When we started the 30 Under 30 in 2008, (see winners from 2008 and 2009) it was partly in response to criticism that travel agents were losing their relevance in an online world. And now in 2010, the one thing everyone on our list brings to the table is a grasp of the online universe, from social media to marketing to education and more. They’re ready to take on the world—one trip at a time
Loren Jackson Adams, 27
Destinations Reached Travel Consulting and Services
After studying English and print journalism at Morgan State University, Adams changed course and earned a degree from the Bennett School of Travel in Ellicott, MD. She launched her own company, in the Travel Planners International network.
She is a Certified Travel Associate as well as a Certified Destination Specialist (Mexico and the Caribbean), specializing in selling honeymoons and leisure vacations. All of that networking—both on-and online—has paid off for Adams’ clients such as Aja Jackson, who wrote that Adams “arranged all of the details for our honeymoon so that I would not have to think about them during my wedding planning. She made recommendations for everything from hotel stays to activities to help make our vacation the trip of a lifetime.”
“I’m constantly networking and forwarding weekly travel promotions via my contact list,” says Adams. “I keep things interesting and current through my travel blog, which features information about destinations, new travel technology, news alerts, the latest trends in resortwear and so on.”
Kristen Marie Alexander, 24
Corona Del Mar, CA
Although she is still relatively new to the industry, Alexander has already secured a diverse clientele, including newlyweds, Fortune 500 CEOs and even her roommate. Her travels have taken her across the United States and Alaska and down to St. Thomas, St. Maarten and the Bahamas.
“Kristen is a very valuable and important member of the team,” says David Rubin of DavidTravel. “She has learned very quickly and continues to expand her knowledge on a daily basis. Her product knowledge is excellent and she has excelled at putting together complex, customized FITs. Kristen communicates effectively with clients and demonstrates great patience. She is good at getting to know each client and creating a memorable experience for them.”
Laura Allen, 27
Trips in the Village
With both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in International Studies, Allen is well-suited to tackle the travel industry. She pursued international relations for a while, but that led to her true calling—selling travel. One of her roles is to sell to young clients who are unfamiliar with how an agency works.
“Laura is the brightest light for Trips in the Village,” says Russell Glasheen, owner of Trips in the Village. “She is bringing us into the 21st century with Facebook, a website and upgraded computers and has been able to use her travel knowledge and superior customer service to develop strong client relationships. She is diligent about online training and attending seminars, and shares her knowledge and enthusiasm with the rest of the office. She is well on her way to being a leader in the next generation of travel professionals.”
With no technical experience in the travel industry, getting into the business was a challenge for Allen. But luckily for her, and her clients, she was able to convince employers that she could be an asset and has been able to position herself as the next generation of agents.
Emily Baldwin, 26
Baldwin’s love for the travel industry began when she worked as an executive assistant at an aviation firm, which spawned such an intense fascination with expeditions and excursions that she immediately gained her associates in Travel and Tourism and a bachelors in Science – Hospitality Management.
“My passion for the industry is brought out by my customized itineraries, attention to detail and eagerness to create a lifetime experience,” Baldwin says. “Being a young individual in this industry takes more than having traveled all over the world; it’s about being involved in all aspects such as social media, online product training, networking with clients, and marketing.”
Baldwin recently toured the Caribbean, Riviera Maya and Turks and Caicos, expanding her expertise in honeymoon and destination weddings as well as the offerings of Princess Cruises, Royal Cruise and Sandals.
“Emily brought with her a passion for the industry and the drive to be the best she can be,” says Dee Topor, president of Platinum Travel. “With her certification as a honeymoon and destination wedding specialist and [having] married just last year, she has a true understanding of what it takes to plan the perfect honeymoon. Emily’s sales have more than doubled in her time with Platinum Travel and she has embraced our membership in Virtuoso as a provider of luxury travel.”
