Author Archives: Mary Stephan

There are 50 articles by Mary Stephan published on this site.


How to Be Successful

Last month I represented TRO in their booth at the Trade Show for Travel Weekly’s Cruise World 2011 and the Home Based Agent Show in Ft. Lauderdale. The best part of being at Trade Shows is the opportunity to meet agents from all over the US, Canada and even South America and showing them all the great tools TRO has to offer. If you haven’t already taken a look around the TRO site and utilized all they have to offer, you are missing some great stuff.
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Time to Educate the Consumer

As travel agents we all go the extra mile for our clients. At least we should if we want to stay in business. We know resorts, destinations, the best restaurants. We can take care of problems that crop up during a client’s vacation. But, does the average consumer know all of this? Do they really “get” what we do? I don’t think they do.

As travel agents we are doing a mediocre job of educating consumers. Case in point-I once gave a presentation to my networking group on “Why use a travel agent.” Read the rest of this entry »

I have received a number of e-mails from agents and agencies wanting more information on how to start a local travel agent association.   This is not a very complicated process.  In fact, it is as simple as picking a date and venue that has a community room (such as a local library, restaurant or hotel that is willing to let you have meeting space at a low cost) then emailing a flyer to agencies in your area asking them to join you either for breakfast or an evening social.
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Baby steps

I wrote an article for Travel Agent Perspective a while back about developing a support system and getting to know agents in your community. This article struck a chord with an agent in my hometown. He emailed me and thought it was a wonderful idea.  As a result, we decided to try and form a travel agent association comprised of full time travel agents in our community.   Our goals for the association is to promote our value using the local media to the public and to overcome the perception that travel agents are not needed any longer.

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Networking 101

As a home based agent one of the biggest hurdles I face is visibility. I have found networking a great way to get the word out on what I do and to meet potential new clients.  To network effectively  requires time & effort and getting out of the house. Trust me, I know it’s hard to get out of the house when the wind chill is hovering somewhere near zero. It’s easy to just stay in your warm sweats and not go anywhere.  But, sitting home doesn’t give you the face to face time you need to successfully build your business.

If you have never attempted to network before-it can be intimidating.  Where do you  find  networking groups?  Meetup.com is a great resource on finding   networking groups in your community. It’s free but you need to create a log in. Once you have your log in, search for “networking groups” in whatever city you live. Peruse the groups and find a couple that spark your interest. Email the President or membership chairperson and ask for more information.  Be sure to ask them if you can attend their meeting.  Some groups may be closed or not taking new members. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to educate the consumer

As travel agents we all go the extra mile for our clients. At least we should if we want to stay in business. We know resorts, destinations, the best restaurants. We can take care of problems that crop up during a client’s vacation. But, does the average consumer know all of this? Do they really “get” what we do? I don’t think they do.

As travel agents we are doing a mediocre job of educating consumers. Case in point-I gave a presentation to my networking group recently on “Why use a travel agent.” In my presentation, Read the rest of this entry »

Some days it isn’t easy

Just when we think we have things in control—life throws us a curve ball or, in some cases, a knuckle ball. Some days are good, some are bad. When it’s a bad day it can be a really, really bad day. The car refuses to start at the most inopportune time or as far away from home as possible. The dog throws up. The cat has a hairball. Your angelic child gets detention. The dishwasher is creating a lake in the middle of your kitchen.  And, that knocking sound? It’s not the UPS man. It’s your washing machine. That bottle of Merlot is starting to look very tempting right about now.

It’s the same with business. Good days and bad days. Some days you are on top of the world and everything is right as rain. Then a black cloud descends and everything that can go wrong does. Weather has wrecked havoc on your client’s flights and they call screaming at you. That destination wedding group heading to sunny Jamaica is stuck on the tarmac and the bride Read the rest of this entry »

Do we need mandatory certification?

