Here they are: The future of the travel industry, the next generation of agents who will discover new places to go and new ways to connect with travelers. They exist in a 24/7 world of nonstop information, and communicate with each other, with other industry professionals and with clients through multiple platforms. They tweet. They share. They snap pictures and chat about their experiences. And they sell travel in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
They are Travel Agent’s top 30Under30 for 2016, which represents the ninth year of the program.
Over the past several years this feature has created a buzz in the industry and also helped fuel a community of young professionals who enjoy being a part of a special, growing niche in the travel business. This year’s list of young agents, all of whom were under 30 when the year began, is a testament to our combined success.
Candidates for 30Under30 nominate themselves for the program. Nominees must be currently employed at any level as a travel consultant, have completed a significant project for his or her travel agency, and be recognized by heads of his or her own organization as an emerging leader.
Holly Bauer, 27
While travel to Cuba is just becoming truly accessible to Americans, Holly Bauer beat most everyone to the punch — 10 years ago. “I experienced first-hand how travel can change your mind,” Bauer says. “I realized there was a great, big world out there.”
Working under Beth Flowers, director of leisure sales with Brownell, Bauer has progressed through the ranks to senior travel coordinator in only two years. Additionally, she was voted the 2015 Brownell MVP for Excellence, an award requiring nomination from her peers with the votes cast by the Brownell Leadership Team. Bauer is recognized as the agency’s top Park Hyatt sales producer, and she’s earned the nickname “Beth Flowers’ Chief of Staff” around the office due to her eye for details and her destination knowledge.
Among the most challenging trips Bauer has ever put together was a five-year travel plan for a family of five, with three daughters between 14 and 19 years old. Her team interviewed each family member to find out what was on their specific bucket lists to create a quarterly itinerary, carefully taking into account birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and even school finals.
Although Bauer has very quickly risen to senior travel coordinator, it hasn’t come without its share of difficulties. For instance, a difference Bauer has noticed between selling to Baby Boomers and Millennials is that the latter care less about the “flowery sales pitch” and are more “just the facts” oriented. Bauer encourages them to “think outside the beach,” and to experience all that’s out there. For instance, she’s pitching Colombia and Peru to her clients who have already experienced the Caribbean.
Anne Beddoe, 26
New York City
“I have always had an urge to explore the unknown and discover new [and] unfamiliar territory,” says Anne Beddoe. Since graduating from the University of Arizona, she has traveled across America, with each stop coinciding with a promotion throughout the travel industry.
After moves to Houston (where Beddoe started her career with Frosch) and Washington, D.C., she was given the opportunity to join Private Client Services (PCS), which required a third relocation, this time to New York. In only three years since her initial move, she has worked very closely with executive-level management and was given an agent spotlight in Frosch Monthly magazine.
In New York, Beddoe works with all age groups, but notes that it can be difficult to deal with Millennials, adding, however, that she understands what they need because it’s often identical to her own travel desires. Beddoe’s best sales pitch to Millennials is this: although the Internet may find them a good deal, once they’re abroad they’re on their own; by using an agent, she reassures her potential clients that she will be with them for the entirety of their journey.
Fittingly, a recent group of college graduates posed a very challenging trip for Beddoe: a 26-day itinerary throughout Asia, including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan. A long list of must-sees, a tight budget, and travelers coming and going on different flights and at different times throughout the trip gave Beddoe a lot to consider. She managed to keep all the moving parts organized.
That’s typical of Beddoe, according to Karen Schueller, the agency’s director, Private Client Services, who says, “Since joining [PCS], Anne has shown a proclivity to being meticulous in her planning and logistics.”
Samantha Bilkey, 26
After earning her Bachelor’s degree, Samantha Bilkey spent a year in Spain, where she “caught the travel bug.” Upon returning stateside, she found a job with Germantown Travel and hasn’t looked back since.
One destination Bilkey is pitching to her clients lately is Puerto Vallarta. The “fabulous spirit” of the destination got her hooked and, she says, “It’s a perfect spot for a beach getaway without losing the local culture.” Nearby in Punta de Mita, Bilkey recommends La Reina, a hole-in-the-wall fresh popsicle joint, offering flavors such as coconut, papaya and even spiked margarita. Knowledge of off-the-beaten-path stops sets Bilkey apart.
“I could tell she had a yearning to learn and grow in the industry,” Germantown Travel owner Carol Mastronardo says. “Since she joined our agency two years ago she’s made a positive impact not only with our regular clients, but also with new clients.”
Although it’s only her second year in the industry, Bilkey coordinates her company’s annual travel show, to which they invite several hundred clients and roughly 20 vendors. She’s even successfully planned her share of last-minute vacations — recently she was tasked with planning a vacation to the UK with only two weeks’ notice and a long to-do list. She was able to find her clients direct flights, hotels in England, Scotland and Ireland, rail travel and even a CIE tour of southern Ireland.
Although Bilkey has seen a negative impact from global issues such as the Zika virus and terrorism, she says it’s refreshing that some clients “refuse to stay put and let terrorism dictate where they can and can’t go.” For those who are still wary, she suggests Hawaii and Alaska.
