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 30 Under 30 for 2013.
Over the past few 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 industry. This year’s list of young agents, all of whom were under 30 when the year began, is a testament to our combined success.
We trust that by being named to this list, the selected young agents will be encouraged to stay in an industry that so clearly embraces new talent. We are also inviting them to participate, along with past “Under 30” alumni, in our fourth annual Young Leaders Conference during Luxury Travel Exchange International in Las Vegas. Now, read on for the 30 freshest and most innovative young travel agents in the business.
Austin Abram, 24
New York, NY
“Austin is a star,” says Lia Batkin, co-founder of In the Know Experiences. “From the moment she started working for us right out of college, she exuded a remarkable desire to learn everything about the industry and that she did. Austin now runs two of our largest accounts in the entire company with complete perfection.”
Abram handles Entertainment and International clientele at In the Know Experiences, and her smooth handling of her celebrity clients has brought her to the attention of major hoteliers.
“An instance of positive feedback that really stands out took place while [I was] out to dinner with my bosses, Seth and Lia, and a hotelier from Montage Beverly Hills,” Abram says. “At the beginning of dinner, the hotelier made a point to compliment my hard work, attention to detail, and overall successful management of our top-grossing celebrity client’s booking at their hotel.”
What does Abram look for in a standout hotel for her clients, particularly the younger set? She recommends hotels with the latest technology, such as using tablets to control room temperature and lighting, and multiple social and dining venues to give the hotel its own culture.
“Hotels that really attract me and travelers from my generation are those that offer more than just the basic lobby and hotel room,” Abram says. “I also love [it] when a hotel offers something interactive, such as a nightly wine tasting or a mixology class. My generation is looking for the full experience in a hotel stay, not just a place to sleep.”
Erin Alliston, 24
After joining Legacy Travel straight out of college, Erin Alliston managed to increase the company’s sales with Travel Bound over 100 percent in just two years. In the first five months of the year, she has managed to sell over $60,000 in Globus Journeys and Monograms alone.
Alliston credits part of her success with positioning herself as the sole Europe specialist in the office. This unique specialty means all the Europe referrals come her way.
“My boss is also fantastic with marketing, so I get a multitude of calls where people have come across our website, read my bio, and want to work with me,” Alliston says. “Every now and then, I leave my business cards at gyms, country clubs, etc. Referrals, of course, are always the best kind of marketing.”
“Erin is an agent who blows expectations out of the water,” says Philip Banks, president and co-founder of Legacy Travel. “Despite just entering this industry in July 2011, she closed 55 Europe trips in 2012, 49 of which were FITs. These numbers dwarf the entire agency’s European trips sold in 2011. We‘re not halfway through 2013, and Erin has closed 38 Europe trips. When agency owners ask how they can get similar results from their new hires, I respond, “She’s a freak of nature. She shouldn’t have been able to do that. It is not fair to expect that from new hires. We are very lucky to have Erin.”
Christie Carden, 27
Christie Carden used the business acumen she developed in four years in real estate to make the jump into travel. She decided to make the switch to the travel industry after deciding she was not in love with real estate and wanted to do something involving international travel. She Googled “luxury travel advisor” and Century was one of the first results in the Atlanta area.
“I e-mailed Peter and Gene that day and asked if I could buy them coffee to learn more about what they do,” says Carden. “Within 24 hours they responded and we had a meeting shortly thereafter. There was not a position available at the time, but I offered to intern for free for a couple of months.”
In addition to the research skills she had developed on her own, Carden relies on conversations with the more experienced agents at Century for her professional development. Additionally, she uses the business sense she developed in real estate to build credibility with her clients.
“Regardless of what I am consulting on, be that an AT+T lease in my previous life or a trip to Thailand now, I make sure that certain professional standards are always met,” says Carden. “This includes maintaining effective communication, but also making sure that my clients understand any and all charges or fees that I am proposing.”
“In the past year Carden has learned the ins and outs of our industry faster than anyone we have ever brought onboard [we’ve been in business for 29 years],” says Peter Lloyd, president of Century. “She comes from a sales background so she understands how to access the needs of the client and then position the trip she envisions in a masterful way.”
Erica Clapp, 29
Erica Clapp, a former Community Representative for the American Cancer Society, has developed a knack for managing both personal and online connections to help her stay ahead of the game.
“Typically, I prefer to experience a destination firsthand, to ensure that I qualify my client properly and am able to pass along personalized experiences and recommendations,” Clapp says. “However, for those clients who would like something I do not specialize in, I will spend as much time as needed reaching out to tour operators, my travel network and other Beach Bums asking specific questions, researching on the tourist board websites and other online educational tools to garner knowledge on the area. I also love social media and the travel review network sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to give me insider ‘real experiences’ from real people. There are so many great tools out there if you know where to look.”
