite a bit, which is a key driver in the increase,” she tells Travel Agent. “With my recent success in the business, this year I was able to purchase Journeys, Inc., where I began my ‘journey’ as a travel agent almost 12 years ago.”
Goldstein tells us that the trick to cracking the Top 25 list is to “know your product well and be an innovator.”
“If you just sit behind your desk all day booking travel, you won’t be exposed to other opportunities,” she says. “I’m sure there are many agents who sell more than I do, but my focus is on building relationships with my suppliers and resorts, which enables me to better service my clients.”
Among other accolades, Goldstein has also made “Best of the Best” lists with Travel Impressions, from 2015 to 2017, and Sandals and Beaches in 2015, as well as earned Karisma Hotels & Resorts’ “Diamond One” award in 2016.
“I regularly travel to resorts, which allows me to interact with their onsite teams,” she says. “I consistently provide feedback to them on what would help their product become more competitive, so I’m frequently contacted with new policies and ideas to review.”
Avenues of the World Travel
Working toward wrapping up her first decade in travel, Daniela Harrison is another early Top 25 honoree who we feel merits All Star status. When she made the list back in 2011, she let the rest of the industry know she was here to stay.
“I was still pretty green back then,” Harrison says,“and while I had a good book of business, the award definitely helped me get more recognition with our supplier partners and other agents. I added the accolade to my e-mail signature line and many of my clients responded really positively to it.”
Among other achievements on her industry résumé, she became a Certified Signature Travel Network Expert in 2015; was named a GTM West Travel Pro in 2016 and has both been a speaker and a moderator for several panels at the annual Travel Industry Exchange. She has also contributed keen insights and observations to articles in Travel Agent and its sister publication, Luxury Travel Advisor.
What advice would she give agents looking to take home similar honors?
“Be honest, remember this is your chance to brag about how amazing you are, so no need to embellish,” Harrison says. “Make lots of friends and be supportive to the industry community and you’d be surprised how much support comes back around.
“I’ve always tried my hardest to be open and approachable by other agents, suppliers, writers and I’ve always been honest with my opinion — even if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. I think that as long as you are respectful, people will appreciate your honest opinion and respect you for it. It helps you create true friendships and strong relationships that are mutually beneficial,” she says.
Her most recent honor was a very special one: Born and raised in Dusseldorf, Germany, Harrison, who came to America at the age of 17, became a U.S. citizen when she took the oath in Phoenix on July 4 of this year.
The World Awaits Travel
In 2013, Camille Sperrazza of The World Awaits Travel was doubling as a journalism teacher while building up a serious travel industry network by working as an advisor from 3 p.m. to midnight every weekday and full business days on the weekend.
The devotion to her craft as a travel expert paid off that year as she was named one of our Top 25 advisors — something she considered as a validation of her love for selling travel.
“I have always believed you have to do what you love to do — and then the career follows,” she tells us. “I spent my entire life writing — and still write for newspapers — because I knew at age 8, I wanted to be a journalist.
“It led to my career as a journalism teacher, and also led to my now 18-year simultaneous career in travel because back then, I was writing freelance travel articles. When people would contact me for advice about destinations I had visited, I would provide it. I was so happy to do this, I figured out a way to monetize it by building my own travel business.”
Since winning, she says she has also seen a healthy spike in her sales volume, the bulk of which is made up of destination wedding bookings to the Caribbean.She became a WOW (Weddings on the Water) specialist for Hard Rock resorts, so she plans many destination weddings there, and all over the Caribbean.
“It is quite a challenge as a good part of my day is spent responding to countless e-mails and questions from brides and wedding guests,” Sperrazza tells us. The World Awaits Travel also helped plan a destination wedding that took place in a chateau in France this past May. The agency remains focused on cruises (both ocean and river), all-inclusive vacations and European getaways. “Personally, I love cruising the world on ocean liners and river cruises, bringing people with me,” she says.
Sperrazza is also an active member of PATA (Pacific-Asia Travel Association) and served as the New York City Chapter Director of NACTA (National Association of Career Travel Agents) for three years. Her agency is affiliated with Nexion, part of the Travel Leaders Network.