Sarah Bird, 28
The Travel Authority, an affiliate of Altouur
Traverse City, MI
With her father in the Air Force, Sarah Bird became familiar with travel very early as her dad would send her letters from each destination, describing the country. After graduating from Northwestern University, it was not surprising that Bird became a travel agent.
While helping to book a cruise to Antarctica recently, Bird learned the client wished to extend their trip to a five-week journey through Patagonia. In addition to her client’s dietary restrictions (which made dining reservations more tedious), Bird had to find a way across very remote areas for her client. However, the trip went better than planned and they started working on an Arctic Circle trip before the client even returned.
Bird has already garnered several industry accolades, including recognition from Royal Caribbean and Azamara Club Cruises for highest sales in a quarter. She also won the American Express On Demand Star Consultant Award, which is presented to the agent with the highest score in their On Demand education program.
“Blending her degree in entrepreneurship with travel, [Bird] developed the essential qualities of leadership, initiative and innovation,” office manager Bonnie Pintozzi says. “Sarah seeks new opportunities and, as a true Millennial, responds extremely well to coaching and encouragement, with impressive results.”
A recent trip to Iceland, along with that country’s recent tourism boom, has helped Bird book plenty of trips there. Because it’s a small country, travelers can easily visit multiple sites, which offers plenty of flexibility — something, she says, Millennials are looking for.
“From waterfalls and whale watching, to snowmobiling, [seeing] Northern Lights and ice caves, it’s a great year-round destination and has much to offer in every season,” Bird says.
|Leigh Elizabeth Bryan|
Leigh Elizabeth Bryan, 29
Avondale Travel, an affiliate of Valerie Wilson Travel
Just four years into the travel agent business and Leigh Elizabeth Bryan is president of her agency. Although her father started Avondale Travel in 1974, it wasn’t as simple as just inheriting the company. In 1989, her father sold it and opened a small agency in Orange Park, FL. Bryan came aboard Orange Park Travel in 2013 when the company had only three employees and was close to closing its doors. Since then, Avondale Travel has been reborn with two offices, eight full-time employees, and six independent contractors.
Prior to coming aboard Orange Park Travel, Bryan joined Valerie Wilson Travel in 2010.
“Shortly after Leigh joined the business, she has been blazing her own trail,” says Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of VWT. “Smart, creative, personable, and an avid traveler, she had a vision to reshape the business.”
While Bryan’s experience in sales, marketing, and customer relations management has helped her flourish as the president, getting a first-hand experience of a location is key to flourishing as an agent. After a train trip through the Canadian Rockies, she has been selling it to clients either as its own trip or an add-on to an Alaskan cruise.
“My enthusiasm, detailed descriptions and personal insights spark their interest,” Bryan says.
In addition to first-hand experiences, Bryan suggests social media is vital to the success of a modern travel agent, especially when coaxing bookings from Millennials. “Selling without selling,” she calls it.
“Posting pictures of personal experiences and reviews of destinations and hotels is a fantastic way to gain new Millennial clients” who, she notes, are always looking for access to new adventures. VIP treatments at a hotel, private tours in the Vatican, and lunch with a wine boutique owner during non-business hours are a few ideas she pitches to potential clients.
Keith Cohens, 25
Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel
Woodland Hills, CA
Keith Cohens knows that big groups can pose huge problems — but even larger rewards.
With an appreciation for solving the obstacles that group travel can throw at a young advisor, Cohens enjoys his current role as a corporate travel agent for Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel, where he thrives on providing solutions to making even the most challenging of trips a success.
“Since I work in the corporate department, we do not only get single travelers, couples or families,” says Cohens. “Sometimes we get entire groups of people.” His last such booking “was about 30 people, all on the same flights. Learning how to do flights for a group of 30 can be very challenging, with name changes, waivers and trying to make sure everyone is happy with the seating. It can be very difficult, but seeing the clients happy and satisfied with their trip is always very rewarding.”
Before getting hired at Frosch, Cohens was finishing up his Bachelor’s Degree at California State University of Northridge as a Recreation, Tourism and Management major.
“I grew up in a small town and always had a thirst to venture out of my comfort zone and discover new places around the world,” he says. “I am still getting my feet wet as a new traveler, but this industry has given me the ability to achieve my dreams of seeing and experiencing as much of the world as possible.”
“Keith has been an exemplary agent,” says Liz Kramer, the agency’s administrative services manager. “His strength has been in providing support to a number of our agents both in corporate and leisure travel — and always with a smile.”
Lauren David, 29
Lauren David specializes in the Asia-Pacific region and the Maldives, so she understands the magnitude of these trips both in distance and expense. It’s that magnitude that inspires her to do her very best on planning these trips. “I tend to book a lot of once-in-a-lifetime trips for honeymoons, anniversaries or bucket list items,” she says. “Getting it right is important.”
Since joining SmartFlyer, a Virtuoso company, just four years ago, David has doubled her referral rate each year she’s been in the industry. That isn’t her only accomplishment, though. She’s also been awarded Top Agency Southeast Asia Luxury Producer for 2014/2015, Top Agency Luxury Honeymoon Specialist 2014/2015 and received an Agency Acknowledgement as Asia Pacific Destination Specialist of the year for 2015. She’s also been quoted in the latest addition of Virtuoso Life magazine for her tips on things to do in Saigon.