Clapp’s connections serve her well when it comes to crisis management.
“I reach out to Beach Bum Vacation’s network to get to managers and tour operators who can assist a client who is experiencing an urgent situation,” Clapp says. “Overall, I have learned that it is best to be patient and work directly with preferred partners who provide Beach Bum with the best support around. Resorts that support agents are generally better at assisting our clients as they make them a priority versus resort lines that maintain larger relationships with online tour operators.”
Rachel Dillow, 26
“I often write articles for our travel blog about destinations, client experiences, personal travels and destination weddings, which adds to my credibility,” says Dillow. “We have destination and resort features which I have been able to provide introductions and voiceovers for. This allows my clients to see me in the destination I’m recommending, and has been a great sales tool as well as a great way for them to see me beyond the voice on the phone or the name on the e-mail signature.”
Dillow also maintains a personal Beach Bum Rachel Facebook page to connect with clients and post personal travel photos, give client shout-outs, link to blog posts, share information on current promotions or giveaways and fun travel tips.
“I also am a weekly contributor to our Destination Weddings by Beach Bum Vacation page where we focus on planning tips, ideas and share photos of our clients’ weddings to allow brides to see our on-trend, fun and engaging community of destination wedding brides,” Dillow says.
Dillow says she measures her success on social media by her ability to put out relevant content that is seeing interactions. “With Facebook turning to a ‘pay to play’ platform the interactions have been falling by the wayside since regular users no longer see posts in their newsfeed unless I pay to put them there.”
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Alison Dobrowolski, 26
In addition to her role as VIP Vacations’ Aruba, Jamaica and Ireland specialist, Alison Dobrowolski has taken on a number of additional roles at the company. She has been charged with managing the company’s entire online presence, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Wordpress accounts and the company website, and she also acts as the company’s graphic designer.
“For our destination weddings, VIP offers free Save the Dates and a VIP wedding website for their guests to see,” Dobrowolski says. “I am in charge of designing both.”
Additionally, Dobrowolski has had a hand in putting together VIP’s new company website, and she manages the company’s social media presence to boost sales.
“The VIP Facebook page has over 2,500 fans and we recently booked a destination wedding for someone who found VIP on Pinterest,” Dobrowolski says. “I also think that having a Facebook page for your business shows a personality. Posting pictures of VIP agents celebrating an event in the office or having ‘ice cream day’ gives Facebook fans an image that we aren’t your typical travel agency.”
Dobrowolski also takes advantage of online education opportunities to keep up with her travel specialties. In addition to being a Travel Impressions All Star, she is also a GIVC for Karisma properties in Mexico, a Certified Sandals Specialist for the Sandals resorts in the Caribbean and a graduate of the Disney College of Knowledge.
Kevin Doheny, 29
Kevin Doheny’s responsibility at MoonRings is to create luxury travel experiences worldwide for clients, most of who are under the age of 40. Doheny evaluates their interests, offers insight on destinations, recommends customized travel and provides concierge-level services. After studying communication at Loyola University Chicago, and abroad in Europe, Doheny worked at a boutique tour operator in Florida. He also did a brief stint with United Airlines before joining MoonRings.
As a travel advisor, it is Doheny’s job to share information with his clients by using as many resources as possible. “The Internet is a great place to start,” says Doheny. “Some of my go-to quick-study sites include Frommer’s, Travel 42, Weatherbase and Kayak, which can help me prepare for an initial client discussion.” Other resources that Doheny uses to gain insights include social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram.
Hurricane Sandy was a crisis for everyone including the travel industry. Doheny’s clients returning from Asia were scheduled to come home to Boston when the storm hit. “I’d been watching the forecast [and their flights],” Doheny said. “They were en route to Tokyo when their trans-Pacific segment was cancelled, and I needed to act quickly.” He had the group booked on a new flight to Boston by the time they landed at Narita International Airport, and reserved an overnight stay at a hotel in Dallas.
Doheny, a charter member of the Chicago chapter of Millennials in Travel, which launched in July, has “worked diligently to acquire ‘hard skills’ such as business writing and closing sales, arguably as important as the 30-plus countries he’s visited,” says MoonRings President Carrie Wallace.
Ashley Grush, 28
Ashley Grush developed a love for travel when she took her first cruise at age 6. Her love for travel translates into her current position as social media and travel coordinator at Plaza Travel. “Selling travel is something that excites me daily as I love to create vacations where my clients can have memories of a lifetime,” says Grush. “I love making sure my clients are always taken care of as that stems from my previous employments as a personal assistant.”
Grush has only been in the industry for about three years now, but has won numerous awards including one for her social media skills. She was on a panel for the Las Vegas Leadership Forum, as well as having an article written about her experience at the ASTA Young Professional Society’s trip to Jamaica.
