Top Travel Agents Chime In

Top Travel Agents Chime In

Top travel agents under 40 have their own opinions about reinvigorating the travel industry By: Skye Mayring
Young travel agents have a unique perspective on the future of our industry. // © 2013 Thinkstock
Young travel agents have a unique perspective on the future of our industry. // © 2013 Thinkstock

It’s seems that you can’t go to a travel industry conference these days without hearing the word “millennial” in the keynote address. Panels are dedicated to defining and marketing to the next generation of consumers. Consortia have debuted under 40 programs at a dizzying rate, and cocktail party conversations are abuzz with possible ways agencies can recruit and retain young travel agents. Clearly, suppliers, consortia and agency owners are scrambling to fill the generation gap. So then, what is the best way to address the issues head on? 

TravelAge West asked several rock star agents under the age of 40 to weigh in. 

Photos & Videos

Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, Luxury Travel Planner, TravelStore // © 2013 Katelyn O’Shaughnessy

Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, Luxury Travel Planner, TravelStore // © 2013 Katelyn O’Shaughnessy

Andres Zuleta, President, Boutique Japan Travel Company // © 2013 Andres Zuleta

Andres Zuleta, President, Boutique Japan Travel Company // © 2013 Andres Zuleta

Ansley Thomas, Travel Advisor, Manager, SmartFlyer Atlanta // © 2013 Ansley Thomas

Ansley Thomas, Travel Advisor, Manager, SmartFlyer Atlanta // © 2013 Ansley Thomas

Daniela Harrison, Travel Consultant, Avenues of the World Travel // © 2013 Daniela Harrison

Daniela Harrison, Travel Consultant, Avenues of the World Travel // © 2013 Daniela Harrison

Miriam Geiser, Luxury Travel Advisor, MoonRings // © 2013 Miriam Geiser

Miriam Geiser, Luxury Travel Advisor, MoonRings // © 2013 Miriam Geiser

Emily Prentiss, Leisure Consultant, Valerie Wilson Travel // © 2013 Emily Prentiss

Emily Prentiss, Leisure Consultant, Valerie Wilson Travel // © 2013 Emily Prentiss

Kevin Doheny, Luxury Travel Advisor , MoonRings // © 2013 Kevin Doheny

Kevin Doheny, Luxury Travel Advisor , MoonRings  // © 2013 Kevin Doheny

Natasha Rhodes, Luxury Travel Advisor , Vision 2000 Travel Group // © 2013 Natasha Rhodes

Natasha Rhodes, Luxury Travel Advisor , Vision 2000 Travel Group // © 2013 Natasha Rhodes

Ryan Mielke, Manager, Regency Travel // © 2013 Ryan Mielke

Ryan Mielke, Manager, Regency Travel  // © 2013 Ryan Mielke

Jonathan Alder, Luxury Travel Planner, TravelStore // © 2013 Jonathan Alder

Jonathan Alder, Luxury Travel Planner, TravelStore // © 2013 Jonathan Alder

Katelyn O’Shaughnessy
Luxury Travel Planner
TravelStore

What advice do you have for agencies who want to attract younger employees?
You don’t need to attract younger employees — having a career in travel is already extremely attractive to many millennials. I think an agency’s main focus should be maintaining and developing younger employees. Invest in these new hires, properly train them and provide them with guidance and counsel. Try and find their strengths, then allow them to use these skills to assist with their booking strategies.

What problems do you think our industry is facing right now?
The biggest issue this industry is facing is how to prove the relevance of travel agents over online booking engines. We need to create awareness of our services, and showcase ourselves as a reputable outlet to book consumer’s travel needs. 

Big companies continue to use corporate travel agents for their business trips. If we could capitalize on this pre-existing market, and integrate leisure travel services, I strongly believe we could revitalize the reputation and usage of travel agents from a consumer’s standpoint.

Andres Zuleta
President
Boutique Japan Travel Company

What can we do to improve the image of travel agents?
As an industry, we need to continue to educate the public about the real value of travel consultants and how we complement the Internet. I truly believe that the market is massive, and we don't need to consider the web a threat. Rather than trying to compete directly with the Internet, we can emphasize our strengths and thus provide an attractive option to travelers who would prefer to work with a live human being who is a trusted destination specialist.