In my home state and many states across the country travel agents are not regulated.  There aren’t any education, licensing or insurance requirements. Travel agents do not have to submit to criminal background checks. Anyone can be a travel agent. The infiltration of “card mills or MLMs” is out of control.

Other professionals in my state such as cosmetologists, massage therapists, plumbers, real estate agents, accountants etc. all have to meet mandatory certification requirements and be licensed. Why are travel agents not regulated? Travel agents are allowed to handle thousands of dollars without mandatory licensing, no educational requirements or meet minimum financial standards. Read the rest of this entry »

Does anyone else find the term “Home Based Agent,” to be overused and insulting? Maybe I am getting old but I find the term derogatory. I know an attorney who works at home. He is not called a “Home Based Attorney.” Just an attorney. The same with an accountant. He is an accountant not a “home based accountant.” Same with a wedding planner, caterer, professional organizer or realtor who work at home. None of these professions have the word “Home Based” in front of them.

I understand the term was conceived to separate us from the brick and mortar agencies back in the day when agents started to move home. In 2010, we have moved past this designation. Agents are choosing to work at home and are very successful. We are ALL travel agents, consultants, advisors. Why lump those Read the rest of this entry »

Ethics and why they are important

What exactly does the term “business ethics” mean? Why are ethics important in today’s wiifmw (what’s in it for me world?)

Wikepedia’s defines “ Business ethics is a form of applied ethics that examines ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that arise in a business environment. It applies to all aspects of business conduct and is relevant to the conduct of individuals and business organizations as a whole.”

My definition is doing the right thing, all the time. No matter how difficult it may be. Being  responsible for your own actions.

According to the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) companies that make a commitment to ethics and have a clear policy on ethics outperform companies Read the rest of this entry »

When life hands you lemons….

I started the New Year with high hopes that this year would definitely be better than the previous year. My business was doing great. I was getting exposure in the local media. I finally had money to really market and advertise my business. Things were chugging along.Just when I thought things were turning the corner –bam!  My life as I knew it started to unravel.  I was sitting at my desk diligently working one cold Feb. afternoon when my brother called. They had rushed my Mom to the emergency room because she was having stomach pains.  I knew my Mother was resilient and thought this would be a temporary setback.  Read the rest of this entry »

Promoting our Value

Recently, I have had booth space in 2 consumer shows here in my home town. While talking to people who stopped by,  I was amazed at the number of consumers who said they booked their vacations online.  I have said it before and I am going to say it again-travel agents and agencies need to show our value to the consumer. The average consumer thinks we don’t provide any real tangible value. They still think they are getting the best pricing doing it themselves.

How do you show value to consumers? Do you treat your clients like they are VIPs? Do you react negatively when they call you for a simple air request? Do you react negatively to budget consumers? Today’s budget consumer may be tomorrow’s upscale traveler. Everyone should follow the Golden Rule-treat others how you would like to be treated. Do we consistently do that? Do our negative thoughts affect how we treat others? Read the rest of this entry »

A Spirit of Cooperation

The Sunday travel section of my local newspaper was losing advertisers. Not only that— the content was lacking imagination. Circulation was down as it is with a lot of newspapers across the country. In an effort to boost lagging advertising revenue the new account executive reached out to the travel agent community for support and help. She scheduled meetings with the editorial staff to find out what we as travel agents wanted from our local travel section. We agreed that they needed to be more pro-active in promoting local travel agencies and advertising rates needed to be more affordable, especially for smaller and home based agents. Soon, the new rate sheet reflected more affordable advertising and the possibility of sharing advertising among smaller agencies. This was a win-win situation for travel agents. We are continuing to have ongoing meetings to improve content. The end result is a revamped travel section that will benefit local travel agencies.

