Sheila Folk is an experienced travel business owner with an impressive history of working in the leisure, travel, and tourism industry. She grew her travel agency to $8M in two years by creating and implementing a broad range of solutions she needed (but that were not available in the marketplace) to make her business a success. Sheila’s new company, Travel Industry Solutions, has now brought her contracts, tools, guides, and scripts to the entire industry.
Throughout her career, Sheila has demonstrated strong professional skills and expertise in management, strategic planning, and business development; new program and product development, branding, budgeting, and positioning; and negotiation, sales, and corporate communications. She has extensive, hands-on experience in all phases of B2B management, from marketing to establishing protocols for start-up firms. Her big-picture vision to establish and achieve corporate goals has led to triple digit growth, year after year. Before starting her own companies, she held such positions as director of business operations at a global branding company and assistant vice president of marketing at an international professional association.
Travel Research Online: Hi, Sheila. How are you today?
Sheila Folk: Hi Joey. I’m terrific! I know the pandemic has been difficult for many advisors in the industry, including myself. But I always try to turn everything into an opportunity, and it’s paying off in our agency through the offering of private jet tours, more exclusive curated experiences, and better planning and preparation.
TRO: You’ve got an extensive background in the travel industry. What originally drew you to travel?
SF: Although I dearly love travel and have traveled extensively, that is neither what brought me to the industry, nor should it be the reason anybody becomes a travel professional! What drew me to travel was my innate entrepreneurial spirit! I wanted to run my own business and be my own boss, have the freedom to do what I wanted and when, make the kind of money I desired, and create the kind of life I wanted for myself and my family. Like no other field I can think of, travel puts me in the driver’s seat, allowing me to call the shots on how hard I work—any given day of the week—and how much money I make.
TRO: When forming your first company, a travel agency, what skills did you find were the most helpful with growth?
SF: When I started, I quickly knew that I would not be successful if I followed conventional wisdom. I think my most helpful skills were my discernment to identify what didn’t work for me, my ability to solve problems, being able to think outside the box, and the courage, drive, and ability to create something totally new.
TRO: The venture you’re part of now is Travel Industry Solutions, which was formed to help travel advisors with the operations of their travel business. What areas of the industry does TIS cover?
SF: The four keystones of my company are to ensure legal protection, increase efficiencies, manage details, and build relationships. I realized that, if I could provide travel advisors and agency owners with effective solutions for these four things, along with a blueprint for implementing them, I would fill an enormous gap in the travel industry’s available resources. Simply put, providing solutions is what we do. In fact, that’s why my company’s name is Travel Industry Solutions.
TRO: Managing a business presents an entire set of problems that even long-time owners may not be prepared for. One of these is getting all the gears to run smoothly. How does TIS give the Advisor an advantage with increasing efficiency?
SF: Systemization. Standardization. Automation. And implementation. If a travel advisor doesn’t have good processes in place, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged and get lost in the weeds. TIS processes help agents systemize the task of managing the myriad details involved in booking travel. By designing a system with standard elements, agents are able to increase efficiencies without the need to reinvent the wheel, again and again. Automation streamlines the process with the minimal amount of effort to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. And implementation of proven-effective processes from beginning to end allows advisors to continually communicate with their clients, dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, add value throughout each customer’s travel experience, and ultimately and most importantly, earn the clients’ trust.
TRO: There’s a growing need for legal protection with the ever-evolving situations in travel, COVID-19 being one. How does TIS help the Advisor handle contracts and the subsequent legal protection that comes with these?
SF: We view legal protection to be a key component to travel business sustainability. And yet, the cost of securing legal help and advice is prohibitive for the average travel agent. TIS contracts have been developed by a team of compliance and legal professionals, and are fully enforceable and warrantied for covered losses. When COVID-19 hit, we added to our contract suite legal documents that specifically addressed the virus and its travel-related risks. We also provided step-by-step guidance that helped agents confront the many challenges resulting from the pandemic.
TRO: Speaking of contracts, laws and regulations change over time. With this, contracts and agreements need to be updated. Does TIS offer this service?
SF: We built revisions and updates into our legal protection products. Our compliance/legal team makes all the changes, as necessary, at no additional cost to our clients.
TRO: Staying connected to clients remains one of the single most important ways to increase business. With TIS, you have tools to help with this. Can you tell us about these?
SF: One of the biggest complaints travel customers have is being left out of the loop! But, why? There’s no excuse for that to happen—ever! Our scripts provide information, updates, and reminders to the clients at every phase of the booking process, and beyond. We provide tips and guides that tutor advisors on how to stay in touch after their clients return home from their travels, as that is key to solidifying and extending client relationships. We also provide guidance, additional scripts, and suggestions to help agents connect with prospects and attract potential clients.
TRO: Does Travel Industry Solutions have any announcements or upcoming news that Advisors should be aware of?
SF: Yes! One thing we promise our clients is that TIS will never be static! We are committed to growing, improving, and continually addressing industry challenges! We’ve updated several of our most popular products; are rolling out new guidance on a variety of challenges that result in heartburn for every travel agent on the planet; have produced new videos that include valuable business tips and tools; and are introducing new, more user-friendly elements to our website!
TRO: Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk with us, Sheila.
SF: Thank you for your interest in Travel Industry Solutions. It’s been my pleasure to spend time with you today!