In charge of Social Media, Marketing & Selling Dream Vacations, Grush receives messages all the time while she is traveling. It is usually from clients who want her to book them at hotels and places she visits and recommend things she does while on vacation. “Social media can be a good and bad thing, but always make things positive, you never want to write anything negative as it can affect the relationships you have built up with vendors and suppliers,” says Grush.
Grush says she uses Facebook, Twitter, blogs and Instagram as her main social media tools. “I measure it in revenue,” she says. “I find that I get a great return on the use of these.”
Ahna Hall, 25
San Diego, CA
Ahna Hall works as a travel consultant specializing in group travel—more specifically youth sports team and religious youth group travel. She had no experience in the travel industry before joining Kahala Travel, but began helping out in the area of groups after she was trained, and learned how the company systems worked.
“I love taking care of the minutia involved, and it’s satisfying to plan a complex itinerary once that takes care of multiple people,” Hall says. She took some time off during her internship at Kahala to study abroad in southern Spain (where her Spanish degree from Point Loma Nazarene University came in handy) before returning to work full time for Kahala.
One way that Hall goes about selling an unfamiliar destination is by working closely with destination specialists. Kahala Travel is a member of the Signature Travel Network, and has access to specialists worldwide that offer suggestions for Hall‘s clients.
“I once had a client with only four days to spend in Switzerland and a desire to hike in the Alps,” Hall said. “I contacted the local destination specialist who gave me detailed recommendations for my client and was able to make the arrangements for me.”
Hall says that what most travelers of her generation look for in global hotel companies are “value-added amenities,” such as complimentary breakfast, a free upgrade, and food-and-beverage credit.
“With young people, price can be a large factor since most are just starting out in their careers,” says Hall. “If, however, they have incentive to pay a little more money and get a better value, I am confident that will attract young travelers.”
Zulema Hernandez, 26
At age 9, Zulema Hernandez moved from Durango, Mexico, to Kentucky, where her mother opened a restaurant in the Lexington area. “I grew up working with her. I was able to pay my way through college at the University of Kentucky, where I majored in Marketing and Merchandising.”
After graduation, she entered the banking industry, but when a former colleague of hers, who came to work for All Inclusive Outlet as director of operations, contacted Hernandez about a position within the company, she happily changed careers. The job interested Hernandez and it meant that she would have the opportunity to travel and see areas of her home country outside of where she grew up as a child. “I would also have the opportunity to use my bilingual skills to benefit others,” Hernandez says.
Mexico is one of All Inclusive Outlet’s best-selling destinations and Hernandez still has family there.
“It makes it easy to talk with people and I think that is one of my strong points,” she says. Hernandez is just learning about the Dominican Republic so it can be a bit of a challenge for her when clients ask specific questions.
Hernandez handles the service calls when dealing with a resort in a
Spanish-speaking area. Other agents will ask for her help if they don’t understand or are facing an issue. “Some things get lost in translation and I can work our customer care department at our supplier to straighten things out for client,” says Hernandez.
All Inclusive Outlet also has “a very active social media division…and that is where I make my presence well known. Once again, my bilingual skills are allowed to shine.”
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|Katie Jo Herzing|
Katie Jo Herzing, 28
Saint Marys, PA
Katie Jo Herzing was working as an office manager for a local manufacturing company in her hometown of Saint Marys, PA, when her dream came true. “I have always had a passion for travel and the opportunity to enter the travel industry became a reality for me in October 2010 when I was asked to join Destinations Unlimited Travel, Inc., a home-based agency out of Pittsburgh,” she says.
Herzing’s awards and accolades include holding the title of Certified Sandals Specialist, Disney Dream Maker, AMResorts Master Agent, Aruba Certified Expert Agent, RIU Partner Club member and a Certified Jamaica Travel Specialist. Destinations Unlimited Travel is an active member of the local Chamber of Commerce, and she serves as a member of the Kiwanis Club. “We pride ourselves in volunteering and giving back to the community.
“I’ve recently become a member of Leadership Elk County which is an organization within our county with the mission to educate its participants in the strengths and weaknesses of the county in order to develop informed, civic-oriented volunteers to help direct the future of Elk County,” says Herzing.
Herzing relies heavily on social media, mainly Facebook, “as a huge, free, marketing tool. It helps my clients interact with one another…and it also allows me to make my customers aware of special deals that are going on, insider photos of places I have explored and my own personal reviews on various destinations. I also use Pinterest to pin great travel ideas, tips, top destinations, insider ideas and all things travel to share with my customers. My particular travel board is linked directly to my Facebook page to enhance visibility and draw the most attention possible.”
Jason Hopper, 29
It says something about the travel industry that Jason Hopper approached Honeymoons, Inc. looking for long-term job security. And while he arrived already familiar with computers, e-commerce and sales, he describes his mind as “like a sponge—wanting more.” His familiarity with various social media platforms lets him share his personal resort tour photos so that his clients can see un-photoshopped pictures of the resort and rooms.