Terrah Van Meter
Before being officially recognized as bona fide All Star last year, Terrah Van Meter, was one of Travel Agent’s early Top 25 honorees back in 2011, when she was still known as Terrah Rominger. She quickly took advantage of the publicity it generated.
“The free press was the best part,” she says. “The article was being posted and shared on social media, which got people talking. It is also great to have the ‘title’ on my e-mail signature and company profiles.”
And with a 57 percent spike in sales volume since winning the honor for the first time, it’s apparent Van Meter hasn’t hung her hat on the honors just yet. In fact, Van Meter’s unwillingness to slow down was also evident last year when she achieved the aforementioned All Star recognition to go along with an already robust list of accolades.
Among the other honors she has been awarded over the years are Top Sales for Jamaica Tourism in 2013; Top Sales for Royal Caribbean Sales in 2014; Top 10 Producers for El Dorado Spa Resorts in 2015, and Legacy Travel Top Agent for Apple Vacations in 2015.
So what advice would she give other agents looking to follow a similar path to success?
“There is nothing stopping you from being at the top of your field but you,” she says. “Don’t second guess yourself for a single second. No matter how experienced you are or where your sales are at — do it. Life is too short to be mediocre.”
Tom Varghese was working at his agency around this time last year when he witnessed his Facebook notifications soaring through the roof.
“I was in my office when I saw a few posts I was tagged in on Facebook and I received a bunch of texts and calls,” he tells us. “When I clicked on what was sent, I was completely shocked to see my name on the list. I did not even know I was nominated and only found out a few days later who nominated me.”
Although he didn’t know who nominated him at first, he probably had a good idea why his name was entered for consideration.
“I worked for a big, well-know agency, American Express, for 10 years prior to me splitting off and forming Travel Tom,” Varghese says, adding that it “was a huge decision for me since I did not have the ‘name brand recognition’ as the ‘Blue Box.’ But, due to an extremely high level of service, personal knowledge and expertise of destinations, and passion and dedication for my job, I had established myself with my clients.”
Being named to the 2016 class of Top 25 All Stars helped solidify and validate his accomplishments,” he says, “and we expect to continue our year-over-year growth.”
And the best way to follow his path, according to Varghese, is to get out in the world as much as possible.
“[There needs to be] passion, perseverance, and a constant desire to ensure your client always has the most amazing, memorable experience possible,” he says. “Also, continue education and make sure you get out there and visit the destinations you sell.”
Go Astro Travel, LLC – an independent agency in the Avoya Travel Network
“I am very proud to be recognized as one of Travel Agent’s Top 25 All Stars,” says Susan Wolfson. “I promote it by including a link to my Top 25 All Stars’ agent profile on both my Avoya and Go Astro Travel websites as well as in my e-mail signature.”
Since earning that recognition in 2014, her sales have grown at a rate of about 10 percent annually. “I’m on target to produce more than 2.5 million in annual sales this year. I have always preferred a slow and steady increase in sales so that I can maintain my high level of service.”
Indeed, Wolfson believes that going the extra mile for her clients and “delivering the best, most personalized vacation experiences” was a contributing factor in garnering All Star status. “I always do what’s best for the client, even if it means less commission for me. I’m in it for the long run.”
She also says that her affiliation and involvement with her host agency Avoya Travel “has been one of the best business decisions that I’ve ever made. Avoya’s training, Mastermind program, and networking opportunities have helped my personal growth and thus my ability to put together the first-ever beer themed river cruise with AmaWaterways,” which was highlighted in her 2014 profile.
Since then she has been recognized as a top producer for AmaWaterways and honored with Avoya Travel’s 2015 and 2016 Best of the Best President’s Circle award for producing more than $2 million in sales. In addition, “I was honored to be a panelist on river cruising for [Travel Agent magazine’s] 2015 Travel Industry Exchange,” she says.
Her advice for aspiring All Stars? “Don’t specialize in everything for everyone; find your niche and know it like the back of your hand,” she tells us. “Develop relationships with suppliers so that you continue to educate yourself in your specialty and keep up to date with new ships, itineraries or amenities offered by the vendor. You can no longer just offer good service; you must offer expert advice as well.”