Jennifer Leigh Batts, 27
Travel Leaders Raleigh NC
Batts graduated with a degree in Graphics from North Carolina State, and then took a position in a new field that she found intriguing: travel. “In the time that I have been with Travel Leaders, I have learned so much about the world,” she says. “I love being able to share what I know with my clients and watch their excitement grow along with mine...my clients are leisure travelers, who are adventurous. Recently, I was lucky enough to visit the breathtaking country of Ecuador. I still am eager to get to work every morning and often find it difficult to pull myself away in the afternoon.”
Mark Seagle, owner of Travel Leaders branch in Raleigh, says despite Jennifer’s lack of experience, her “strong and sincere desire to get into the business” made her an appealing addition to the team. “In just a short period of time, Jennifer has become proficient in using our GDS system, is a few days away from becoming a Travel Leaders Certified Travel Specialist and has received testimonials about her service and professionalism. Agents like Jennifer are the future of our business.”
In a difficult economy, Batts and the Travel Leaders team have redoubled their efforts. “We have worked hard to stay in touch with our current clients, looked for additional corporate business, and are constantly looking for agencies to merge with or acquire,” she says. “All of these tasks have been made easier with the help of Travel Leaders. They are e-mailing specials to all our clients on a weekly basis; we mail out over 2,000 ‘Post Card’ magazines each quarter, and send targeted direct mail three or four times a month. Travel Leaders has a special task force to help us with adding corporate accounts and for acquiring existing agencies.”
Noel Coleman, 26
American Express Travel
Coleman says his love for travel stemmed from road trips with his family in his youth. He soon coupled this passion with an interest in geography and history, which evolved into a full-fledged career as a travel expert.
Travel is Coleman’s “bread and butter” and his clientele includes CEOs, backpackers, celebrities, and sports teams. “My favorite sale was a round-the-world booking for a doctor on sabbatical visiting every continent in three months,” Coleman recalls.
A graduate of Occidental College who is currently rated as one of American Express’ top sellers across the Cruise and Tour network, Coleman has visited over 20 countries on five continents, and counts South Africa, Fiji, Switzerland and Thailand among his favorites.
“Noel is one of our newest hires and I am constantly amazed at how well-traveled he is,” says Lisa Gutierrez, his team leader. “Listening to calls, he is so engaged and has already had several clients say he is the reason they keep booking travel. Noel always takes an extra step with his clients and takes the time to call back after travels to make sure everything about their trip was positive. If I needed to book travel, Noel would be the specialist I would go to because he knows so much. He even spends his lunch break reading about new destinations!”
Nam Do, 28
Vacations To Go
Do studied business and marketing and closed a lot of real estate and mortgage transactions before turning to the travel industry. “I love being a travel agent,” he says. “If I [had] known, I would have started in travel instead of real estate!” Do was the first to sell $2 million in commissionable sales in his company, all in the first eight months of this year. The most interesting trips he sells, he says, are world cruises. “The clients get to travel for about three months and visit many countries and a few continents on one vacation.” His clients, Do says, are diverse: “They’re from all ends of the earth and all walks of life, thanks to the Internet.”
Hope Prado, director of Vacations to Go, says the qualities of a consummate travel agent should include diligence, integrity, wisdom and a servant’s heart. “All of these summed up in one agent equals excellence,” she says. “These are the qualities that encompass Nam Do. I know many types of travel agents—from the young and inexperienced to the seasoned and cynical—but no one stands out in this crowd like Nam does.”
Do feels he distinguishes himself by taking great care of his clients. “They all know how much I appreciate their business through my customer service and acts of kindness,” he says. “I attribute much of my success to repeat and referral business. While most of my peers and competitors are either struggling or working super hard to stay afloat, I can thank all my past guests for helping me sell travel. I have a very strong sales force, past clients who continue to use my services and recommend them to friends, family, co-workers and anyone else they know.”
Sarah Ebrahemi, 29
Redondo Beach, CA
Ebrahemi began her career in philanthropy alongside Lucy and Leigh Steinberg, starting a nonprofit dedicated to broadening teenagers’ minds with awareness of local and global issues. This endeavor was soon followed up with the launch of a documentary production company, which filmed in Third World countries.
“My educational films have been shown at film festivals, on PBS, featured in newspapers and won awards. Having visited 20 countries, I started a travel company and currently write a monthly travel column that focuses on everything from luxury to adventure experiences.”