When he is unfamiliar with a destination, he tries to learn as much as he can about what they want before sending them to a specialist for the region. “I also let them know if they can’t reach the other agent for any reason to please contact me and I will see what I can do for them.”
When things go wrong (as they do), Hopper has found that humor can be a good way to ease a worried traveler’s stress. “Depending on the situation, one of my main goals, if possible, is to make the client laugh in some way to help break that dark cloud over the conversation,” he says, quickly adding that one should always exercise caution before cracking a joke. (Humor can backfire.)
Steve Simmons, president of Honeymoons, feels that Hopper’s youth is an asset to the company: “His age allows him to communicate with our target age group of 25 to 35 in a way that is best for them. Although all of us here are proficient with our computers, his understanding of mobile devices is invaluable. He’s also shown that two items are timeless when it comes to being a great agent: His love of travel and great knowledge of all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico.”
Bobby Huebner, 28
New York, NY
When Bobby Huebner is selling a destination for the first time, he looks over a map of the area, making note of major airports and learning the most direct way in which to arrive at the final destination. “Then, relying on my vast network of industry colleagues, I educate myself using their experience in that destination,” he says. That network even includes other travel consultants who might view him as competition. He, however, sees them as colleagues.
“Planning an itinerary in any destination is a true collaboration; however, in a new destination, that partnership between all facets of the industry is particularly vital,” he says.
Those partnerships have given him some keen insights into the business: “In order to be most effective...the focus for the luxury travel segment should be on unique experiences and opportunities that increase the value of the destination and the experience overall.” Huebner uses this attitude when reaching out to clients, especially on social media. “A promotion focused on simply the price will be immediately regarded as spam by most savvy social media users and will be a fruitless effort on the part of the marketer, and in fact, detrimental to the brand.”
To help promote the next generation of travel industry leaders, Huebner serves as director of Strategic Partnerships for the Young Travel Professionals, the first networking group specifically created for rising stars. “The difference with our generation lies in the accessibility of information and the level of empowerment that our clients feel with that information at their fingertips,” he says. “Anyone can build a hotel and have guests stay there. Anyone can book a hotel online. The challenge will remain to engage the guest within their level of comfort, and redirect and reinforce the triangular relationship between client, supplier and agent, ensuring the highest level of service and success on every level.”
Carole-Anne Hughs, 27
New York, NY
Carole-Anne Hughs moved to New York City in 2010 and joined Valerie Wilson Travel (VWT) as the Kleinfeld Bridal Marketing Partnership Liaison. Today, she is Leisure Team and Social Media coordinator, handling everything from online marketing to new client relations. She is responsible for lead generation, new leisure travel clients, supplier interaction and coordination of new clients to the team of travel consultants.
“I am responsible for our online marketing and social media accounts,” she says. “I maintain all social media outlets [Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.] Also, I help unite and coordinate our blog, newsletter, and website content including ‘Explore our World’ and ‘The Insider.’ By interacting with our new client interests, I am able to record some of our most effective channels of marketing.”
Her efforts in social media have also seen positive results: “Our fan base on Facebook doubled throughout the course of 2012 and several followers called in and actually booked trips based off of what they were seeing and reading on our Facebook page. Our Twitter account grew by 60 percent and our Pinterest account has seen a 3,000-percent increase from its creation last year.” Even better, their suppliers saw an uptick in “views” and “likes” when the VWT team and their followers “shared” experiences on social media platforms.
Besides her work at VWT, Hughs has further developed her personal brand by co-founding Young Travel Professionals, the first networking group specifically created to bring together the next generation of travel industry leaders. “YTP hosts monthly networking events throughout New York City and San Francisco, as well as an online community to foster communication, collaboration and increased networking among travel professionals from diverse backgrounds and expertise.”
Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel, praises Hughs’ “genuine sincerity and warmth combined with her never-ending creative spirit and strong professional confidence. What she has done with YTP is tremendous—[it] brings new meaning to ‘networking.’ ”
Jessica Levy, 25
New York, NY
When organizing an FIT, Levy’s clients receive a bound itinerary that details their trip day-by-day, with flight itineraries, important documents or vouchers, spa brochures, etc. Special touches also help endear her to clients: Birthday celebrants might get a cake, honeymooners can get a bottle of wine.
“Even if clients are not celebrating, I like to note their requests—perhaps they like to have certain magazines or newspapers in the room or have certain dietary restrictions,” she says. “Getting to know your clients and what they like is crucial to a good relationship and happy trips.”
Contrary to perceptions about people her age, Levy is not passionate about social media, although she does see its benefits. “It is a great way to keep your clients connected to your travels so they can see the destinations and the products you are experiencing,” she says. “It is also a way to keep them informed about special offers you might want to promote. I like to use Facebook and Instagram to post photos while I am away or when attending supplier events to entice clients and promote partnerships.” A recent partnership with destination spa Miraval on Facebook let clients “like” a page in order to win a four-night stay.