While I look at the paper’s spirit of cooperation as a good move, I think we as an agent community have a long way to go. Working together in a spirit of cooperation is in everyone’s best interest. There is plenty of business to go around. We should not be undercutting, rebating or making negative comments about other agencies or agents to get a sale. This just defeats the purpose and makes us all look bad. Read the rest of this entry »

Allons Travel — A year in review

As I sit and write my final travel agent diary piece for the year, I reflect back on what a ride it’s been. Writing the diaries has been cathartic for me. It has given me the opportunity to look at my business, my life, my shortcomings and my successes. Some of it has been painful. Self examination always is.

The year started out full of hope and promise. People would ask if the recession had affected my business and I would say, “What recession?” Things were going great. Then reality smacked me in the face.  The phone was quiet, people were nervous about spending money. Those that did call were shopping Read the rest of this entry »

Allons Travel — Time for me

Getting sick isn’t any fun. Multiply that by two. Yup, that’s right, I have been sick twice in the last couple of months. As my doctor said, my body is definitely telling me something.

While working from home is great—it has its definite drawbacks. The biggest one in my case is access to a well stocked refrigerator and pantry. Although, I am not really overweight I need to lose some weight like we all do. I need to quit making trips downstairs and raiding the refrigerator when I am frustrated. I need to stop eating at my desk.  I need to get out and exercise and quit making excuses. Starting November 1st I have pledged to be healthier. Eat healthier, exercise and manage the frustrations of running my own business. From now on its fruits and veggies—no more chips and dip. Read the rest of this entry »

What do you do?

Have you ever been at a cocktail party, family gathering,  networking event, Chamber of Commerce meeting or sitting at your kid’s soccer game  and someone asks you what do you do?  If you start reciting your 30 second elevator speech chances are their eyes are going to glaze over and they are going to make a feeble excuse to get away from you. So, how do you handle these circumstances? You don’t want to turn people off and running away. I suggest having a good 15 second introduction to tell them what you do.  You want to keep it short, snappy and tell them what makes you unique and why you are different from everyone else.  Be clear and concise. Read the rest of this entry »

Allons Travel — Back to school

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a local college campus for a meeting. Walking through the beautiful trees on campus and seeing the students scurrying to class made me nostalgic for my college days. I longed to return to campus life and learning. But I remembered how luck I was to be in the travel industry. You don’t need to go to college to continue your knowledge especially in the travel industry. Read the rest of this entry »

Allons Travel–Dog daze of summer

Last month found me taking a look at my website, business cards and working on my marketing plan. I was starting to make progress. Then August came. School is just around the corner with a last minute vacation with the kids, a class reunion,  and a few weddings, block parties, pool parties, etc.. Add to that the craziest weather I have ever seen—one minute hot & humid the next we are in the high 50’s.  Is it any wonder my brain seems to have taken a vacation. What happened to summer? It just started! It can’t be time for school supplies, backpacks and all the other fun stuff. Can it? It’s enough to make me want to retreat under my covers and not come out till spring again.

But I can’t forget that there is a business to run.  Read the rest of this entry »

August 20th is circled on my calendar in red. Why August 20th you ask? It’s the day the kids go back to school. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. Working from home has its challenges with the kids, dogs and other distractions–especially in the summer.  I am a big proponent for year round school, 2 weeks off and back to the grind. That would eliminate the endless questions of when are we going to the pool?  When are we going here, there and everywhere? It would even eliminate my all time favorite, “Mom, I have nothing to do.” Read the rest of this entry »

Allons Travel — More changes

My last diary entry— I found myself doing a 6 month checkup to see where I have been, where I am going and where I need to be.  Writing for the diairies has allowed me to take a long, hard look at myself and my business; and it has not been easy. The hardest thing for me is to admit something isn’t working and to change it. Change is hard. I am they type of person that likes the status quo.  But, in order to be a better travel professional and improve my business, change is a necessity. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer is my favorite time of year. Barbecues, outdoor symphony concerts, movies under the stars, block parties and family reunions are times to relax , kickback and restore my sanity. The days are long,   the weather heats up and schedules loosen up.  Summer is also a good time to give yourself a 6 month check up to see where you are, where you’ve been and where you need to go. Read the rest of this entry »