Co-owner of Spoiled Travel with her husband, Ebrahemi believes that the best advertising comes from gratified customers who refer her to their friends and family.
“Social networking sites are also great ways to promote travel specials,” she says. “You have to be able to provide clients with great packages and even better recommendations of restaurants, activities and accommodations. Most travelers have been saving and dreaming about their upcoming vacation, so it is our job to give them a relaxing experience with priceless advice and tips along the way.”
Lindsey Epperly, 21
A renaissance woman, Epperly is still completing an undergraduate degree in English along with certifications in New Media, Music Business and Interdisciplinary Writing at the University of Georgia but is also actively pursuing a career in the travel industry.
“For little over a year, I’ve sold travel, mainly within the luxury honeymoon market as an independent contractor while completing my English degree. It’s a hectic schedule, but my passion for travel brings me so much joy, from the planning of each trip for my clients, to my own personal travels, which allow me to exercise my love for writing.”
Ever ready to face another challenge, Epperly insists she is never one to sit around waiting for the phone to ring. Her determination and enterprise are vital to her success.
“Last year, Lindsey came into our office with an enthusiastic attitude and a love for travel—and that was just to get a brochure,” wrote Ramona and Michael Holbrock, managers of Columbus Travel. “We decided to give her a chance as an independent agent and have never looked back. Her fresh perspective is not inhibited by adapting to the way things have always been done; she is not intimidated about trying new marketing tactics and is constantly seeking knowledge in areas like new media that help our agency as a whole.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick, 26
Whet Travel Inc.
Miami Beach, FL
Fitzpatrick graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in marketing. The best part of being a travel agent, he says, is the interaction and making a positive impact on clients’ lives. He specializes in arranging travel for “young professionals who party, ages 25-40,” especially The Groove Cruise, a theme cruise dedicated to music. “Last year was a partial charter with 840 people,” he recalls. “This year is a full-ship charter, and we’re on track for a sellout.”
“Ryan is a hard-working marketing visionary with a knack for accomplishing his goals,” says Jason Beukema, Whet’s founder. “He is great at building relationships with key people and pushing sales to the next level. In fact, as a direct result of Ryan’s marketing and sales efforts, our sales have more than doubled since he joined the team over a year ago.”
To help survive the downturn and remain in contact with clients, Fitzpatrick has helped the company focus on social media. “We estimate that we touch around 90 percent of our clients on social media at one point or another in our relationship with them.” Fitzpatrick notes that Whet has more than 50,000 friends, fans and followers across its various social media platforms.
Jodi Fox, 28
Vision 2000 Travel Solutions
Fox has traversed the travel industry with aplomb, quickly moving from a Junior Agent to an Elite Travel Specialist with Vision 2000.
“I strive to make my clients’ travel dreams come true, and I love the creative process it involves, including creating five-year travel plans and arranging inspiring client events and evenings.
“From the conceptual to the actual planning stages, Jodi demonstrated an in-depth comprehension of our needs even items we didn’t think of,” wrote James and Ellen Luelo, longtime clients of Fox. “The setup of our Africa adventure enabled us to experience a first-class event throughout the continent. We have lasting memories from Cape Town to Nairobi to the Micato Safari concluding in Zanzibar.” Michael Broadhurst, owner of Vision 2000, praises Fox for her enthusiasm and hunger for travel knowledge, and for treating clients with exceptional care and an attentive ear.
“Her true worth shines when things go wrong,” said Broadhurst. “Having Jodi on my team when I’m stranded in a Third World country is a gift from God. Jodi is truly the future of our industry—charming, professional and progressive.”