What words of wisdom could you offer to those who are new to selling travel?
My main advice to prospective travel agents and people thinking of joining the industry would be to find a niche and do everything you can to become the best in that area. It could be a particular destination or a particular target demographic such as honeymooners, families, etc. Then you will be able to differentiate your services from what the Internet offers, by providing real value, and also stand out in the marketplace.

Ansley Thomas
Travel Advisor, Manager
SmartFlyer Atlanta

What do you do differently than “traditional” travel agents?
I believe something I do differently than traditional travel agents is show clients complete transparency. The majority of my clients are young, web- and business-savvy. We are in an age where the economy is not as strong, so people want to know exactly what they are paying for, and what value they are getting. So I lay out everything for clients, explain in detail how this industry works, down to what I make and why. I definitely feel like I gain clients' trust by being transparent this way. Because in all honesty, they might not be saving money, but the smoothness and comfort of having someone go to bat on their behalf makes complete sense.

What issues do you think our industry is facing right now? What can we do to address those issues?
Honestly, I think we put too much focus on the younger generation. Yes, there are things about us that are new and fresh, but plenty of people out there have been using travel agents for a long time. How travel was booked in the past isn't wrong, it is just evolving. 

In the luxury travel world, specifically focusing on my generation of agents, we face an internal training problem. So many companies realized they had no younger people to carry on the legacy, so started hiring or bringing on younger agents, either in the form of independent contractors or employees. But we have to determine who has the business or potential to have the business in the long run. Not many companies require a minimum amount of production to stay on. So does this produce dead weight? 

Daniela Harrison
Travel Consultant
Avenues of the World Travel

Why do you think that the travel industry is having trouble attracting young agents?
I think working on commission is very scary to young people. Coming fresh out of college, with a load of student loans and no savings is not the time to venture into a difficult career. Starting out in the industry is tough. You still have to pay your loans, rent, gas, food and you also want to be able to have some fun. Most agencies don’t offer benefits, which is another shortcoming. All the perks in the world won’t help if you are facing eviction because you can’t pay your bills.

What advice do you have for agencies who want to attract younger employees?
Be supportive of new ideas. If you want fresh blood and fresh ideas, let them show you what they can do. Some things might not work, but at least they had the chance to try.

Flexible hours are a plus. But so are new computers and updated software. The technological generations don’t have much patience for outdated hardware.

Be clear about the training process and don’t let them know it will take time to build a client base and make a name for themselves. Have a structured training plan and follow through.

Set clear reachable goals. Present a ladder for success. This way there is something to strive for. And reward success. Positive reinforcement always works!

Review mistakes together and see what to do to avoid them in the future. Be a mentor.

Help them network with their peers. A good support system is key.

Miriam Geiser
Luxury Travel Advisor
MoonRings

What are some of your keys to success?
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, so I take a very interactive approach with each of my clients and spend a great deal of time to get to know them and learn their goals and preferences for each specific trip. 

What do you like about being a travel agent?
If I had to identify the one thing I like the most about this industry, it would be the opportunity to travel. In the past 12 months alone I’ve been to Turkey, France, St. Barts, Barbados, Thailand and Jackson Hole. By the time 2013 comes to a close, I’ll have also gone on a luxurious safari in South Africa and visited the Netherlands, Switzerland and France once again. By traveling to various destinations, I am able to gain deeper expertise which makes me a much better travel advisor for my clients as I can share first-hand experiences with them.

Emily Prentiss
Leisure Consultant
Valerie Wilson Travel

What are some misconceptions you think that young people have when they hear the words “travel agent?”
Young people may not understand why a travel agent is necessary, since they tend to make their travel arrangements online. Using a travel agent might remind them of the way that their parents and grandparents planned and booked their vacations. However, there has been so much recent positive publicity about the benefits of working with a travel advisor that I believe that misconception is gradually changing.

I also think the word “travel agent” has been replaced with “travel advisor,” which gives it a positive twist.

Why is this profession a good career choice for young people?
It is exciting, challenging and affords young people an opportunity to be in constant contact with unique people all over the world, while learning about the most classic to the most exotic destinations. 

I love the relationships that I have developed within the travel industry, but most importantly with my clients. I believe that travel provides the ultimate return on life. Whether helping our clients cross off destinations on their bucket lists or creating memories that will last a lifetime, the satisfaction from a raving review regarding a successful trip makes it all worth it. 