David says her most popular clientele are Millennials. Her key to targeting that audience? “Social media is a great way to connect with Millennials,” she says. “I use Instagram and Facebook to promote the destinations I travel to, as well as interesting articles I find. The more people who know the services I can provide and book their vacations through me, the more referrals come my way.”
David says she wouldn’t be where she is today if not for Chloe Cipollone, the owner of NMT2Luxury, an independent affiliate of SmartFlyer, whose success in the industry as a female business owner, as well as being a working mother, was an inspiration to her. “She took a chance on an eager girl trying to break into the travel industry and taught me the ropes.”
Meredith Donaldson, 25
Reading Travel Agent’s sixth annual “30under30” back in 2013 is what inspired Meredith Donaldson to seek a career in the travel industry. “Knowing new advisors were succeeding at this business gave me the confidence to turn my travel hobby into a career,” Donaldson says.
After graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism, Donaldson headed for San Francisco looking at top agencies in the Bay Area. She stumbled upon a listing stating that Casto was seeking an experienced employee with Sabre knowledge…of which she had none. Figuring she had nothing to lose, Donaldson applied for the position and landed the spot. At just 25 years old, Donaldson became the youngest member of the Casto team. In March of this year, she completed the Virtuoso Certified Travel Advisor program. Most recently, she helped Casto transition from Virtuoso to the Signature Travel Network.
Being the youngest in her company, Donaldson sought out connections with peers her own age, which led her to find Young Travel Professionals (YTP). In 2014, she was invited to be a part of the Travel Future Lab Think Tank in New York City, and since then she has joined the YTP Events & FAM committee, where she helps put together educational trips specifically designed to help YTP agents pursue destination learning.
Since beginning her career at Casto, Donaldson has helped design a three-month-long on-boarding and training program that shortened the time it takes to be a highly effective agent from a year down to three months.
Though new to the industry, it isn’t hard to hear other professionals singing the praises of Donaldson. Director of Casto Vacations Jere Caroll refers to her as “a sharp, innovative, brand-new-to- the-industry advisor.”
Rebekah Doran, 27
Within her two years at TravelStore, a Signature company, Rebekah Doran has not only been learning, but she’s been teaching her peers as well, according to senior vice president Dan Ilves. “We at TravelStore are proud to see her growing in her expertise, as we also learn from her,” he says.
Doran credits her love for all things global to her roots as an undergraduate student in Washington, D.C., where she was surrounded by international friends and coworkers. A self-proclaimed “farm girl from Kentucky,” she never dreamed she’d be able to say she’s been to Egypt, Austria and Cambodia.
Doran has proven to be good at her craft, as she graduated a year-long internship program set up by TravelStore in a mere nine months. The internship, designed for younger agents to shadow a high-producing agent, proved to be easy enough for her, since by the time the program was wrapping up, she had already begun developing her own clientele.
What’s next for Doran? She’s been selected to go on an exclusive FAM trip to the Brando in Tahiti this spring for Signature’s nine top-producing agents.
“I live by the Maya Angelou phrase ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,’” Doran says. This is the motto she uses when planning itineraries for her clients, all of whom are special to her, “especially the young honeymoon clients, because I recognize how important this trip is to them.” Maybe this is also because Doran had her first travel-planning experience putting together her own honeymoon.
Alyssa Edelen, 26
AlyssaAllDay Adventures, LLC
Alyssa Edelen opened her own company at just 23 years young. After studying abroad in Cambodia, she began traveling and volunteering abroad as much as she could: backpacking in Europe, teaching in South Africa, trekking in Peru. After realizing all her free time was being spent researching tours and destinations, she knew she had to pursue a career in the travel industry. Thus, AlyssaAllDay Adventures, LLC, (an Avoya Travel Network company), was born.
It’s Edelen’s enthusiasm for travel that lands her clients day in and day out. Her desire to help others experience the world is apparent in her message, prompting clients to choose her over another agent. Avoya Travel’s Senior Vice President of Sales Scott Koepf agrees. “A globetrotter, having visited more than 60 countries, Alyssa translates her love of travel and unique experiences into vacations she plans for clients,” Koepf says.
In her previous position as an agent for Liberty Travel, Edelen was often awarded highest sales of the day as well as most insurance policies sold in a month. Her favorite “award,” however, was when a client of hers told her manager she was the best agent they’d ever had, because she showed passion for her job and treated them like family.
Currently, Edelen’s home and workspace is abroad in Madrid. She’s fallen in love with the Spanish language, the people and especially the food and landscape. Spain is officially the easiest country for Edelen to pitch, as she feels there’s something for every style of traveler. She jokes that she often “suggests a one-way ticket to my clients, because I know they won’t want to leave.”
Amanda Gard, 24
In The Know Experiences
New York City
Prior to becoming a travel advisor, Amanda Gard had been working for a luxury home rental company in Los Angeles. This little taste of the travel industry fed her will to explore other areas of the business when she moved to New York just last year, where she took the first step of her new career.