Elizabeth Gordon, 29
New York, NY
Born in Kenya, Gordon grew up visiting what she calls “exceptional properties” with her parents, former owners of Park East Tours. After graduating from Stanford University, she worked for Wilderness Safaris in Namibia. “I launched a successful vacation rental management and booking agency in Buenos Aires called International Nest,” she says. “But my real passion is Africa. Few people at my age have had the opportunity to travel to Africa as I have, with over 20 trips to the continent.” With her mother Marcia, Gordon created Extraordinary Journeys. “My main clientele is honeymooners, and I want them to remember this trip for the rest of their lives,” she says. As an ideal way to experience the continent, she recommends a 22-day honeymoon gorilla-tracking safari, a walking safari, bungee jumping at Victoria Falls, wine tasting in South Africa and diving in Mozambique. “Being a travel agent combines my passion for travel [and] people, and my problem-solving skills, finding the right places for the right people.”
Her mother notes that Elizabeth has learned the business remarkably quickly. “She has mastered every element of the business and is a creative and innovative leader, using technology to better serve our clients and make our work more efficient,” Marcia Gordon says.
Of course, keeping a luxury-focused business afloat during a recession takes some creativity. “I have put together new products using all the specials on the market, lowering prices by 30 percent while offering the same quality,” Gordon says. Other innovations include increasing the company’s online presence, building a new blog, a Facebook community and a honeymoon registry. “We have increased our online marketing with an SEO campaign and are creating an iPad and iPhone application...I am seeking new partnerships with women’s groups, groups of friends and online agents. We are also constantly reaching out to past clients, our best source of referrals.”
Erin Julian, 26
Now Voyager Travel
Huntington Beach, CA
Julian studied Elementary Education at California State University, Long Beach, and got into the travel business when she was interviewed to work as a receptionist at an agency. Instead of answering phones, she became an agent. “I love recommending that perfect destination for my clients, and having them return with as much love for it as I do,” she says.
Julian has gained travel knowledge by visiting Hawaii, Mexico, Tahiti and the Caribbean, and completing over 60 destination specialist programs. She sells all types of travel, but calls planning honeymoons her “passion.” Weddings and travel go hand-in-hand for Julian: She got engaged the same year she started in the business.
Marianne Braly, owner of Now Voyager Travel, remembers hiring Julian when the aspiring agent was all of 22. “Erin walked into our agency saying travel was her passion and she wanted to make it a career,” Braly recalls. “I believed in her and decided to invite her to be part of our team.” Braly says Julian loves what she does and takes great pride in her work: “She is constantly researching destinations and reading every travel magazine and brochure that comes into the office.”
Braly acknowledges that “2009 was a struggle,” but adds that the team “rallied” to bring 2010 back on track. “We had to think up ways to market and advertise that were more cost-effective than in the past,” she says. As a younger member of the team, Julian was the ideal candidate to organize the company’s social networking and online media efforts. She was put in charge of the agency’s Facebook, Twitter, and other online accounts, as well as all e-mail leads. “Social networking and weekly e-newsletters helped save us from the worst of the economic downturn,” Braly says.
Rebecca Koerber, 27
Sweet Escape Travel affiliated with Dugans Travels
Koerber is somewhat unique among past and current “30 Under 30s.” Unlike most up-and-coming travel agents, Koerber launched into a career in travel with her own business. As such, she didn’t have a supervisor to recommend her. “It’s just me,” she explains. “I have started my business to show myself and others that if you can dream it, it will come true. Travel is something I want to do for my career, my life, and pass it on to my children if they want it. I’m very proud of my company and how well it has done these past few months. We have only been open for a few months but we are doing better than expected!”
In 2008, Koerber entered college for travel and tourism, and graduated early in December 2009. She holds specialist certificates from several online accreditation programs, including Travel Agent University. “I thrive on making this business work,” she says. “I love to travel and send people I meet on wonderful, unique vacations that they will always remember. I myself had a destination wedding, so helping brides-to-be is fairly simple on one hand but complex on the other. I enjoy the challenge!”
Rebecca Wesley Lane, 27
Four Seasons Travel
For Lane, the best part of her job is sorting out the fears and confusion of her clients who are in their initial search for the “perfect” vacation. Most recently, she had to re-route a honeymoon couple from unstable Bangkok to Fiji—a challenge that she happily accepted and faced head on. Her travels have taken her throughout the Caribbean, North America, Mexico and Central America.