Jack Ezon, president of Ovation, says that Levy has been “a natural” at the agency. “Within two years, she has been closing over $3 million in luxury travel services and impressing people with her first-hand knowledge of the hottest destinations. She’s not only got a pulse on the best restaurants, lounges and clubs in the world, but the best tables—and, of course, knows managers personally. Her patient demeanor and diligence has made her a true asset to our team.”
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Michael Lieberman, 25
New York, NY
A second-generation agent with Pro Travel, Michael Lieberman is the son (and co-worker) of Stewart Lieberman, a senior agent in the industry for 35 years. “My apprenticeship allows me to work with my father’s influential clients in the corporate and entertainment industry, while also booking his luxury leisure travel,” he says. “This provides me with a well-rounded knowledge of the industry...I am also steadily building my own clientele, and through repeats and recommends, I intend on becoming fully independent in upcoming years.”
When selling an unfamiliar destination, he uses Virtuoso Composer to find the best hotels. “My next move is to turn to my father for advice,” he says. “He has seen countless countries and sold almost every major city in the world, so I regard his suggestions very highly. I also then turn to my onsite tour operators and trusted companies that provide me with advice and great suggestions.”
Unlike many other Millennials, Lieberman is not a devotee of social media. “I do not believe it is a reliable or necessary way to create business,” he says. “The network allows you to maintain a constant connection and reminder to your friends, family, and clients that you are a reliable agent to go to, but I don’t think it can create new business. In my experience, no one wants to be bombarded with personal advertisements. The most I can do is post pictures of the most beautiful hotels in the world and entice my followers to book a trip with me.”
Hannah Lohmer, 27
“There has never been a time in my life where I was not involved in some aspect of the travel industry,” says Hannah Lohmer. “My parents owned and operated a travel agency in our hometown of Stillwater, MN, since 1977 and only recently retired in October 2011. This afforded me the opportunity to visit many places multiple times and experience them at various ages.”
After studying French at the University of St. Thomas (and living abroad for five months), she found it easy to promote visits to France and Western Europe. “Since starting with Travel Leaders in October of 2011, I have focused on those destinations that I am most familiar with...Family packages to warm-weather destinations are a must in Minnesota.”
While she appreciates the value of social media and an online presence in building a personal brand, Lohmer is much more appreciative of personal networking. “I use social media to help establish me as a well-known professional in the travel industry and to continue to gain more exposure and clientele. I contribute as a blogger on our community Patch where I give readers travel tips and write about new destinations or inspiration for trips that may be unknown to most.”
Sandy Lovick, president of Market Square Travel, says, “Hannah is well-traveled, well-spoken and energetic. As a travel agency owner, the trait that stands out for me is Hannah’s ability as a self-motivator. She is loved and appreciated by her clients for her concern and the thorough way she handles their travel arrangements.”
Sean-Ross McCoy, 24
Delray Beach, FL
Sean-Ross McCoy is currently the youngest cruise and vacation specialist at his agency, and got his start in travel while in college. “I lived two blocks away from Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, FL,” he recalls. “I started working with Holland America assisting guests with check-in at the ports.”
As he learns more about the industry, McCoy has found it helpful to talk with other experienced agents, especially when trying to plan a trip to an unfamiliar destination. He has also found destination training guides and online information to be helpful. “I will also look at other testimonies of past guests to see what they liked or disliked about that particular area,” he says.
As is normal for his generation, McCoy is active in social media, and uses his connections to further his business. “I am constantly promoting myself and my company with our latest specials, promotions and general travel news,” he says. “Whenever I go on a ship inspection, luncheon or training seminar I make sure to put it out there on social media. I have gotten a number of friends get in touch with me based on my posts and pictures, so it is very effective.”
“Sean joined WMPH Vacations right out of college with no prior sales or travel industry experience,” says Training Manager Gloria Price. “And he did not let that get in the way of his success. Sean takes all challenges head-on and treats every opportunity as a learning experience...[he] has decided to make the cruise industry his career and is always working toward improving his salesmanship skills and product and destination knowledge.”
Rachel Morris, 25
San Antonio, TX
Rachel Morris joined AJ Travel through family connections. She started as an office assistant and receptionist two years ago, but within three months had her own clients and became a full-time travel consultant not long after. She has high praise for owner Sandra Llewellyn, who, she says, “pushed me to become a full-time agent and helped teach me how to put together the perfect package...Her wealth of knowledge, especially for Europe, and willingness to explain a destination is always great as I can then turn around to the client and talk to them as if I had just come from there.”
