Nicole Barnes, Reservations Department Manager for Image Tours, Inc.
It was a busy afternoon at the Career Fair which I, at the last minute, decided to attend. As I was walking around and glanced over the different booths, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was hoping to find. I wanted to stay in the hospitality industry, but try something new. I suddenly spotted the Image Tours, Inc. logo printed on a large banner and headed for the table, instantly intrigued to know more. I remember thinking how interesting it was to find such a unique company that was very relatable to my personal interests, yet still very different than any other job I’d had in the past. That’s where I met and spoke with Mike, the company’s president. From there I was contacted for an interview, and started working within a month!
I started out as a customer service representative and administrative assistant, basically learning the ropes and getting my feet wet in the travel business. During my first year I was trained on a little bit of everything while getting to know as much as I could about Image Tours. This allowed me to refine my skills and know where to effectively apply myself. Since we are a small, family-run company, we rely heavily on one another for things to run smoothly. I was ready to be a team player! My role became focused on reservations, and my transition to reservations manager has been evolving into a position that centers on supporting travel agents. It’s an interesting position because I interact with several other departments (advertising, operations, etc.), allowing me to better assist agents with their questions and concerns.
We are a tour operator, so we work directly with travel agents to book their clients on our escorted tours to Europe. On any given day you will find me taking phone calls; replying to emails; following up on reservation requirements/details; working through cancellations; and various projects for advertising, operations, and general office work. I have an eye for details, so it’s my responsibility to look over incoming paperwork (tour applications, payments, etc.) to ensure everything is in order prior to processing. Recently, I’ve gained experience in processing cancellations and working through various stages of travel insurance claims. It’s extremely important that I understand our ‘Tour Contract’ thoroughly because I deal with every topic associated with it and how we operate our business. Consistency and effective communication have been the two key skills I’ve been improving on to keep things running smoothly in the reservations department.
My favorite thing to do is read the tour evaluations we receive back from our clients who have recently returned from their European vacation. Some of them are so heartwarming. They write to us to let us know that they have waited their entire life for this kind of trip. Knowing that WE made their ‘dream’ come true is rewarding and special. These evaluations are important for us to receive from travelers because we can see what needs improvement, how we can accommodate different requests, and know what travelers enjoy most about our tours. Of course it’s a disappointment when a negatively rated evaluation comes back, but we absolutely learn from those and also do our best to make changes and adjustments where necessary. Another aspect I enjoy is talking with travel agents from all over the country – we all share the same passion for travel, and to hear about their personal journeys and experiences is fun. Over time business relationships are formed and agent phone calls become friends working together to ensure clients have an amazing European vacation.
In 2014, I was given the great opportunity to go on our signature 15-day Heart of Europe® Circle Tour. Being on its 56th year, the Heart of Europe® Circle tour is the flagship from which the company has grown. In two weeks I experienced such a unique and amazing vacation. I took my boyfriend and together we saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the canals of Amsterdam, the mountains and lakes of Switzerland, and enjoyed a gondola ride in Venice. It was really important for me to go on this trip because it gave me first-hand experience when talking to travel agents about certain details and options for their clients. It also made other things ‘click’ in the workplace and put into perspective how each of our roles play into the larger picture. And of course, I wanted to see the places I talk about every day! Although we were the youngest two in the tour group, we had the best time sharing those memories with everyone we traveled with.
Since then, we’ve had other adventures: hiking along the Pictured Rocks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, driving the California coast from Monterey to L.A., and relaxing in the Florida Keys. We’ve visited Yosemite National Park and biked around Mackinac Island… life is about having fun together! In college I traveled abroad into the northern region of Italy in Piedmont, to study food, culture and international travel – I actually got credit for this! Right after that I was able to visit one of my best friends in Berlin whom I met in high school when she was an exchange student. It’s amazing to reflect on the places I’ve been in my young life; traveling gives me something to look forward to at all the stages of my life and I will continue to explore the destinations on my dream list!