Overcoming obstacles is no new feat for Gard. She’s frequently working to meet the demands of royals, celebrities and other high-profile clientele. She recently planned a honeymoon that was supposed to stop in Rome, London, Rio Buenos Aires and St. Barts. Because of the Zika virus, she had to cancel the South American portion of the trip and reroute the last half of the honeymoon at the last minute, including all the flights of this couple’s staff and security as well.
Gard is a close friend of Austin Abram, a Travel Agent 30Under30 alumnus. What Gard really admires about her mentor is her knowledge of the industry and worldwide destinations. The two have grown close as they both entered the travel industry at a young age. They talk frequently about destinations both familiar and unknown in hopes of getting Gard to where she wants to be as an agent, which, if you ask her, is to make as big an impact as Abram has in the industry.
The most rewarding aspect of her job? “My role as a travel advisor has brought out a creative side of me that I never knew existed,” Gard says. “It’s outlined so many opportunities to grow, both personally and professionally, through the challenges and rewards within the industry.”
Marley Gibbons, 28
Skylark, an affiliate of Ovation
New York City
Marley Gibbons has leveraged a diverse range of interests into a position as lead agent at Skylark, a travel agency with a cutting-edge business model.
An affiliate of Ovation Travel and a Virtuoso member, Skylark combines curated DIY online booking with the service of a human travel agent for an annual fee. Gibbons, who describes herself as both a luxury travel advisor and an aspiring entrepreneur, came to this agency from a background in multimedia journalism and global politics. Gibbons started her career working as a freelance journalist and public relations account coordinator before making the jump into travel with positions at Jetsetter and Indagare.
When she became the lead agent at Ovation, one of her first tasks was planning a three-week trip exploring Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand for one of the company’s investors. After hours of reviewing itineraries, calls to New Zealand and Australia and several late-night phone conversations just prior to departure, Gibbons was able to pull together a trip that included such “wow” activities as a private helicopter safari over volcanic White Island, glamping under the stars near Ayer’s Rock and a personalized guide in Oahu.
“In just a few short years her handle on the luxury travel business, personal skills that lead to strong supplier relationships, and her ability to relate to luxury clients makes her one of our star advisors selling over $3 million a year,” says Jack S. Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations. “From private islands to private jets, Marley just ‘gets it.’”
Steven Gould, 28
From front desk agent to agency owner describes Steven Gould’s rapid entry into the travel industry. After realizing that law school “was not for me,” he decided to move into travel and began working as a front desk agent at a Holiday Inn Express while working on an Associate Degree in hospitality and tourism. After gaining a Bachelor’s in hospitality management, Gould took an internship as a travel agent through a local agency, an experience that inspired him to use his Master’s Degree in public administration and entrepreneurial skills to open Gould’s Travel, an Ensemble member, in 2010.
At his company, Gould has applied his adaptability to deliver extremely complex trips for his clients, even when plans change on short notice. For example, one client, who had originally reached out to Gould to plan a seven-day destination wedding cruise, decided to cancel the ceremony at the last minute in favor of the “honeymoon experience of a lifetime.” The result? A three-month honeymoon ranging from Spain to Italy by air, land and sea. The clients started with a flight from Tampa to Barcelona for a seven-day western Mediterranean cruise, followed by a rail itinerary from Barcelona through France, England, Ireland and Germany before settling in Italy. Once there, they explored Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast before embarking on a two-week Norwegian Jade cruise from Rome (Civitavecchia) before flying back to Florida.
“Fortunately for me, my business has grown exponentially over the years, even through recent economic downturns,” Gould says. “I attribute my success to client referrals, client retention, client follow-up, partnerships with my suppliers, proper marketing techniques and, most importantly, great customer service.”
Lindsey Hippen, 29
Humble Travel Service, Ltd.
Cedar Falls, IA
Although she has only been a travel agent for a little over two years, Lindsey Hippen has already garnered attention by being nominated for her region’s “Best of the Best” award as a Cedar Valley Travel Advisor for 2016, a success she attributes to the support and encouragement of her office mates.
“Without a doubt, my managers and coworkers are my mentors, especially Annie Humble-Gouger, my office manager, and Diana Weishaar, who has transitioned to manage our West Des Moines office,” Hippen says. “My office shares an unusual amount of encouragement and support among its members. We all know that it’s a big world out there, and that no one person can do or know it all.”
Hippen has also used a policy of honesty and close connection with her suppliers to deliver for her clients, even when it comes to challenging cost-conscious trips.
“My client came to me asking for a trip to Europe that included five countries over three weeks of travel — on a shoestring budget,” Hippen says. “With the help of our Virtuoso consortium travel suppliers and personal experience, I pieced together a trip that fit my clients’ budget and destination needs without compromising the quality of the trip. I remained honest about areas that just wouldn’t fit, but maintained the integrity of the client’s request very well.”
Most recently Hippen returned from Alaska on a seven-day Holland America Line cruise, and she says she is ready to use that experience to help her agency host its annual Alaska Show.
Mandy Hough, 28
While Mandy Hough says she always wanted to be a travel agent, it almost did not happen.
“My family used this agency to book our trips while I was growing up,” Hough says. “However, I honestly didn’t know they still existed until my dad mentioned a position was still available.”
After that, Hough applied to every position she could in North and South Carolinas, eventually landing at a AAA agency, where she went on to become a President’s Club recipient for all four years she was eligible.