Llewellyn echoes the sentiment: “Rachel developed a love of travel and a sense of adventure while traveling with her family,” she notes. “Her experiences and people-skills have made her an outstanding FIT specialist; she is able to read the client to better serve them. She has outstanding research skills and goes the extra mile to help the client experience all aspects of their dream vacation.”
To promote her personal brand, Morris attends social events throughout San Antonio: “art shows, restaurant openings and festivals where I get the chance to meet a broader clientele. In my spare time, I try to take classes on Travel Agent University to build my knowledge on destinations and tour operators because I feel coming across confident defines my personal brand and helps market myself.” Online, she set up her agency’s Facebook page and started a Travel Tip Tuesday: “Every week, we give tips from a breakdown of airline fees to destination deals that might be going on.”
Sarah Nelson, 27
Sarah Nelson knows that part of being a successful agent is being a solid problem solver. So when she used a preferred supplier to send clients to Puerto Vallarta and found out the hotel had been oversold only after she got a call from a worried client who didn’t have a room, she didn’t panic. Instead, she called her supplier, explained the situation and within minutes her clients were given a room. They did have to stay in a lower category for the first night, but they were given a partial refund.
“It’s impossible for travel to be flawless 100 percent of the time, especially when we are sending our clients on a long journey, using multiple airlines, rail, hotels, suppliers, etc.,” she says. “So when there is a crisis, I find it’s best to remain calm and reassure the client that I have their back, and that I am going to help them resolve the problem as quickly as possible.”
When she was hired by Travel Leaders at the age of 21 as an office assistant, she was tasked with answering phones, stocking brochures, greeting walk-in clients and making lunch runs. Over the past six years, however, her responsibilities evolved to encompass many aspects of the industry, including selling travel—mostly cruises, family vacations and all-inclusive trips.
“Over the years I have learned the value of using suppliers that we have great relationships with,” says Nelson. “The better the relationship with the supplier, the better the reaction time and the better the response. When I have used a non-preferred supplier, and had a crisis, I have never found the solution to be as desirable for my client, if we were able to get a solution at all, without changing tactics and making an entirely new booking.”
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Chris O’Connor, 29
When Chris O’Connor first learned about the company Polk, he sent in a resume and was told they didn’t have any position open. So they created one for him.
And it’s easy to see why: The 29-year-old is a guru in generating new business and sales for a growing corporate travel management company, selling a variety of travel products in a fast-paced environment, meeting individual and branch sales targets, providing outstanding customer service and staying up to date on latest travel tech and tools while offering information about destinations and the logistics of travelling.
“What I have learned along the way is to make every detail count, to double-check and triple-check everything,” he says. “My passion is, without a doubt, travel, and when a client comes back and says they have a lifetime of memories to cherish from their experience I helped plan, I feel fulfilled in my career.”
And it appears as though others are noticing his hard work.
“I could not have chosen a more professional, committed, enthusiastic, friendly, likable individual to take us into the future,” says Mary Bill, vice president of leisure travel and independent affiliates for Allure Travel Polk CTM. “Chris builds his clientele through creativity and an eye for opportunity. For all that Chris has learned with us, he has taught us just as much.”
Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, 26
Los Angeles, CA
When Hurricane Sandy hit, Katelyn O’Shaughnessy sat on the phone for hours with the airlines, re-routing several of her clients flying on the east coast to get them to where they needed to go in the most efficient manner possible.
“My clients were all very grateful,” she says. “Sometimes it takes a crisis to prove our value as travel agents, and it keeps our clients coming back trip after trip.”
After graduating from Arizona State University with a major in broadcast journalism, she worked in TV and radio before getting a job at a Destination Retail Management company in Los Angeles. The company she worked for established high-end boutiques in four- and five-star resorts all over the world. She did in-depth research on all the properties and followed trends on the hottest vacation destinations.
In doing so, she learned all about the top luxury hotel groups and established relationships with their management teams.
“I already handled my company’s travel needs with flights, hotels, and rental cars, so I thought to myself, ‘I could definitely be a luxury travel agent,’ and I made it my mission to become one,” she says.
Now, O’Shaughnessy is the CEO and founder of the travel app, Trip
Scope. She created it during a Microsoft Windows 8 Hackathon. Since then, she has gone full-force with the development and launching of TripScope, designed specifically for agents to assist their clients.
“I have carefully developed my personal brand around my specialties, skills and passions,” she says. “I am a Millennial, a tech geek, a travel enthusiast, an entrepreneur, and a businesswoman. I integrate all these aspects in my personal brand and they are evident in the work I produce and the service I provide to my clients.”
Ginny Patton, 25
Prior to her current position as a travel consultant for the Atlanta branch of New York-based SmartFlyer, Ginny Patton worked in the supply side as a surf guide in the Seychelles and the Maldives for Four Seasons, using her experiences to get an inside view of the industry before transitioning to consulting.