“Rebecca is a travel agency owner’s dream come true,” says Gwen DeWalt, the owner of Four Seasons Travel. “In her mid-20s, yet mature, she answers the dilemma many agencies face—of consultants nearing retirement. Well-traveled and passionate about both her clients and travel itself, she brings her education and skills of marketing and management to her travel career.”
Aimee Leon, 29
Travel Dynamics Group
La Jolla, CA
Leon is a home-based employee of Travel Dynamics Group, which she joined in 2005. She loves traveling, she says, and goes at least twice a year to different destinations in Europe, South America, Hawaii and many more.
Elaine San Juan, COO of Travel Dynamics Group, says that as the company’s manager of leisure services, Leon handles in-house leisure bookings for TDG and manages about 80 independent affiliates. She also assists the company’s Corporate Meetings and Incentives Department.
“During the economic downturn,” San Juan adds, “we had to lay off some employees. Being one of those who stayed, Aimee picked up a lot of other responsibilities. We continued to look for affiliates, and Aimee, being the manager of leisure services, took on the responsibility of managing all our new and existing affiliates.”
Lynda Lettre, 27
Party Time Cruises & Travel
Lettre first established her interest in travel in 1998, when she would spend a few hours after school learning from her mother at her travel agency, Party Time Cruises & Travel. She eventually studied business at SUNY Rockland, and went onto SUNY Plattsburgh where she completed her Bachelors Degree in Hotel, Restaurant & Tourism Management. In between college and completing my degrees, Lettre worked at Cape Liberty Cruise Port & Manhattan Cruise Port, where, she says, “my love for cruising and seeing the excitement in travelers’ eyes really confirmed my love for tourism.”
In March, Lettre will mark two years working full-time at the travel agency. She has aggressively worked to further her family business, not just because it’s family," says manager Ellen Caniglia, “but because of her passion for people and tourism. She continues to creatively mix new technology and her educations with her mother’s old-school ways of the business. And although they clash at times, it works.”
Although there is competition on many levels today, Lettre says, “I love being a travel agent. My pursuit to continue my mother’s legacy—which she has carried for the past 25 years—is delivering superior service.”
Reagan Lowery, 29
Los Angeles, CA
Originally from Mississippi, Lowery graduated from the University of Colorado in 2003 before moving to the beaches of southern California. After three years with a boutique agency, she joined Altour International earlier this year in what she calls “a pivotal agent role” with the entertainment department. “With a craving for diversity, I am passionate about the many aspects of entertainment travel,” she says. “I like to bring high energy and standards to a demanding clientele. My hunger for growth has taken me from the big cities to the remote corners of the globe.”
Karin Lacy, vice president of entertainment at Altour, says agents’ roles have become so challenging that she wonders what entices young people to pursue this career. “The ever-changing circumstances make the job more challenging than ever,” she says. “Reagan handles research, bookings, and the final presentation with a sophisticated style. With hotels, she inquires in-depth about rooms, views, privacy and promotions. When she requests VIP courtesies for our valued customers, she ends up getting all the extras.”
Lauren Bergdahl Maggard, 29
Jet Set World Travel Inc.
For Maggard, the more obscure the travel, the better. In the past four years with Jet Set World Travel, Maggard has enjoyed the challenges in creating new, out-of-this-world experiences for clients, such as private kiteboarding lessons along the coast of Mauritius and a birthday heli-picnic on the glaciers of New Zealand. Her experience in the industry has earned her the cover of the March issue of Luxury Travel Advisor as well.
“Lauren is the gold standard for the next generation of luxury travel advisor,” says Julia Douglas, president of Jet Set World Travel. Maggard’s keen eye for quality, meticulous organization, customer-centric approach, genuine industry relationships and her focused specialization on Central America, South America and Africa have positioned her as the top-producing agent within Jet Set World Travel.”
Maggard’s clients typically range from ages 25 to 40, always looking for the best value rather than the lowest cost.