“Since she began her career with AAA Vacations five years ago, Mandy has been one to watch,” says Chari Knox, branch manager at AAA. “From helping a stranded traveler who lost her passport to handcrafting Disney-themed countdown calendars, her attention to detail and passion for designing awe-inspiring vacations is unmatched.”
Hough was challenged in her very first year by an FIT trip for a set of demanding clients, who wanted to eschew centrally located hotels with traditional amenities for places in local neighborhoods — while still changing destinations every one or two nights.
“I had to use more than a handful of vendors to complete this itinerary and I worried the whole time they were away,” Hough says. “Luckily, my clients knew themselves better than I did and had an amazing trip. That trip taught me a lot, both about sales and customer service.”
Greg Jacobs, 27
Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel
Woodland Hills, CA
Part of what makes Greg Jacobs one of Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel’s top Disney specialists is his confidence in the brand.
“I have stayed at Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons and I know that Disney is on the same level with their service,” says Jacobs. “The personal attention to detail on such a massive scale is unheard of.”
And Jacobs also knows the importance of a broad skills set, keeping himself familiar with other products and a variety of destinations in the event he needs to book something that isn’t exactly Disney.
“The most intricate trip I have ever done would have to be an FIT up the Oregon coast,” he says. “There is nothing of familiarity at all. Also, no one else in the office had ever done anything like that. So, I researched the whole trip, which included stops at seven cities that I didn’t know. Finding hotels and things to do was the challenge because these clients usually stay at a five-star property.
“But in the end, I was able to find all the hotels, mostly being Best Western and Holiday Inn, and finding different activities such as a Monument Rocks and a cheese tour. Now, while these may not be the normal tours and trips you can come to expect from a luxury client, they are happy and that is the most important thing. Nothing else matters unless they are happy.”
On a recent trip to France, Jacobs fell in love — with Paris. He says he felt at home there, enjoying “the calmness…and the beauty.” He is also quick to dispel the notion of alleged French “rudeness,” noting that “I never experienced that.”
Carryn Kliesen, 27
Carryn Kliesen became a travel agent out of a desire to encourage people to become involved in communities outside their own.
“I want people to push their boundaries and try new things because that is how you become passionate about something,” Kliesen says. “It is my hope that by introducing people to wildlife around the world, they will be inclined to support conservation efforts for those places to which they now have an emotional attachment.”
Kliesen’s dedication to conservation extends back to even before her career as an agent at Groupit Travel, a member of Ensemble, to when she led elephant conservation programs in Thailand for high school students. She also spent time backpacking through the National Parks of Southeast Asia, and she maintains a blog called One Wild Life to document her adventures. That blog still serves her as a travel agent. For example, after a recent trip to Peru, a woman who had been following the trip contacted Kliesen, who wound up planning a vacation for her.
Maintaining a strong social media presence is also a strategy Kliesen credits for helping to attract Millennial travelers, although she warns against a hard sales pitch.
“At Groupit we advertise travel in general instead of trying to sell our services,” Kliesen says. “We want to get people enthusiastic about going somewhere and let them know if they need help, we’re here for them.”
“Carryn’s enthusiasm for her chosen career is contagious and actually encourages all of us at Groupit Travel to step it up a notch with regard to the travel experiences we create and design for our clients,” says Stacey Ray, CEO, Groupit Travel.
Travel House, Inc.
Prior to becoming a travel consultant, Amanda Kost worked for retail giant Nordstrom, where she polished her skills in client relationships and delivering quality customer service. Kost soon learned that there was perhaps a stronger career fit for her skills set when she studied abroad in Rome.
“Out of all of the careers in the travel industry, I am best suited as a travel consultant because I love working with people, the travel perks, and that each day I learn something new about a different part of the world,” says Kost.
Through Virtuoso, Kost has mastered her professional development programs. She is a member of the Lead Generation Program, Virtuoso Reserve and Merrill Lynch Preferred Advisor Program. She gives credit to the latter for her ability to cultivate clients.
“When I am talking to a potential client, I start by explaining the value I can bring during the planning stages so that they can travel better and smarter,” she says. “I ask several questions during the discovery process, which gives me insight as to what type of itineraries and properties to suggest to best fit the client’s needs. Then I collaborate with them and review the possible options and tailor the itinerary based on their interests and feedback.”
But perhaps Kost’s strongest attribute is that she understands that an interview is simply just a good, comfortable conversation.
“I’m always amazed how good she is at the conversation, and how she answers clients’ questions,” says Eleanor Nelson, owner of Travel House. “She pushes herself to learn more about destinations to ensure that her clients have the ultimate experience. The highest compliment for Amanda is that I’m comfortable with her planning my family vacations.”
Joanna Kuflik, 30
First in Service
New York City
As a self-described “aviation geek,” Joanna Kuflik’s love for travel at a young age blossomed into a full-time passion shortly after she studied abroad in Prague. After graduating from Emory University, Kuflik embarked on a career in advertising in account management, working with Air France, Hyatt and numerous other esteemed travel industry clients.