Patton is a firm believer that travelers are more interested in the culture of a destination than ever before, and finds that guests are viewing a company’s online presence as reflective of its physical one. “We are a generation that demands the expected, and for things to be accurately reflected on the Internet,” she says. “When we arrive at the hotel destination, we are paying for the experiences the hotel offers us more than the hotel itself.”
Patton also believes that social media is becoming one of the most important methods to access modern travelers, and specifically Millennials. “We often joke that ‘if it’s not on Facebook it never happened.’ ” She also pushes for word of mouth networking and social media to aid her in reaching SmartFlyer’s target audience.
“Facebook is one of the most successful social channels—next to personal referrals—due to the ability to reach a large audience as well as being able to post interesting trips that potential clients might be interested in,” Patton says.
Though she is new to the position, Patton has a positive outlook when it comes to learning the business. “The key is to not shy away from asking questions if there is something you do not know,” she says. “Knowledge is power and there is always much to learn from all colleagues.”
Diego Quintanilla, 22
Prior to entering to the travel industry, Diego Quintanilla worked as a certified flight instructor—training students preparing to become airline pilots. Since joining Travel Leaders, Quintanilla has twice been named top sales person of the month, and helped to grow the company’s Disney sales by 112 percent. But Quintanilla is not without his challenges.
“Probably the biggest crisis I handled was the disaster on Carnival Triumph,” Quintanilla says. Though he was responsible for several travelers aboard the Triumph, Quintanilla was able to stay in contact with them via e-mail, text, Skype and Facebook to assist them through their difficulties to a degree that would not have been possible without modern technology.
“Travel today is all about technology,” Quintanilla says. “If you want to be a rock star travel agent, you have to be better and faster in communicating with your clients than the next guy.” As technology lends swiftness to the business that hasn’t existed in the past, checking for details has become even more important. “Double, triple check your information before it goes out because you have to quickly communicate clearly to the client a vast amount of data and accuracy is crucial,” he says.
Quintanilla feels that younger travelers are not only into fast and easy travel, but are also interested in getting as many deals as possible. He stresses having computer access to reservations and transparency to avoid hidden fees. “I enjoy educating my generation on the value my new job brings to the table.”
Samuel Rutledge, 25
Before Samuel Rutledge was the co-founder of Know And Go Travel, he spent two years as a tour manager for Contiki Holidays in Europe, where he cut his teeth learning how to market his brand. Mentored by his mother (and veteran travel agent) Jane Rutledge, Samuel hopes to connect with the millennial generation to drive up business for his fledgling agency.
“If there is one thing I’ve learned about dealing with clients,” Rutledge says, “is that you never want to oversell them and raise their expectations where they will not be met. Honesty and trust builds a solid return client base, in which no advertising is needed for their business.”
On the topic of advertising, Rutledge believes the best kind is word of mouth, which can be easily gained through social media. He measures the success of social media through the number of people who contact him about a trip. “It’s great to have a bunch of likes and comments to make you feel cool, but I would much rather have one like and one new client than 1,000 likes with nothing to show for it,” he says.
Rutledge believes that young travelers are mostly looking for experiences they cannot have in their hometown. “There is the small percent who wants to stay in nice places and be lavish and crazy, but the vast majority wants to come back with unforgettable stories to show off and tell their friends,” Rutledge says.
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Serkan Sener, 28
Before owning a CruiseOne franchise, Serkan Sener, whose friends and colleagues call him Seko, worked for the outbound department at Norwegian Cruise Line. After several very successful years, he realized he could make a stronger impact on people’s lives and develop stronger personal relationships with clients by owning his own travel agency.
“Vacations are something very dear to guests,” he says. “First and foremost, I learn more about each client, such as their vacation preferences and hobbies, so I can better serve each customer in meeting and exceeding their needs and expectations when it comes to booking their vacations. Getting to know clients on a personal level is the best way we as travel agents are able to truly serve our guests in all facets of planning a vacation.”
And knowing the destination, Sener says, is just as important as knowing the client.
“It is very important to know the products we are selling,” he says. “I make it a priority to know at least one to two interesting things about every destination/port of call, using the Internet, the CruiseOne franchise network and other resources to further educate myself and answer difficult questions so I can best cater to my client’s needs. Value perception plays a big part in a client’s buying decisions and the only way to assure guests that they are getting a good value is to know my product.”
Pace Snellings, 29
Pace Snellings was perhaps the happiest agent in the U.S. when wellness started to become a dominant niche in the industry in recent years. A fitness instructor at West Coast Workout in Atlanta, Snellings incorporates fitness, health and well-being in most of the trips she books as a travel consultant for SmartFlyer.
“People have been really receptive to combining travel and wellness and I am so thankful to have found a business that incorporates all of my passions,” she says. Through her connections with West Coast Atlanta, Snellings has created wellness trips to L.A. and all over the country.
