A veteran of the travel industry for over 30 years, today Donna Zeigfinger owns her own agency, Green Earth Travel. Recently we sat down with Donna to talk about her business, her unique niche specialties, and her view of the progression of the industry over the last few decades.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Donna, have you always been home based?
Donna Zeigfinger (DZ): No; after finishing travel school in the 1980’s, I got a two-week internship in a local brick and mortar agency. After my internship ended they decided to hire me. I worked there for a couple of years before moving on. Overall, I’ve worked for the three different brick and mortar agencies before setting out on my own as a homebased travel professional.
TRO: You have a unique niche in vegan/vegetarian travel. How long have you specialized in this area?
DZ: I’ve been working in vegan/vegetarian travel since that first brick and mortar agency where I started back in the 1980’s; I had friends that booked with me. They were friends that were vegans and wanted to support pro-vegan and vegan-friendly businesses.
TRO: What other areas to you specialize in?
DZ: Another niche for me is animal rights. In the early 1990’s, at the second brick and mortar agency I worked at, I was the official travel agent for the March for the Animals (a march on Washington, D.C.). I negotiated with several hotels, campgrounds, and airlines to bring in most of the out of town protestors to D.C. for the march. I did it again 5 years later, although it was a smaller march at that time.
TRO: How did Ireland become a niche for you?
DZ: My husband and I went back to Ireland in the late 1990’s, and we both fell in love with it. It took several months to become a certified specialist to sell Ireland. At that time, when you became certified, the tourist board would actually feed you potential leads (upwards of a hundred a month).
TRO: What has helped in promoting your niches?
DZ: Somehow the Washington Post found out about me, but I have no idea how! They wanted to write an article in their food section about me. In the same year, a magazine called Vegetarian Times also did an article about me. I got a good deal of clients for many years as a result of just those two articles.
TRO: What eventually prompted you to branch out on your own?
DZ: I couldn’t take care of both my clients and the brick and mortar agency’s clients, so I had to go out on my own in order to be able to better serve my own clients.
TRO: Were you alone when you finally went out on your own?
DZ: No, I was an outside agent for my last brick and mortar agency for about five years when I first went out on my own, but I still needed a host agency to do my air ticketing. Even now I still need a host agency for my air tickets; I’m with Nexion for that.
TRO: Do you have any regrets about going out on your own?
DZ: Every once in awhile it gets lonely, it would be nice to have someone in the office to bounce ideas off of. But I don’t think I could work for someone else any more. So other than that twinge of occasional solitude, no.
TRO: How are you finding new clients?
DZ: I have my website and I also advertise in an electronic vegan magazine. I find being online helps me the most. Some business is word of mouth, and I go to events that tie into my niches (vegan/vegetarian and Ireland), where I can have a table/booth. I pass out my business cards wherever I go, which has helped a lot, and I collaborate with my vendors to help with these events. With Ireland, I have been invited to attend some genealogy events, attended Irish festivals, and I hangout at Irish pubs.
TRO: When you say online, what does that mean?
DZ: My website and my FB business page. If you Google “vegan travel” I typically come up in the first page or two.
TRO: What piece of advice would you pass onto other professionals in the industry?
DZ: I love working with smaller suppliers because they are more willing to work with you and support you and your business. I have certain tour operators that I work with for Italy, Alaska, and Africa because they are so much more flexible to work with. With the smaller tour operators I’m usually working directly with the owners. Now that doesn’t mean I won’t work with a large corporate type of tour operator; it all depends on the destination and the clients’ needs.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com), she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.