Miriam Geiser is a luxury travel advisor with MoonRings, a Chicago-based, boutique travel agency that specializes in creating custom honeymoons and special-occasion voyages. She is also the officer of development and charter member of the Chicago chapter of Millennials in Travel, a career-development organization for young people in the travel industry.
A dual French-American citizen, Geiser was bit by the travel bug early in life — she took her first transatlantic flight when she was just three months old. After graduating from DePaul University in 2004, she accepted a position as a travel advisor at MoonRings. Nine years later, she’s traveled to numerous exotic destinations throughout the world and crafted hundreds of unique itineraries for discerning clients.
When potential customers ask about the benefits of using a travel agent, how do you respond?
Just as you wouldn’t use an ATM to select your mortgage for your home, you wouldn’t want to plan a very complex trip that carries a great deal of emotional significance without doing extensive research and speaking with a professional. Yes, the Internet has changed the way that people book travel, as the consumer now has access to a number of resources. For simple trips, such as a weekend out-of-town for a friend’s wedding, booking online is totally fine. But for more complex travel plans, travel agents can be an invaluable resource — for example, we can help consumers access benefits through our relationships with suppliers, such as a hotel. Benefits might include room upgrades, complimentary amenities and other forms of VIP treatment.
What do you do differently than ‘traditional’ travel agents?
While a traditional travel agent might be motivated by closing a large volume of transactions, I strive to build a long-standing relationship with each of my clients to ensure that they’ll continue to consult me for their travel needs as they mature.
All of the itineraries I create are completely customized and built from scratch. I take a very interactive approach and spend a great deal of time with my clients in order get to know their travel goals and preferences. By asking the right questions, I am able to unlock important information about them, which enables me to make qualified recommendations.
If a new client is set on going to a specific destination, I always discuss their reasoning, rather than just assume that the destination is a foregone conclusion. I often find that clients have inaccurate perceptions of their chosen vacation place, and we can work together to find the spot that offers what they’re seeking. A traditional travel agent under the same circumstances may just begin making recommendations for itineraries and hotels in the original destination, without necessarily taking the time to figure out if it’s truly the right fit for the client.
In addition to the standard travel arrangements, I assist with activities, touring and concierge tasks, including restaurant reservations, spa appointments and other special experiences to make their trips more memorable and unique.
What do you like about being a travel agent?
Being able to travel and to help others explore the world are among my favorite aspects of the job. When clients return from a trip, they’re eager to share how it went, and there is nothing more rewarding than hearing how fantastic their journey was and how they could not have planned it without my assistance and expertise.
I also love networking with the people of this industry, both locally at supplier or Millennials in Travel events or out of town for travel conferences. I find that the people who have gravitated to this industry are likeminded and very sophisticated, and it’s a pleasure to discuss our travels, successes and struggles. Rather than viewing other agents as competitors, we recognize that there is enough business for all of us to thrive.
What are some business goals that you have?
My goals include building my book of business by expanding into new luxury leisure travel markets, traveling extensively in order to better sell to my clients and growing the MoonRings brand by leading innovative marketing campaigns. Outside of MoonRings, I will continue to stay active on the board of the Chicago Chapter of Millennials in Travel.
Tell us about your work with the organization and how members benefit.
Millennials in Travel is a networking organization for young people working in all different sectors of the travel industry, from travel advisors to travel journalists. It is designed so that young people who are passionate about the industry can connect at various local events throughout the year to share ideas, form relationships and help those looking to establish careers in travel. We also reach out to local universities in order to cultivate new talent, run mentorship programs and manage a job board for open positions nationwide.
I decided to take a leadership role for the MIT Chicago chapter because I love my profession and feel it is incumbent upon us to keep it alive. Organizations like ours are growing rapidly; I hope that this will allow leaders from our generation to strengthen the travel industry and secure its future.
What issues do you think our industry is facing right now? What can we do to address those issues?
We know there are a lot of misconceptions about travel agents, and if the young people don’t do their part and spread awareness to the general public, these misconceptions may actually become the reality. As millennial travelers come of age and wield their buying power, we need to make sure that they’re aware of the incredible wealth of knowledge that the travel agent community can offer them. Social media will definitely play a key role in pushing this agenda.
What advice do you have for agencies who want to attract younger employees?
Many agencies run on the independent contractor model, meaning that new employees have to come in with an established book of business in order to have any chance of succeeding — I don’t agree with this model. People can’t really thrive if they’re worried about being able to eat and pay their rent. Agencies have to invest in young employees, providing them with a training period and a stable salary. By nurturing and training strong talented individuals, they’ll eventually be able to grow their business and thrive.