It’s an understatement to say that Craig Carter is excited about his new office in Irvine, across the street from John Wayne Airport.
In preparation for the official grand opening of Luxe Travel’s third office in February, Carter and his team flew to the Mojave Desert, bought a Delta 737 jet, took it apart and reassembled it inside his conference space. Now his staff greets walk-in customers with a mimosa and a seat in first class as they chat about where they would like to go.
It all started when Carter became aware of the growing customer at Luxe Travel’s headquarters, which was situated in a standard Irvine office building, and designed to serve internal employees.
But “every year we noticed more people just walking in, and we got to thinking that if we had something more approachable and convenient, we could really enhance the experience of booking travel,” he says.
Since the soft opening of the new office in October, “I see people in here all the time, talking to agents. And the suppliers love it; they see a unique opportunity to engage with customers.”
Of course not every travel advisor owns a $200 million agency like Luxe Travel—but even many small ones are turning to Main Street once again, as their sales rise to a level that supports the rent.
Jay Dill, owner of The Travel Junkie, for example, has moved up and down the scale of office spaces like Goldilock’s Three Bears, he says. He first moved from his home office to shared office space in 2012, just as a way to get out of the house—but found it was too small as his staff began to grow. In 2016 he moved to a big space with an office for each advisor and a large lobby—and found it was too big. While many clients liked to meet face to face, he and his staff were usually out and about, and came in by appointment only, and usually for just 30-60 minutes. They didn’t really need an office apiece.
Now he’s got it just right, he says. Located at a “great intersection” in downtown Wichita, Dill, his wife, and six independent contractors share three multifunction offices—and business is booming. In 2019 his sales were about $4 million.
“We don’t need to bring a whole lot of bodies through the door; we don’t need a 400-gallon fish tank. We just need to look professional,” Dill said. “A smaller but efficient office fits our market. I’ve had people walk in and say they drive by every day, and when it came time for their vacation, they wanted to come in and plan their trip here.”
As he walks around downtown and chats with his neighbors, having an office nearby is a big advantage, he says. “We’re in an area with a lot of restaurants; I just say ‘we’re at 21st and Tyler’, why don’t you stop by?’ And everyone knows where that is. I feel like it’s almost coming full circle.
“Back in the 80s and 90s travel agents were the keepers of the information. Then we went through people booking online. But now they are coming back—now we are the keepers of the advice.”
Indeed, given his specialty in romance travel and destination weddings, the majority of Dill’s customers are Millennials “overwhelmed by the whole Google thing, or couples that have read the reviews and have an idea of what they want, but still want someone to confirm they made good decisions. They want a hand to hold and a neck to wring.”
And in addition to attracting customers, he noted, the office also helps attract the best independent contractors, offering a pleasant place to work and a physical location to meet customers.
Leland Dale Davis, meanwhile, is just beginning to experiment with office space. Working simultaneously as a full-time firefighter and a full-time travel agent, he too just moved up from a shared space to his own office, near the Bakersfield airport and a private jet center.
“I try to tell people to make an appointment, but I’m starting to get a lot of walk-in business,” he says.
While other travel advisors in town pooh-pooh those Bakersfield walk-ins as young shoppers with no money, Davis says the new booming business in domestic packages they have brought—including a multi-stop high-end trip costing $40,000, and a bachelorette party in Vegas that turned into a destination wedding and a honeymoon in Fiji—helped push his sales from $500,000 in 2018 to $1 million in 2019.
Indeed, coming up to 20 years as a fire fighter, Davis is hoping a little brick and mortar will pave the road to retirement from the force. “I truly believe that with the office I could easily pull in $3 or $4 million,” he says.
Like Dill, he believes the key is finding the right location and the right size. “Start off small. You don’t have to lock into a three-year lease; you don’t need 3,000 square feet,” he advises. “Then make sure your licensing is right; I went to the local Chamber of Commerce and joined the Ambassador’s Club of the downtown business association, and they were very helpful. And find a way to stand out. I just got a Hard Rock wrap on my car, and I park it outside the office.”