Kevin Doheny
Luxury Travel Advisor
MoonRings

For those looking to become a travel agent and who are new to the industry, what kind of advice would you share to help get them started?
Networking always leads to great things so find a way to get your foot in the door. I’ve seen several young professional groups launch within the past year and find their events to be the perfect place to get your name out. It also doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on message boards or job forums, such as HCareers and Craigslist, for opportunities that might become available. I’m a prime example of how that works.

What are some misconceptions you think that young people have about travel agents?
Probably that a travel agent is someone who helps people like their parents, has no pulse on what’s happening in the industry now, or doesn’t have a personal connection with their clients. I think that many times the word ‘travel agent’ seems like an outdated term for most young people and to be honest I think there are better ways to describe what we do. Travel ‘designer’ or ‘advisor’ are terms that I like to use and think that it appeals more to a younger demographic. 

Natasha Rhodes
Luxury Travel Advisor
Vision 2000 Travel Group

What do you like about being a travel agent?
I don’t consider myself an agent — I am an advisor, and that’s what I love. I get to create once in a lifetime experiences for people, and I’m constantly learning new things and am able to share that knowledge with others. I’ve made some amazing friends in this business and enjoy building new connections and relationships. I found my passion for nature and wildlife travel on a five week honeymoon to the Galapagos and Peru, and have since cruised the sub-Antarctic islands, having penguins peck at my feet, been face to face with polar bears in the north, traveled on safari in Botswana, rappelled off Table Mountain and gone horseback riding in the Atacama Desert. In less than two weeks, I am headed to Uganda and Rwanda to trek to see the gorillas. What’s not to love?

What challenges are we facing as an industry?
Attracting young, new travel agents! Vision 2000 actively recruits students looking to fulfill their internships and often find that the students decide not to pursue a career or look elsewhere in the industry. 

There’s huge growth for home-based agents, and I find that it’s increasingly difficult to find agents willing to work for a salary, or in an office environment. There needs to be a balance, obviously for anyone who’s been working as an advisor for a length of time. Some may be better off to work as an independent consultant but, usually those who are new to the industry, will need to rely on a brick and mortar agency to get started.

Ryan Mielke
Manager
Regency Travel 

What are some misconceptions you think that young people have about the profession?
The first reaction I get when I tell other young professionals that I’m a travel agent is, ‘those still exist?’ I always find myself telling other young agents that we need to reinvent the role of a ‘travel agent.’ If our peers already think we don’t exist, then we need to change the way they think. We’re so much more than someone who books a flight from A to B — we are consultants, advisors, planners, specialists, experts, etc. In an age where all information is available at your fingertips, we have started to see a shift from a knowledge-based clientele, to a misinformed and over-informed clientele.

How do young agents work differently than their predecessors?
Today it’s all about personalization. You need to deliver something to the client that will make them feel special, something they can’t get from an online travel agency. I like to use social media to interact with our younger clients and suppliers. Making personalized itineraries and documents, giving them restaurant recommendations, sharing personal stories and pictures of the destination they are going to. I always love to hear back from my clients as well. I ask for pictures and their favorite moments. Our agency does little to no marketing, so our best way to market is by word of mouth — we’ve done this for more than 25 years now, and it hasn’t failed us yet, we take pride in our reputation and we make sure our clients are very well taken care of. We try not to think of our clients as just that, we think of them as friends.

Jonathan Alder
Luxury Travel Planner
TravelStore

What do you do differently than “traditional” travel agents?
The days of office hours are gone. Clients don’t want 9-5, they want VIP service and to be able to reach you when they need you, no matter when that is. I usually start the day about 9 a.m., answering emails in bed and stop somewhere about 1 or 2 a.m. with calls to Europe and overseas DMCs. It keeps my day quite interesting and lets me fill the needs of my clients no matter what travel needs occur.

What advice do you have for agencies who want to attract younger employees?
They have to address a few issues. The corporate culture of today’s modern youth-oriented companies — the ones that really pull in the best candidates — is casual and fun. Some of the best examples are those in the tech industries. They have made coming to work fun, but by doing that, they have also grabbed the best candidates who love coming in everyday and bring the best new ideas to the table. Financial benefits need to be greater as well. They need to be able to make a great living, of course, while working hard to earn it, in the long run.

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