If there’s one thing Lisa Watson knows after 19 years in the travel industry, it’s just how much there is to know. On Valentine’s Day, she launched a project she hopes will help travel professionals by pulling all that information together in one giant free educational resource.
FyndTravel—”where travel pros belong”—has been her mission since 2018, when she left Oasis Travel Network to go out on her own. Interrupted by Covid, she launched a beta of the FyndTravel website in 2022, and took it live just this month.
Over a career of planning events and conferences for ASTA, NACTA (now known as the ASTA Small Business Network) and Oasis, she saw just how many business services and events and training programs are available to the travel community, with more coming online what seemed like every day. So her site serves as a resource that lists suppliers and BDMs, events and training programs, “anything that is good for travel advisors or that a travel advisor recommends.”
FyndTravel is not a host agency, a booking engine or a consortium, she emphasizes. “We are not any of those segments you are used to, but a networking platform and a business directory to enhance travel advisors’ professional and business development.” What sets it apart is that it’s an independent platform, so it is not limited by any affiliation, brand or “preferred partner” status. “My goal has always been to empower travel advisors and, with FyndTravel, I feel like I’m finally making a real difference.”
The site includes a supplier directory of technology and business services, listing things like telecommunications providers, websites for travel advisors, mentors and marketing specialists who cater to travel advisors. There’s a travel industry calendar with direct links to register, and reviews of educational programs and suppliers. “I want to really give the voice back to the travel advisor; instead of the consortia saying to use their preferred supplier, I wanted to quote travel advisors saying ‘this supplier took care of me and my clients.’”
So how will she make money? There is a membership fee of $8 a month or $67 a year for travel advisors, and various membership packages for suppliers (starting at $99) that offer the advantage of reaching small and independent travel advisors. She doesn’t expect to get rich; “it’s my passion project and I really want to provide it,” she says.
Though she declined to cite numbers, Watson says “it’s been a steady stream” of people joining up through the beta test, and she projects about 2,000 members in 2023.
Already in the works is the next version, FyndTravelAdvisor.com, aimed at the consumer market. Launching in the summer, it will enable travel advisors with three or more years of experience to list their niches and specialties on a searchable site, while an Aspiring Travel Advisor program will offer a community for newcomers.
For now, the former event planner is not planning any live events, though a mini-conference is possible “way down the road. I do want to be able to get the members together to share that community feel,” she says.
Also in the planning stage is a BDM directory, where travel advisors can click on a map to access a list of local BDMs. The site already offers lists of supplier sales teams where BDMs can post marketing materials and promotions, and lists of DMCs and their specialties.
The beta group of customers who have been testing the site has nothing but positive things to say. Says Kelly Burgin of the Duglin Travel Group:
- The Travel Events Calendar is a real time saver. It helps me not only coordinate my calendar with what is going on in the industry but, as president of the ASTA South Florida chapter, I can research events so I do not book a date that already has an event. And it has multiple ways to search for events, so the date range option is very helpful for me. Also, it helps me promote our events to advisors that may not be ASTA members yet.
- I like the Advisor magazine section under the Explore tab. I think this is a great resource for new advisors, and I use it to point my new advisors in the right direction.
- The In-Airport Hotel directory is a real help. I don’t know of anywhere else that I can find info about hotels that are actually connected to airports.
Helen Prochilo Maley, owner of Promal Vacations, likes the fact “that Lisa has suppliers who may not be affiliated with large hosts or consortia, because it’s an independent site. That gives us a lot of suppliers we might not know about. She carefully vets them as she does the agents.”
As a snowbird who travels with the seasons from New York to Florida, “my favorite thing is the listing of travel events. It’s easy to see everything in one place and the search function is great. I can search for the dates I’m in Florida to see what’s going on since I may not be in databases down here.”
Deb Belchak at Lazy Dayz Travel in Standish, MI, noted that throughout the beta testing Watson constantly reached out to ask for her opinion and thoughts.
“I love the concept,” Belchak said, “and I think it will be helpful to travel advisors who are just starting out but also to those who’ve been in the industry for a long time.”
She too finds the industry calendar and the In-Airport Hotel Directory the two best resources on the site; last week when a client’s flight was canceled she “just went to it, said ‘Yup this destination has an in airport hotel’, and confirmed it.”
She also likes the chatty community forum where travel advisors can share their war stories. She loved the post about a client who booked his own cruise and then called the travel advisor and said he just had a couple of questions to ask her. The travel advisor said she’d be over shortly—and soon appeared at his pizzeria with a frozen pizza and asked him to warm it for her. Perplexed, he said, “You know I make my money by selling pizza, don’t you?” “Yes of course,” she replied. “And I make my money by selling cruises.”
Just hanging out on a friendly site with other travel advisors “puts some relaxation in our day, and reminds us that we are not alone,” Belchak says.
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.