Mayla Melo, 28
Pisa Brothers Travel
New York, NY
Originally from Brazil, Melo has translated her passion for travel into a tool for selling unique cruise experiences. She has worked for Pisa Brothers for the last six years, specializing in cruise and leisure travel. Her background has also inspired her to become a Brazilian specialist with the Brazil Tourist Board. In order to stay up to date with the current trends, Melo keeps globetrotting, and her love for the game has taken her across Europe, the Caribbean, Asia and South America.
“Mayla is a star salesperson on many levels: She’s worked extremely hard as an immigrant from Brazil to both learn English and speak it well, and she’s attended every seminar and training session available to learn her craft,” says Mary Kleen, general manager of Pisa Brothers. “Her clients always rave about her attention to detail and product knowledge. She understands intuitively that being a travel agent is first and foremost a service calling, and she brings this attitude to the agency and her colleagues as well. It has simply been a joy to watch her flourish into a full-fledged agent with her own portfolio of luxury clients.”
Melo was a key coordinator of a sales and marketing plan that was implemented last year. The plan includes newspaper ads in partnership with many cruise lines. This steady stream of air tickets and hotel rooms has helped build her monthly revenue growth and added a new source of clients.
Jen Mitchell, 29
Betty Maclean Travel
While Mitchell has a degree in social work from Florida State University, her attention to detail and innate ability to imbue her client relationships with trust has made her an extremely successful addition to Betty Maclean. “I found that if I listen well to what my clients want and match them with the right product, they return happy,” she says. “This industry is ever-changing and I embrace that.”
“In the two years Jen has been with us she has proven to be an outstanding young travel advisor with a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the travel industry,” says Roy Ramsey, Betty Maclean Travel’s director of operations. “She has shown great personal initiative during very tough economic times to develop her clientele and constantly improve her knowledge of the luxury travel segment. She is a true advocate for her clients seeking out the best values as well as watching out for their interests. “
Mitchell has also partnered with a colleague to start a monthly meeting group called The Exploration Society, which brings together those who have a passion for exotic travel. Every meeting features a guest speaker who presents a certain destination while everyone mingles over great food and wine, fostering an exciting forum for adventure lovers.
Caitlin Murphy, 26
Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel
Woodland Hills, CA
Murphy graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Business focusing on hospitality and tourism management and a minor in Business Leadership. “I fell in love with travel when I backpacked on my own starting in Madrid and ending in Ireland,” she says. “When I returned, I wanted to share my excitement with anyone I came in contact with. It became my goal to have people experience that same feeling. I’ve traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Australia. My primary focus is on journeys that attract a younger clientele such as honeymoons, adventure travel and tours focused on gastronomy. I have clients visiting Thailand, Cambodia, Bali and Italy. It’s all about the experience and continuing to expand my travel knowledge and strengthening my relationships with suppliers to better assist my clients.”
Susan Reder, president of Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel, says Murphy is “intelligent, motivated, a very hard worker, and is amazing with clients. Caitlinis also fantastic with all the new technology and very helpful to all her coworkers.” Murphy, Reder adds, “is what most agencies dream of having on their staff.”
“I’ve tried to focus on the customer service aspect and differentiating [myself] from the online competitors with value-added benefits,” Murphy says. “I’m also involved in a variety of social media networks, which have strengthened my relationships with suppliers, knowledge of their products, their latest promotions, openings, events, etc. I also use social media as a marketing channel and to engage the computer savvy client.”
Erina Pindar, 26
New York, NY
Pindar got into the travel industry with a foot already in the door, having grown up in a multicultural and international setting between Jakarta, Singapore and Charlotte. She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan as well as the University of North Carolina Charlotte before moving into the travel business. This year, she joined SmartFlyer, a Virtuoso agency, where she services the young, creative types such as fashion execs, Internet entrepreneurs, designers and travel industry insiders. She has also taken a web initiative at the company as SmartFlyer’s social media ambassador.
“Her trips often require extensive knowledge of destinations as well as knowing properties worldwide intimately,” says Michael Holtz, CEO and owner of SmartFlyer. “She came on board to rebrand the company and gave us a look that clearly communicates our business philosophy and style. Her industry contacts are impressive; she was able to clear all rooms that were requested by our client days before the 2010 Fashion Week in New York City, London and Paris. Erina also handles our marketing/social media efforts and nurtures relationships with industry vendors. Staying up to date is important and she certainly has her fingers on the pulse of the industry.”
