Looking for extra income or just something to do while business was slow, travel advisors have expanded beyond their usual routines into new avenues—both inside the business and out.
At My Path Unwinding Travel in Waxhaw, NC, for example, Karen Shelton noticed that 11 of the 12 customers in her Disney Wonder group had booked suites—and decided to promote an all-suite group on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas for the first time, so customers can compare the two.
“I’m super excited about this,” says Shelton, whose specialty has traditionally been Disney concierge-level suites. “I booked the Royal Suite for myself and got the ball rolling.”
The numbers are still coming in, she says, but “we are already at 16 suites and counting. My only regret is not holding more space, as we have people disappointed that the higher-end suites are all booked.”
In Canada, Lorraine Simpson of Lorraine Simpson Travels in Niagara has also been expanding her side gig as the travel expert for five years on Cityline TV in Canada. “I love the camera, I love being on TV, and I have lots of extra footage,” she says. “When Covid hit, we took the $2,000 a month the Canadian government gave us [in unemployment benefits] and turned it into a little business” making videos for national TV networks in Canada.
When Canada closed its borders “I just said okay, we can’t travel internationally. So let’s go across Canada.”
She traveled the country with a videographer—and just last week, after an arduous process that included a 100-page application—received government approval to call her shows “certified Canadian content,” a certain amount of which the public networks are required to air.
For now, the enterprise is all about cost, but Simpson doesn’t care. “When I was seven years old there was a show called Holiday at 7 pm on Sunday night, and I was absolutely besotted with travel; and, ever since, I have wanted to do exactly what I am doing right now,” she says. “It’s just the coolest thing ever. It’s not about the money; it’s just about entertaining people and talking about what I love. I earn way more as a travel agent than I do as a TV host.”
Still, most travel shows use footage from tourists boards—not unique and high-quality footage like hers, “being immersive, feeding the elephants, going off the beaten path. We’re going to give it to them for free for now and, hopefully when it gets picked up in the future, I will be able to get paid for it. I’m confident we have a really brilliant show and this is the stepping stone to the next step.”
In Broken Arrow, OK, meanwhile, Stephanie Cannon of SC Travel Design has kept her CPA license active since she started doing travel. When the pandemic hit, she found herself with time to follow her passion to help other travel advisors pull together the numbers that make the difference between business success and failure. She created a Facebook group and ran some workshops offering up some simple steps to getting the business in order. Now she is offering a“Financial Tasks Checklist” to help travel advisors map out their monthly money process, and a series of core financial products for sale.
The first, Booked to Banked, a spreadsheet bundle that helps travel advisors track their sales and commissions until they receive payment, sold out; it will be renewed in May or June at a price point “about $200.” The current Tax Prep Kit helps travel advisors prepare and organize their numbers and documents for tax time; 430 travel advisors have signed on so far, in just one month. Now she is offering a “Crack the Cashflow Code” session on how to project your cash flow and a series of core financial products for sale.
In Brick, NJ, Dena Troisi of Affordable Destinations was looking for some companionship and support—and felt the nearest travel-advisor-networking group chapter, about 60 miles north, was just too far away. She came across PATAM and liked its mission statement: to provide educational forums and networking for travel professionals, facilitate strong relationships with partners, support travel, and donate to charitable causes. So she started a new chapter of PATAM to cover the state of New Jersey.
The first meeting will be April 11 in Bricktown; Maria DiRocco of Central Holidays will be talking about Italy, Greece, and Egypt. Membership is just $79, $37 of which goes to the national organization. (For April they are offering a special $69 rate; contact Troisi at email@example.com to ask for it.) They already have 60 members, she says.
Dinner is $30 per person but Troisi hopes to hold lunch meetings at a lower cost down the road; “we want it to be affordable.” The chapter welcomes everyone, including nonmembers and suppliers, to its events and dinners. And Troisi hopes to do a group trip to Italy next year that all the PATAM agents can sell together.
Looking at a New Niche
Geoff Millar also has been bucking the trends; after 36 years of selling only land vacations, he is taking a new look at cruises.
“When we started out 36 years ago, we sold only all-inclusives; our sales were in the millions, and we never really got into the mainstream cruise market,” he says. “We make a lot more money selling land.”Then came Covid—and months when “you couldn’t sell Mexico on a bet.” So being “very selective” in which he sold, he focused on international and river cruises; within the United States he sells only Hawaii.
His 2021 sales included more than $2 million in resorts in Mexico and Hawaii, many of them groups; average commission in the Caribbean is $800 per sale, and in Hawaii it’s over $1,000—”and I don’t think people are making those kinds of commissions on cruises,” he says.
Still, he has been talking with a “loose consortium of independent yacht owners” he met at CruiseWorld about yacht vacations. “Basically I am at Step One,” he acknowledges. “I’ve found that the client base for Hawaii all-inclusives is totally different from river cruises.”
The yacht vacations are reasonably priced, at just over $2,000 per person, about the same price as an all-inclusive. But he is taking it slow. “I’ve always preached specialization; I’m not a fan of being a generalist,” he says. “With the amount of information that’s available to clients, the last thing you want is for a client to come in and know more than you do. But you can be a specialist in more than one thing. And I do believe that if I go learn a new product, I should charge the client a fee.”
Making Lemonade in Tahiti
But perhaps the best story of turning lemons into lemonade comes from Claire Maguire of Up in the Air Claire, a Cruise Planner franchisee who tested positive for Covid on the last day of her group’s trip to Tahiti. Quarantined for 10 days at Le Tahiti by Pearl Resorts, Maguire didn’t complain. She got to work fulfilling her dream of writing a book.
Traveling without her laptop for the first time ever, she literally wrote the whole thing and did all the graphic design on her iPad.
Maguire’s e-book, Make your Bucket List a Reality, goes live this week (https://upintheairclairetravel.com/). It offers motivational tactics designed to “teach people how to take something they are afraid of and push through it, how to set goals and accomplish them. For someone who doesn’t know where to start, it’s a fun read that takes them through the A-Z of making their bucket list a reality.”
In the end, she says, having Covid “turned out to be a blessing. My mission statement is to change 1,000 lives through travel—and this is a great way to start.”
Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook.
As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business and technology sectors.