LYNDA TURLEY, OWNER OF ALPINE TRAVEL OF SARATOGA IN SARATOGA, CA, IS FLYING HIGH. She's one of the few agents invited to become a Virgin Galactic Accredited Space Agent, which gives her the opportunity to sell Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic commercial space travel. This past month, Turley traveled to Pennsylvania to experience the NASTAR sub-orbital flight simulator, especially programmed for Virgin Galactic. "It was 10 times better than Space Mountain at Disneyland," declares Turley.
Last May was Turley's best month ever. "I sold a gorilla trekking trip to Rwanda, and I booked my first astronaut on Virgin Galactic," she notes. "Virtuoso and Virgin Galactic make us feel like we're pioneers in a new industry.
Turley says the best thing she's ever done was joining a fam to Kenya where she met her husband. The second best? Joining Virtuoso in 2000, she says. Turley was at dinner with another agent when she learned how Virtuoso helped build their business. This inspired her to join the consortium and sparked her enthusiasm for Virtuoso's destination and supplier training. "We rely on their onsite office to keep us up-to-date on hotels and suppliers," she says. "I'm presently creating a Spain and Portugal food and wine itinerary for a client, and their in-bound experts have been a great help."
"I've always had the travel bug, ever since I was little," says Turley. "Once I was older, I began saving my money for trips to places like Hawaii or Vancouver." Initially it was Turley's intention to become a flight attendant. "When I interviewed at Pan Am and was told my route would be Honolulu to Hong Kong, I balked at being so far away from my family," she says. Lynda Turley
This led to Turley's decision to attend the San Francisco School of Travel in San Jose, CA. "I got a job as a travel agent as soon as I graduated in 1980," says Turley. "It was harder than I expected—there was a much greater demand for detail than I'd thought there'd be." Turley describes her first agency's clientele as "carriage trade."
"I had great mentors at the agency in selling high-end travel and providing personal service," she says. Turley moved from selling trips to Disneyland to cruises and then finally to creating custom itineraries for their high-end clients.
"In the 80s, we didn't sell very much FIT travel," notes Turley. "People felt more comfortable traveling with a group." Turley has seen this change dramatically with clients demanding to do their own thing at their own pace. Her agency still arranges travel for small groups, although these groups are most often comprised of family members or like-minded friends traveling together.
"My dream trip is to take my kids, who at 10 and 12 are now old enough, to Tanzania or Botswana," she says. "I think it's important to get them traveling at a young age. They get to experience different cultures, try different foods, and it increases their understanding and tolerance of others."
Turley has some advice for fledgling agents: "Find a good, ethical agency and then absorb, absorb, absorb," she says. How do you go about determining if an agency is ethical? Turley advises approaching instructors at travel colleges for their recommendations.
"You have to find your passion and then sell it," says Turley. "For me, it's absolutely food and wine, family travel and animals. Book the travel you'd want to do yourself—then the passion you feel comes through to your clients."