After years of planning trips for friends and family on the side, Kuflik decided, in 2014, to turn her enthusiasm for planning luxury travel into a career, “and I haven’t looked back since,” she says. Now a luxury travel advisor and independent contractor at First in Service, she knows that the advantage she has over online travel agencies is the relationships that an advisor builds.
“I tell potential clients that sure, you can easily book direct or online, but these computer engines don’t have personal connections with these hotels and operators,” she says. “I’ve worked hard to establish these relationships, which allow me to go above and beyond for my clients, getting them that triple upgrade that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Computer engines don’t have a work ethic or the ability to follow up. No one will work harder than me to ensure a client’s trip is beyond their expectations.”
Such hard work has not escaped the notice of First in Service’s CEO Fernando Gonzalez, who says that Kuflik “truly represents the agent of the future at First in Service — one who can help pave the way for our growing experiential and luxury leisure initiatives.”
Katie Levent, 30
Elite Travel Management Group
Palm Harbor, FL
Katie Levent has been involved in the travel industry since she was a teenager, working at Elite Travel Management Group (a member of Travel Savers), which was founded by her mother, Tammy Levent.
“At 9, her tongue was severed and she was told she would never talk again,” says Tammy Levent. “She proved everyone wrong. [Motown Records founder] Berry Gordy gave Katie an Unsung Hero Award for her courage and determination. It’s not an industry award, but shows how she inspires others.”
During her time at Elite Travel, Katie Levent has contributed to the growth of the agency by creating a thumbprint with destination weddings, making the agency among the first to sell in the niche in 1995. She is now vice president of the agency.
Since then, Levent has established herself as a go-to agent for planning highly complex destination weddings. For example, one of her most challenging weddings was an $800,000 affair for 150 people at Atlantis in the Bahamas. She arranged the shipment of wine from the couple’s winery to the Bahamas for use at the reception, along with a custom wedding-themed label for each bottle. On site, however, she was forced to deal with a host of problems when rain forced a last-minute move into an aquarium inside the hotel.
“We thought all was well, but when we went into the reception area, there was a huge mess behind the stage where the band was supposed to be,” says Levent. “We had to think fast and had them put up a curtain which cost them $10,000! It was crazy…but we pulled it off.”
|Meg Taylor Mills|
Meg Taylor Mills, 28
Epperly Travel (an affiliate of Century Travel)
A graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in Social Studies Education, Meg Taylor Mills had her sights set on a teaching career before a year abroad in Australia followed by a year living in Paris opened up her eyes to the joys of travel. But it wasn’t until she moved back to Atlanta that she learned she could make a career out of it.
“I happened to meet my current boss, Lindsey Epperly (a 2010 30Under30 winner), at a church event and discovered that travel agents still exist [and] were doing some really unique things,” says Mills. “I had to know more, and Lindsey kindly obliged to meet me for lunch one day to chat about the ups and downs of working as a consultant. By the end of the lunch, I had a job offer.”
Mills was even able to leverage that year living in Paris, offering clients tips that only someone who lived there would know. Her expertise even led to testimonials from satisfied clients, such as this one:
“In Paris, Meg really helped us optimize our time with fitting everything we wanted to see into our four days. She was able to suggest which cafés and bakeries had the best treats. Overall, our trip was unforgettable!”
And while she enjoys planning trips to Europe, she also knows how challenging it can be to satisfy the Europe-bound clients who “want to squeeze in as much of Europe as they can in a short amount of time,” she says. “So a big part of my job is discerning what is actually most important to them on the trip and how to maximize their time.”
Megan Paleczny, 25
As a student at Indiana University studying Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management, Megan Paleczny was already on the right career path. What ultimately convinced her to work as a travel consultant was a study-abroad program called “Semester at Sea.“
“We had to plan our own travel for when we were in ports [with] limited Internet and resources, so it really tested my knowledge and research skills. Planning trips for my fellow classmates and friends was a highlight of my semester.” After orchestrating excursions to the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and a safari in South Africa, “I knew I wanted to plan travel for a living.”
Earlier this year she was chosen to be on Frosch’s FT2 advisory board, which the Signature-affiliated agency created to “inspire Millennials to work in the travel industry,” Paleczny tells us. “I was nominated by my manager, Joanne Esplin, [along with] a few other employees within Frosch.”
Esplin describes Paleczny as a “huge asset” to the agency. “Her knowledge of the travel industry before coming to Frosch was extensive, and it has only grown since being an agent. Her kind-hearted spirit allows her to make fantastic relationships with her clients.”
Her knowledge of social media also comes into play, especially when it comes to attracting Millennial clients. “Millennials are extremely active on social media, so it is important for an agent to be as well,” she says. When she sees friends posting about their becoming engaged, for example, “I inform them that I am a travel agent and would love to help make travel arrangements for their guests, or help plan their honeymoon. This goes for any type of post that involves travel.”
Cally Pirrung, 26
Jet Set World Travel
What makes Cally Pirrung worthy of 30Under30 recognition, says Jet Set World Travel President Julia Douglas, is her “insatiable curiosity, unique sense of fun and careful attention to detail,” combined with “extensive destination experience.” The latter was garnered largely by traveling the world with her family while growing up. At age 26, she has already visited 51 countries.