Natasha Rhodes, 28
Vision 2000 Travel Group
A mark of a good travel agent is their adaptability to change, especially in the current market—a skill that Rhodes prides herself on. Throughout the last seven years in the industry, Rhodes has tirelessly explored the planet, drawn inspiration, and inspired others to achieve their travel dreams. A lover of nature and wildlife travel, she has visited the Galapagos, the Amazon, New Zealand and Australia, as well as the sub-Antarctic. She is constantly working to expand her knowledge and specialize in niche destinations and programs. To her credit, she was nominated for the Rising Star Award at the Virtuoso Awards in Las Vegas.
“How many staffers sell $800,000 worth of leisure travel in one day? Not many,” says Anthony Tonkinson, director of Vision 2000 Western Canada. “How many can manage that in only four bookings? Natasha just booked four space travelers on Virgin Galactic. This young lady uses every avenue open to her to sell travel-blogging, Facebook, managing her own website, using e-mail blasts, etc. She focuses on high-end and is extremely successful. Why? She is passionate. Natasha spends her leisure time visiting exotic destinations. Her honeymoon was not spent lying on a beach, but hiking to Machu Picchu and in the Galapagos.”
Ashley Robinson, 26
Serving as an inspiration to anyone who has ever doubted that nagging voice inside telling them to “go for it,” Robinson’s career trajectory calls for a little faith in that little voice.
“The travel industry is definitely not where I imagined I’d end up, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” says Robinson. “I graduated from college with a degree in Dietetics, but was never truly happy following that path. I always thought back to the amazing whirlwind trip of Europe that followed my senior year of high school. This trip revealed my passion for new places and cultures, which, I knew, was something I wanted to share with others. I was unsure how to turn that passion into a career, but with guidance from an industry veteran I was finally able to follow my heart. For the past two years, I have spent my days being creative, helping people discover the world, and loving every second of my career. ”
“Ashley’s ability to listen to her clients and create unique, outstanding itineraries is her greatest asset,” says Rhonda Robinson, owner of Indigo Journeys. “This is evident whether she is assisting with air reservations to Guatemala for a volunteer group or planning a luxury honeymoon to Australia. I wish every travel agent from my generation had the opportunity to mentor and work with an agent under 30 who has Ashley’s skills and obvious natural ability to become one of the best in the industry.”
Tanisha Sanders, 29
American Express Travel
Courtesy of familial connections and exotic trips to Bermuda, the travel bug bit Sanders quite young, fostering a lifelong interest in foreign destinations and new cultures.
“I understand the excitement of discovering a new place, so I put all my energy and expertise into every client request,” says Sanders. “I ensure I’m available for their every need—even after hours.”
Sanders has accumulated two industry accolades, including High Achiever for 2008 and Pacesetter for 2009, working with a range of clients from families to corporate travelers.
“Tanisha has a true passion for travel, which has made her travel bookings seem almost effortless,” says Lisa Gutierrez, team leader. “When she is booking a trip for a client, it’s like she is booking it for herself; she becomes so engaged and focused on the client. Most noteworthy was a comprehensive year-long trip for a CEO and his family—she worked with him on a weekly basis to ensure his trip was everything he wanted and more. Tanisha is incredibly knowledgeable and approachable, and has definitely found her niche.”
Katie Smith, 28
American Express Travel
Although Smith didn’t step onto a plane until she was 18, a fascination for fantastic destinations has always been with her, even as a young child. Smith went on to study Hospitality Management at Farleigh Dickinson, and eventually “fell” into travel as a travel research assistant at American Express.
“Travel is all about knowledge,” Smith says. “Learning about new destinations and hearing about customer experiences. I’m proud to be a frequent flyer so I can share my travel expertise with my customers—primarily families planning customized travels from Disney to Austria. The biggest reward is having my customers come home and thank me. It’s about making their dreams come true.”
