Tammy’s experience with building businesses began before she could legally vote. At the age of 16, she drove to New York, found a room to rent off of a Laundromat’s wall and worked as a secretary at a wholesale appliance store. After one year of learning the business, she called the owner of the shipping company they used to ship their appliances and laid out reasons for why they should combine their two businesses into one full-service company. That is how, at the age of 17, she became a founding partner of 7 Islands Shipping, the top company in the United States for export shipping to the Mediterranean throughout the 1980’s and ‘90s. It was her first Strategic Partnership and formed her lifelong philosophy of successful entrepreneurship.
After series of unfortunate life events, Tammy returned to her roots and passion for travel, where she has continually succeeded in growing her empire. Tammy’s journey is truly remarkable, read on for more inspiring stories!
Travel Research Online: What was your earliest travel memory you can recall?
Tammy Levent: My parents sent me to Greece alone! Yes alone! In 1969 I was 7 years old. I remember having media all over me..the two channels we had back then. Im sure they were wondering what parent would send their 7 year old to Greece to visit family I had never met – for 3 months. Lets say it was definitely an eventful experience. First, the Air France stewardesses at the time spoke no English. Then, we stopped in Paris and they told me not to leave the kiosk where they had me sitting.. I did not move. Hours later they came by and yelled at each other, I could not figure out what was going on. They forgot me and the flight was taking off – yes without me. They stopped the plane on the tar mat, I took a shuttle bus to the plane, and boarded. I land in Athens (which seemed like an eternity ), and the photo was of my aunt from her wedding photo of her about 15 years earlier! She did not look like the photo. However, they came to me and asked that I went with them. As hesitant as I was, I had no choice, hoping it was the correct family. Thankfully, it was! I had fun at the family outings, beaches, mountains, historic events, the Olympic sites, and more. I remember all of this vividly. It was the trip of a lifetime!
TRO: What inspired you to work in the travel industry?
TL: I’ve had always had a love for travel since my parents were frequently traveling. By the time I was 13 I had been to about 45 states via RV. I moved back to Florida and started a successful jewelry store and in 1994, our lives changed when two armed robbers stole more than 95 percent of the inventory, forcing us to close. Solely responsible for the financial support of my family, I took a job as a telemarketer selling timeshare packages and quickly became the top salesperson in the company. One year later, as I was training new employees in sales calls, my grandmother and my two small children were involved in a fatal car accident that my grandmother didn’t survive and put my children in intensive care. I resigned so I could care for my children while they were recovering. It was a nurse in that ICU who posed the question that changed the course of my future. She asked, “If it had nothing to do with money, what would you do?” I said “I would travel the world.” With a family to feed, no assets, and a deficit of $180 thousand dollars, I leveraged strategic partnerships to build Elite Travel, a travel management company that has done more than $75 million in traveled business. Winning numerous awards since opening in 1996, Elite Travel has become one of the fastest growing, most trusted travel agencies in the nation, specializing in corporate incentive travel, luxury travel, destination weddings and honeymoons. Obviously it was my calling and the rest is history!
TRO: Tell us about your new T.A.S.K. Program.
TL: The Travel Agent’s Agent After having built Elite Travel in the wake of 9/11, during the collapse of the airlines, and in the face of natural disasters, the recession, and the onslaught of online booking engines, I know better than most how to create a successful business in an adverse climate. I also know that the travel agent industry needs help to restore our dignity and revive the art of travel. To win our clients back, we need to change the way we think of travel agents and redefine the business. In 2013, I partnered with several top entrepreneurs, including Kevin Harrington (Shark Tank and As Seen on TV), to develop The Travel Agent’s Success Kit ™ to help struggling travel agencies successfully adapt to this new age of travel. Now travel agents across the globe have access to my videos, webinars, books, and my personal mentorship, so they can learn the business strategies that will allow them to be more than travel agents – they’ll become entrepreneurs. After all, I did start this business from minus and felt that anything can be done if you really work hard and strategically at it. I just have the know-how and the right tools to make it work and wanted to share all of it at this point of my life.
TRO: How did the idea of this program transpire?
TL: I would go to events and see travel agents not happy, miserable in fact. Attitudes were not uplifting and they just looked beat down! I had to step in and make a difference!
TRO: What is your most used strategy for success?
TL: Strategic Partners! I even have an entire video segment on that. The use of partnerships for both parties is always rewarding. Strategic Partnerships Bartering is alive and well. What do you have that costs nothing for you to give, and how can you exchange it for something you need – without costing the other party anything either? I have started and expanded several businesses using this exact recipe. Your employees have limitless resources to market, network, and build your brand – this first workshop will shift their perspective so they can see them. Strategic Partnerships take classic “networking” to a whole new level, and will help your business reach that next level too. You’ll find yourself with an army of people working with you to help you succeed. And you don’t even have to cut them a check at the end of the month.
TRO: Why is the T.A.S.K Program a beneficial tool for travel agents?
TL: I take them through a step by step program of what works; what I did with little or no money to succeed and still use the same methodology today. I start with Branding and Marketing, then, we discuss social media, mobile apps, lead generation, vendor relationships and customer service. I have brought the best leaders in the world to help travel agents see that they are true entrepreneurs: Kevin Harrington, Barbara Glanz, Nick Nanton to name a few. They are experts in their field of how to build your customer service, your branding, and more.
TRO: What has been your most memorable experience in the industry?
TL: A client of mine made headlines in August for being left in a hospital in Turkey. Dodge Melkonian, 89, broke his hip and the Azamara cruise ship stranded he and his wife Jill in a small hospital with no intensive care unit. The struggle to get insurance for this man was horrendous. Help only came after the incident made international news and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson publicly blasted the cruise line and contacted the American embassy in Turkey. I employed the media and leveraged with Azamara and the travel insurance company to tend to the Melkonians and the rising hospital bill. My travel agency was able to contact Okan Kutlu to translate for the couple and assist them. I am now working with Nelson’s office with the hope of proposing a law banning cruise lines from abandoning people without help at international ports.
TRO: What advice would you give to a struggling travel agent?
TL: You need to just do it! There are no excuses, don’t use the online platforms as an excuse, or the economy, or high airline rates – you need to build the brand and it will all come to you. You cannot complain you have no business if you don’t go out and get the leads. I can offer so many ways on how to do that – how to follow up, how to brand, how to set yourself apart.. in any location!
TRO: Do you have anything exciting on the horizon?
TL: I’m currently working on my third book on how I traveled from minus to millions. I have also been made an educator with The Travel Institute.. exciting promoting the TASK Force! Travel agents are here to stay motto! And then.. I have developed an app for travel agents. That will be amazing! Mine is coming out in a couple of weeks.. for now I do have the Tammy Levent available but we are working on Elite Travel. We will have it custom to all travel agents needs on the app… if you do not have a decent website, a mobile app by 2014. You are not heading in the right direction. I have been working with the developer to cut costs of apps down.. the average cost of an app is 1500-2000 we will be able to sell this app for 699.00 .. and a small monthly service fee .. WE will be promoting on TRO as well.. and will have more details as they unfold! Again making changes for the travel industry globally.. one agency at a time.