While she enjoyed her first post-college job in entertainment production for a media company, the pull of travel was too great to resist. She reached out to her cousin, the aforementioned Julia Douglas, who “invited me out to the Signature Sales meeting where I shadowed Jet Set and learned about the various roles within the industry. Upon returning, I knew undoubtedly that I wanted to sell travel.” She soon excelled at, in Douglas’s words, “world-class itinerary design.”
Among the places she’s visited that she speaks most ardently about is Bhutan. “I tell clients a bit about
the history of the country as one of the most authentic places still existing in our world today. Bhutan has preserved its culture, traditions and environment incredibly well.” Combined with its five-star accommodations, it’s a “perfect destination,” she says, for luxury travelers seeking “a life-changing adventure.”
When dealing with her fellow Millennials, Pirrung says, “showing and explaining to them the benefits and added value that travel advisors bring to their trip is huge. It is also important to tell them how we make money, so they know they are paying the same prices [or better] than what they would find themselves.” She also strongly suggests using “operators that break down costs, so [Millennial clients] can see exactly what they are paying for and don’t feel there are any hidden costs.”
Kathleen Robinson, 28
Willett Travel, a Frosch Company
Studio City, CA
Kathleen Robinson’s elevator pitch to clients includes “outlining the added value, such as upgraded amenities, they would receive if booking through me, but especially knowing that there is someone who will always pick up the phone no matter where they might be in the world at any hour.” With everything going on in the world, “it is reassuring to our clients that they are able to speak to someone in their own language, should they have any questions or concerns while traveling.”
Robinson, whom Branch Manager Tama Holve says “consistently demonstrates courtesy and grace under pressure,” considers herself fortunate that most of her clients “are quite adventurous and often travel in groups, so Zika and terrorism have not affected [them]. I have a group of 20 going on a cruise in October and ports include Egypt, Cyprus, and Israel to name a few — and I have not had one person cancel.”
Robinson has been selected for Frosch’s FT2 division to help recruit and retain new young professionals. During a recent FT2 retreat in Turks and Caicos, she posted frequently on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, which led to two new bookings there. “The pictures speak for themselves and it’s quite easy to sell once clients see the water,” she says.
For clients who prefer to travel within the U.S., she recommends a personal favorite, Traverse City, MI. She says they can experience the same clarity of water (“albeit much colder”) as Turks and enjoy “activities galore [and] an incredible food and wine scene.”
“I believe there is something out there for everyone,” she says, emphasizing that it is up to the travel agent “to assure them that no matter where they are going, it will be a special trip.”
|Hannah Lee Schremp|
Hannah Lee Schremp, 28
Go Girl Travel
Hannah Lee Schremp is a go-to agent for any travel involving Australia or New Zealand, having lived and worked in both countries, and is certified by New Zealand Tourism and is a recognized Australian Specialist.
Thanks to her knowledge on the destinations, Schremp was able to plan a detailed, tailored vacation for a family of three to the lands Down Under. She executed a successful vacation by being in constant communication with all the family members, helping dad navigate the price points and flight deals, developing an itinerary with mom and making sure everyone hit all the must-dos on their “bucket list,” which included winery visits, whale watching, bike tours and helicopter rides. The trip didn’t just leave the family with a memorable experience; it also left Schremp feeling fulfilled. “To hear that they had fallen in love with two countries that are so near and dear to my heart is what it is all about,” she says.
Schremp entered the travel industry after the agency owner, Ralph Iantosca, recognized her big personality and knack for customer service, while she was working at an upscale Dallas restaurant. After joining the Go Girl Travel team, she excelled and went on to graduate from the Virtuoso Certified Travel Academy.
Schremp says she continues to make time to work on her travel education and sharpen her skills. She uses those skills and standout customer service abilities to connect with clients, including her contemporaries. “Millennials have the ability to do their homework…so it’s very important that you [the agent] do the same, not just on the destination, but about your client as well,” she says.
Alyssa Scott, 27
Alyssa Scott knows how to face a challenge head on. This Millennial planned an extensive honeymoon extravaganza for a couple in Greece with a couple of twists thrown in.
The trip started off like any other honeymoon, a romantic trip for two to Santorini for a week. But the second week was spent in Mykonos with 20 of the couples’ closest friends and family. Scott was ready to plan a memorable experience for all of them, she organized the nightlife, boat charters, dining menus and a private party complete with fireworks. Before departure, Scott even created a cocktail recipe for the guests, using Greek liqueur, to get the travelers excited about their trip.
“Alyssa Scott is extremely intelligent, technologically adept and innately curious — attributes that contribute to her developing into a top travel agent,” says Lois Mitchell, senior director at Protravel International. She is also a team player, she excels and helps others to succeed by writing reports about her own travel experiences, which then get filed with her agency as a resource. “Her analysis is extremely valuable to all the agents who need updates from a keen unbiased observer,” adds Mitchell.
One of Scott’s recent trips was to South Africa, where she was able to meet vendors and learn about the destination. She shared her experience through social media and already has seen interest from her clients, having secured two safaris for this year and pending requests for 2017.