VJ Kaushik, a team leader with American Express Travel, is impressed with how quickly and adeptly Smith has become a travel counselor and calls her skills “phenomenal.” “Katie truly loves what she does and has amazing customer service,” says Kaushik. “She has really learned and absorbed so much from her teammates over the past three years, which has helped her become a travel counselor in such a short time. Katie specializes in family travel and has several repeat customers, all of whom always come back incredibly happy. She has also taken the initiative to complete special courses and programs to further her knowledge as a travel expert. She truly prides herself on outstanding customer service.”
Maegan Michelle Sonnier, 25
Associated Travel Group
Sonnier discovered her love for customer service as a waitress in high school, and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. “I started my internship with Associated Travel with the hopes of seeing new places and meeting new people,” she remembers. “Being a travel agent allows me to experience different places, work with a large variety of clients, and still have most weekends and holidays off. I enjoy qualifying a client and giving them that memorable experience they are looking for. Escorting groups is the most rewarding part of my job.” She is also a tour guide for eighth-graders to Washington, D.C., and Canada, and volunteers with Louisiana Honor Air escorting WW II Veterans to Washington, D.C. "I love sharing my knowledge with others and being there when they see it for themselves.”
Ben Harrington, Associated Travel’s general manager, first met Sonnier when she applied for an internship program while entering her senior year of college. “What first impressed me about Maegan was her love for life and thirst for learning. What I didn’t realize at the time was her willingness to do whatever it takes to satisfy the client and close the sale.”
“My internship gave me a great start,” Sonnier remembers. “I am the only person in the office that has worked in all departments including receptionist, front office support staff, accounting, selling agents, and educational tours. I’m also a board member and incoming president of the Louisiana Association of Accredited Travel Agencies. Between selling behind a desk, being a tour guide and being a representative of AATA, I’ve made great contacts that have allowed me to increase our business.”
Ansley Thomas, 28
Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited
Having worked as an event planner for a nonprofit organization, Thomas sought out the travel industry as the next step in her career for myriad reasons, including the exposure to new cultures, endless details of organization and, of course, the inherent camaraderie of sales.
Thomas says, “In less than six months, I’ve established a career and a large clientele, ranging from honeymooners to groups interested in active and exotic locations. Recently, I planned a honeymoon at Singita and Camp Jabulani in South Africa followed by the Four Seasons in Mauritius. The most exciting thing is that most of my clients are new to using a professional. To overcome the obstacles in this economy, I demonstrate to clients how a travel advisor saves them time and adds value.”
Founder of Currie & Co., Betty Jo Currie believes Thomas has a natural inclination for the travel business, explaining how quickly she has learned the ropes from selling decadent destinations to dealing with vendors.
“Ansley is loved by her peers, has a good grasp of details, is passionate about travel and intelligent about the way advisors can improve clients’ experiences,” says Jo Currie. “Six months after joining Currie & Co., she began managing clients on her own, and now, nearly 15 months after her first day, she is paying her bills and traveling to Tanzania. Sky’s the limit.”
Ilana Valo, 29
The Travel Network Corp.
Upon graduating with honors in Business Administration from a university in Stockholm, Valo took off some time to extensively explore Europe, thus catching the travel bug and sparking a career in the industry. Since then, her travels have taken her past Europe to the Caribbean, Mexico, the United States, South Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia and more. Her method is to approach her career like a designer, selecting elements of her clients’ personalities and tailoring a trip of their dreams. Recently, Valo was invited to be part of a select group of individuals on Virtuoso’s Next Generation Steering Committee, an all-volunteer future-focused group of members who work to develop tools and resources for the network.
“In my 30 years of being in the travel industry, I have come across few people who compare to Ilana’s talent, creativity and intelligence as a travel consultant,” says Ruby Silvertown, president of The Travel Network. “Since joining The Travel Network two years ago, Ilana has emerged as a rising star both in my office and at international travel meetings. Within the office, Ilana has improved our online sales conversion by 40 percent, streamlined internal processes to create operational efficiencies, developed tools for our agents to enhance sales and client interaction, and initiated partnerships with local businesses and organizations to increase agency awareness.”