TRO is going to follow the progress of a few travel agents and their business over the course of 2009 to allow our readers the opportunity of comparing notes and experiences with other agents. These brave souls have promised to write about both their successes and failures this year. Be sure to leave them some comments if you would like to share some of your own experiences.
My name is Nia and I am the owner of LK Cruises & Tours, LLC. Well that’s not exactly true. My parents named me Karen. My ex called me Kami, my children call me mommy. So where does Nia come from? In 1998, I wrote a novel; the main character was named Nia, which means “Purpose” in Swahili. Unable to convince many folks that it wasn’t autobiographical, I decided it was easier to join them, so I became Nia. And that suited me just fine. I’ve been Nia ever since. I like it, and it serves as a constant reminder to stay focused.
In 2006, I was introduced to the travel agency industry through Your Travel Biz (YTB). All of their hype claimed to be a way to break into the travel industry and start a business with little training, little cash and even less business sense. As hard as it is to believe, neither the hype nor the reality bankrupted me. I actually did receive a few commission checks–all without building a down line. So I am living proof that you can make a few bucks in an MLM without recruiting. However, after calculating the initial start up for a web site in a box, the monthly fees, the cookie cutter marketing materials, the pep rallies, etc., my partners and I netted out at a $2000 loss.
I still wonder why an otherwise intelligent woman didn’t see what I see so clearly now. It’s kind of painful to admit. It has been said that the purpose of a diary is to speak truth–YTB cost me time, money, frustration and for a time some self respect.
There were a number of red flags I failed to acknowledge. The loss of IATAN accreditation was one. But I must confess none of that really got my attention until a large group came my way. The potential commission on this group would have negated all of our losses and then some. But, I had to give away the group to another agency because the group only wanted Royal Caribbean; and as a YTB affiliated agent I couldn’t take the booking since Royal Caribbean had terminated their agreement with YTB. That did it. What had been a “mini Nia” on my shoulder whispering that something was not right became a very angry black woman on my other shoulder screaming that many things were not only not right–they were outright wrong! And, she wanted to know what I planned to do about it. I don’t how many of you have ever had angry women sitting on your shoulders (or angry men for that matter) but I have found it’s best to take action when they’re trying to get your attention.
As a single mother, I am solely responsible for my children’s support and I needed my business. For me, it represented a future for my children and an opportunity to build something I could never have being someone else’s employee. Having already begged, pleaded and resorted to tears in my mission to convince the administrators of Travel Research Online (TRO) that I was not there for nefarious purposes, and was truly interested in the business, I was finally allowed to access the TRO Community forums. This gave me a place to go for help; but knowing how most “real” travel professionals feel about MLMs and the folks that associate with them, I was terrified of the prospect asking for the very help I so desperately needed. Much to my relief help poured out like manna from the heavens. I received so many emails from other agents offering advice that it made my head hurt. It was the most welcome headache I’ve ever had.
So with much advice and lots of research, I set out to build my business on a real foundation. LK Cruises & Tours was founded last year. My partner and I were determined not to be just another cookie-cutter, website touting, “referring agent”–but an organization devoted to providing great hands-on service in the tradition of “real” travel agents. We operate with two home based locations in Washington, DC. We have affiliated with a host agency and also hold accreditation with the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). Our host (a Virtuoso Agency) provides us with stability and support. We provide our own sweat and passion. And now, if someone asks,”Are you one of those YTB people?”; I can smile and say, “Nope…I’m a real travel agent.”
2009 is the year of the non-profit group for LK Cruises. We are focusing on travel to raise funds and build community. There are a number of Charter schools in Washington that are non-profit entities and qualify to raise funds in a way that is tax advantaged for them and tax deductible for their supporters. I feel strongly that this is a niche upon which we can build. It gets my agency’s name out there in a way that leaves a good feeling in the minds of the schools’ supporters and opens up a wide range of prospects in the individual market. A successful program is self renewing since every family that graduates is replaced by a new family the following year. While this is a modest pipeline (for now), it is one that can be tapped effectively. Case and point–we sold our first school on the proposal last week. Things are definitely looking up!
Nia Frieson is the owner of LK Cruises and Tours, LLC based in Washington, DC. For more information, you can contact Nia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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