Lesley Stone, 29
“It gives me such joy knowing I play a small part in people’s lives when they take the vacation of their dreams,” says Lesley Stone. With that positive outlook and dedication, it’s no wonder why Stone makes a superb agent and was able to make $1 million in sales in a little more than 10 months at Legacy Travel, which set a record for the agency. She was also one of the first agents in her office to become a Signature Specialist.
“While her sales keep her busy, she does not allow them to detract from her customer service. Her clients love her,” says Philip Banks, president of Legacy Travel. Banks has received numerous accolades regarding Stone, with clients lauding her knowledge and patience; calling her “amazing,” “friendly and extremely helpful”; and stating that the agency is “truly blessed to have someone like her on your team.”
One trip Stone sent her clients on was a European cruise, for which she planned their pre- and post-sail trips. Her clients experienced Rome, Monte Carlo, Zermatt and St. Moritz, all without a hitch.
As for interacting with Millennial clients, Stone says she communicates clearly and is always honest when it comes to the destination and pricing. She also tries to provide immediate information, as she knows Millennials don’t like to wait for details. In addition to understanding how best to serve a wide range of clients, Stone also knows the value in teamwork.
“When you book through Legacy Travel you get a team and not just one person, and we’re here to guide you before, during and after travel,” she says.
Alexandra Tucker, 28
Auto Club Group
Alexandra Tucker’s personality makes her a strong, desirable travel agent. She’s organized, has an eye for the details, and is comfortable with customer service and sales. She’s consistently been a top-producing agent at AAA and since 2013 she has been one of the President’s Elite travel consultants at Auto Club Group.
With her expertise, Tucker was able to plan a six-week trip to New Zealand and Australia for a client, while she herself was fairly unfamiliar with the destination. She provided her client top-notch suggestions thanks to her own extensive research. The complex itinerary was a success and included stops in many different towns and cities along with several FIT packages, rail tickets, car rentals, sightseeing experiences and domestic and international airfare.
Her own travel took her to China earlier this year, where she visited locations often missed by Western travelers, including coastlines, beach towns and mountain regions. As for how she would pitch a similar trip to her clients, Tucker says, “This type of trip appeals to my more experienced travelers who may have seen the popular cities already and want a unique perspective and immersive experience.”
Another personality trait Tucker possesses that makes her an ideal agent, as her manager and mentor, Karen Fusaro, would be quick to tell you, is her determination. She’s always finding new ways to connect with clients, who are spread across a wide range of generations. She reaches potential travelers through grassroots marketing efforts, destination highlight events, expos and more. And it looks as if she will have no problem attracting clients in the future. “Once you provide a great service and connect with these travelers they are quick to tell their friends about it,” Tucker explains.
Myste Wylde, 28
Beverly Hills, CA
Myste Wylde has accomplished quite a bit since entering the industry just two years ago. In just her second year in travel, she was chosen to co-chair the SoCal ASTA Millennials & Mentors program, where she developed a special format that came to be the signature of the meetings. At the same time she held the officer of membership position for Millennials in Travel — LA and was recently promoted to officer of development for that organization and will be leading the chapter moving forward.
It’s not just Wright’s leadership abilities that make her an excellent travel agent, however. She can also plan intricate, luxury trips, such as the one she created through New England for a group of travelers. The journey covered top experiences in Boston, including dining at Neptune Oyster and Giacomo’s. Then it was off to a Red Sox game for the men, while the ladies enjoyed the Tanglewood Wine & Food Classic and the Boston Symphony.
“Her attention to detail is exceptional and she takes great initiative in whatever projects we have with an incredible precision and creativity,” says Mickey Weill, the agency’s vice president of sales development and Wright’s mentor.
Wright’s creativity really shines when it comes to documenting her travel experiences on social media. She uses a drone to provide professional aerial photography and a GoPro to capture more high-adrenaline activities such as cliff diving. “Anything I pitch will be marketed on all relevant platforms,” she explains. “I’m constantly looking for new and innovative ways to deliver information.”
Melody Yeh, 26
Cruise & Travel Experts
Spring Lake, MI
Melody Yeh thought she would spend her life as a chemist after earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and working for a pharmaceutical company. But after feeling unfulfilled at her day job, she found that her true calling is travel and followed in the steps of her mother, who is also an agent.
“I am most impressed by the fact that Melody took the initiative to invest her personal time and funds into learning the travel industry on her own before joining our agency,” says Tom Baumann, president of Cruise & Travel Experts.
Now, Yeh spends the days planning special romantic trips and honeymoons, as romance is her specialty. In fact, most of Yeh’s clients are interested in weddings or honeymoons in the Caribbean or Mexico. Yeh sells the destinations by visiting as many resorts as possible, which she says helps her have an advantage over online booking engines. Case in point, by the end of the year, Yeh will have visited more than 30 resorts.
“Clients benefit from my personal knowledge and resort photos that I have taken myself,” she explains. In addition, Yeh isn’t afraid to take on a challenging trip outside of the tropics, as she created a honeymoon for a couple through Central Italy and the Amalfi Coast. She was able to explain realistic expectations to the newlyweds, who originally wanted to see all of Italy in just 10 days on a limited budget. Yeh helped the honeymooners focus their travel itinerary and convinced them to increase their budget for a more romantic trip. She says the experience taught her that, “sometimes not giving a client what they ask for is giving them exactly what they need.”