“I am also moving forward with other studios to organize trips for them as well,” she says. “I am so excited [about] wellness and travel and I think it really shows in my demeanor when I am speaking about what I do. Organizing trips and e-mailing to each studio’s database has really helped me. Instead of waiting for a client to come to me, I am putting trips together and encouraging people to join—and from that I get referrals and clients interested in other travel as well.”
One of the role models Snellings points to is Ansley Thomas, manager of SmartFlyer Atlanta.
“Pace has been with us for nine months, and has shown her dedication and drive since day one,” says Thomas. “She has cultivated a solid client base, showing her ability to connect with clients on a very personal level. She picked up the industry quickly, always asking the right questions, and never hesitates using her contacts as resources. She has a passion for visiting new places, so she can experience them firsthand [and] can better educate her clients. She is on the road to be one of the best in the industry.”
Maggie Stein, 26
New York, NY
Prior to her current role, Maggie Stein trained as a concierge in another agency’s luxury leisure department. “My job was to assist the agents in servicing the trips they were working on, by taking the basic shell of the itinerary they planned [flights and hotels] and filling it in with all the day–to-day activities and details. This was invaluable training,” she says.
As a full-fledged travel agent, she regards the Internet as a good, but secondary, resource for destination information. “I primarily use the firsthand knowledge of colleagues who have possibly traveled to that destination over the past few years, or have worked extensively with that destination.” When none of her co-workers can provide that type of feedback, she says, “I count on the vendors who I’ve developed amazing relationships with to help fill in the gaps.”
Her office started an incentivizing competition to see who can bring in the most revenue each quarter from personal clients. “So far, I’m the reigning top producer for Q1 & Q2 of 2013 and anticipate maintaining that title for Q3 as well,” she says. “In line with that, I have received a fantastic amount of positive feedback in the form of new client referrals.”
Stein sees each social media channel as an opportunity for a different type of outreach: “Posting special offers on Facebook is the best way to bring travel ideas to the forefront on a daily basis. Uploading travel photos on Instagram gives your followers an insider look into different properties and destinations, gets them excited to go and reconfirms your relevancy [and experience]. Tweeting industry updates is a great way to establish yourself as someone who has a finger on the pulse of what’s new and upcoming.”
Alexandra Totokotsopoulos, 26
Newtown Square, PA
In 2009, after graduating from Drexel University where she studied Hospitality Management & Travel & Tourism, Alexandra Totokotsopoulos couldn’t find any agencies that were hiring. Then she attended a trade show in San Diego and “decided to take my education and start working on my dream.”
The home-based Totokotsopoulos, who calls herself a “travel stylist,” finds networking essential to stay on top of the industry. “Through many trade shows and travel events, I have met many travel advisors. We are able to help each other with destinations, tips and tricks and talk out situations as well. She also believes in continuing education, through webinars and online trainings programs.
To promote her brand, she is involved in many community events and charity functions and organizations such as Alex’s Lemonade Stand, dedicated to fighting childhood cancer. “Once a year, we travel to the Warren County Fair in NJ to introduce travel to fair-goers and help them get the information they need to learn about destinations they are interested in. My car boasts the Alex’s Adventures information and logos. Each of our travelers departs with Alex’s Adventures gear and packs of information.”
She believes social media is an excellent tool for travel professionals “if it is harnessed and used to the advisor’s advantage.” For example, she says, “If you see that someone is talking about needing to get away, you can suggest a quick revitalizing trip you think they may like. If you see that someone is getting married, you can message them your congratulations and remind them that if they need someone to help them plan their honeymoon that you would be happy to help.”
Rebecca Witt, 26
Delray Beach, FL
WMPH stands for We Make People Happy, and Rebecca Witt believes the personal approach is the best way to live up to that moniker. “I contact clients who have submitted inquiries through our websites, our phone apps, and other venues, and I also take new inbound calls,” she says. “Every phone call is unique so I must adapt and find out what is most important to the client.”
Witt, who specializes in cruises, says a recent caller asked to speak with someone thoroughly versed about the Galapagos. “I told her that I was not an expert on the Galapagos and that I would be happy to get her in touch with someone who was.” The only person available at the time who had actually been there was the agency’s co-founder. “So I got her connected with him and then I listened to their entire conversation, taking notes on everything he told her. I continued working with her on the logistics and was able to make this long-time dream of hers come true.”
This is one example of how Witt “actively participates in furthering her destination and product knowledge,” says Gloria Price, WMPH’s training manager, who adds that Witt was recently inducted into the Big Kahuna Club, “our top-producing agent recognition program.”
Witt has nothing but praise for how Price and sales manager Tara Knight have mentored her. She also cites cruise line executives such as Celebrity’s Dondra Ritzenthaler and Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean among the “strong, successful women with leadership positions in the cruising industry [who are] huge motivators.”