Describe your business
I am an independent travel agent. I focus on vacations for families, couple and groups. The most common areas I schedule are the Caribbean, cruises, Disney, Europe and destinations inside the US.
How did you get started?
I took an online course to get certified as an agent. It takes 6-9 months to complete the course and then finishes with an exam.
For the first two years, I worked as an independent contractor for another travel agent. You need recommendations from suppliers you have worked with to become certified as a travel agent. I worked under my friend’s agent number those first two years. I got paid a split commission and had to have my own insurance, it is like an internship in the beginning.
Now I started my own business, Treehouse Travel, out of my home. I have been working hard and managed to triple my business in the last year! I love to travel and love to plan all the little details so being a travel agent is a perfect fit for me.
How do you work around your kids and their schedule?
I mostly try to get stuff done during the school day, summer is more challenging. My oldest two are both working this summer, but the younger two are home with me. They are pretty good about entertaining themselves when they need to.
The nature of my business is a little slower for reservations in the summer. Everyone who is taking a summer vacation made reservations several months ago. I am starting to be contacted for fall travel now, but it is slower day to day in the summer.
I am available some evenings, or weekends, for clients who can’t talk during the day. And I am on call for clients who are currently traveling in case of emergency.
The main reason I went into this field was the flexibility. Formally, I worked as an occupational therapist, but there was no flexibility to stay home when the kids needed me. My background is not in business, so is has been a good challenge to start my own business.
What are the tools that you use to do this business?
Laptop, travel agent programs, printer and a cell phone with headset. That is pretty much it.
I am continually doing training online and take trips a few times a year to new places. There are trip sponsored by suppliers to different parts of the world. They are offered at a discount to travel agents so they can familiarize themselves with multiple resorts at once. I can’t take any guests and will tour 12-18 resorts in three to four days, so they are really working trips, not pleasure trips.
I also tour cruise ships when they are nearby in Boston or Portland. It gives me a chance to see what different classes of rooms are like on different ships. These tours also give me a chance to meet other agents, now I have a network of professionals that I can contact for recommendation.
I also try to keep up with political happenings all over the world and weather such as hurricanes or tropical storms, so that I can advise my clients.
Do you do regular marketing or advertising?
Mostly I rely on word of mouth. I do some local advertising and sponsor local events. In the past I have been to some Meet and Greets hosted by local Chambers of Commerce. I also set up a referral program for referring friends of current clients, I send a small thank you gift to the referrer.
What is your greatest challenge?
Communicating what a travel agent does these days!
Basically, all those online sites are travel agents and do what I do but are more work for you! My clients don’t pay a fee to use my services. I receive a commission from the travel company or supplier. The only time it doesn’t work like that is if a client is buying only an airline ticket with no hotel or rental car.
People don’t realize that they are paying the same amount if they book themselves or book through me. And if you book through me I can answer all your questions and will be on call for problems when you are traveling. I also have many connections for special requests you might have, for example I can email a hotel manager to help fulfill a need or special request.
What has been your biggest win?
It’s great when someone comes back and says they had the best trip ever. Or when a kids sends me a message or card saying they had a great time at Disney.
I was also so excited when I was able to advocate for someone who showed up at a resort to find they weren’t getting what they expected. And one February vacation when snow shut down Boston, I was able to get everyone who booked through me rerouted so they could still go on vacation.
Would you suggest that other mothers do this type of business?
It really depends. It is a time commitment, but the upside is its flexible. You could make it mostly evening hours if that was what worked for your family.
You have to be very organized, and need dedicated space for files and calendars. It is commission based work and you are only paid after people travel so it is quite a bit of unpaid work to get started. I worked for six months before I started to get paid because people book quite a few months into the future. It is not a get rich quick business. You need a real love for travel, planning and people.
What tips would you give to someone who want to be in this business?
Contact a travel agent who could give you some good advice and be a mentor. You can get certified through classes at many local technical colleges. I did it online through Penn Foster. You need to work under another agent at first to get started because of the overwhelming amount of information.
I am more concerned with having a relationship with my clients and developing trust, I am not interested in up-selling you a big vacation. I genuinely like to plan trips for people, I love the organization and scheduling.