For more than 16 years Michele Olson has been passionate about vacation travel. Starting at entry level and working her way to Director of Product Development & Marketing she’s learned the tour operator business with an emphasis on how to provide a quality product to travel agents (and their clients) while maintaining a profitable bottom line.
TRO: What inspired you to work in the travel industry?
MO: I came across the job by accident but was inspired by our then Director of Product Development & Marketing and now President, Rene Jongmans. During the weekly meetings he would educate us on hotels and destinations and what was on sale. I had never traveled outside the United States at that point but was immediately bitten by the travel bug…and I felt like it was obtainable for even someone as young and new to the business as I was.
TRO: What is the best part about working for Vacation Express?
MO: I love being surrounded by people with the same passion for travel and passion for the company. Most of them have been with the company for over 10 years and we share a personal and professional history. So many people in my position work exclusively from home but I look forward to being in the office.
TRO: Every job has its challenges, what is the most challenging part of your position?
MO: The challenges are what make the job so interesting. Seriously, I can’t imagine doing one thing for so long if it didn’t challenge and interest me every single day. The most relevant challenge is making sure travel agents are top of mind with our supplier partners. These days it is easy for them to focus on the “quick fix” online companies to fulfill their hotel and destination needs but travel agents continue to be a fundamental part of the travel business.
TRO: Vacation Express’ most popular destination has been Mexico for some time. With all of the recent publicity about safety concerns in the country, how has this affected your company?
MO: It is very sad that the negative news about Mexico has affected many wonderful tourist destinations that are not even close to the areas that are mentioned in the news. The US market is very important to the success of Mexico’s tourism industry and with other countries and continents around the world still traveling to Mexico in record numbers, I hope the U.S. market will recover soon as well. At Vacation Express we have seen a reduction in sales to Mexico but travel agents and clients who visit the country continue to rave about it and we can only hope that, in 2012, travel to Mexico will return to normal.
TRO: When it comes time for you to take a vacation, where do you like to go?
MO: I’m definitely in the right business because I’m a beach girl. I love Jamaica. As my kids get older our vacations to the beach continue to change. In the beginning it was about the kids club and getting some quiet time to myself and now it’s about watersports and learning to snorkel. Next year we’ll be able to delve into destination history and culture.
TRO: Speaking of vacations, have you taken any trips recently that you would like to share?
MO: In October I was in Cancun and the Riviera Maya and was happy to see improvements and new hotels on the horizon. By January, Omni and La Amada by Excellence will go totally all-inclusive. Early next year Palace Resorts will re-brand and transform one of their Cancun hotels into a Hard Rock Hotel. By Easter, Riu will open the Riu Palace Peninsula. In July, Secrets The Vine will open. And before the end of this year Iberostar will open the Iberostar Cancun in the hotel zone and Sol Melia will finally open the Paradisus Playa del Carmen development. I had the opportunity to visit both hotels and was very impressed with both concepts.
TRO: Are there any places on your “bucket list”?
MO: Tough question…I’ve traveled throughout Mexico, the Caribbean and Costa Rica so it would definitely be somewhere in Europe. I’ve had the privilege of knowing so many people from other countries while working at Vacation Express but I’m most interested in learning more about where my Spanish friends come from; so Spain it is.
TRO:Since you’ve worked in the industry for so long, you understand tour operators’ relationships with travel agents better than most. Please explain Vacation Express’ relationships with agents.
MO: I’ve realized over the years how important it is for travel agents to find a company, either tour operator or hotel, that they can entrust their package vacation business to. That’s one of the things we try hard to do at VE every day – earn the trust and respect of our travel agent partners and their clients by delivering a quality experience (whether online or in our call center) consistently, every time
TRO: Why do you think agents should partner with Vacation Express?
MO: Even though many tour operators offer a similar product, Vacation Express provides travel agents with unique agent incentive programs that are unparalleled in the industry. For consumers we also have unique programs in place such as our Reduced Deposit Plan or our Prestige Package Upgrades. Combine this with the personalized attention we provide to all our travel agents and the expertise of our staff and it is not hard to see how Vacation Express can be a great partner for travel agents.
TRO: Is there anything new on the horizon for Vacation Express that you would like to share with the travel agent community?
MO: Even though our focus in the past few years has been on scheduled air service, we believe that the time might be right again to look at charter service from certain gateways. We see the charter business as a cyclical business and when new opportunities arise we want to be at the right place at the right time.