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While we all know travel advisors who have retired or switched careers — hello, banking and real estate — others have passionately recommitted their efforts to the travel industry, spending the pandemic pause chipping away at the many challenges that face them and their fellow advisors.
These business owners have seen what was missing in the industry — the education gaps and tools that didn’t exist or serve their breed of advisor well. In a year of unprecedented challenges, they have shown an unfaltering dedication to making their fellow advisors more professional and successful across the board.
Like most heroes’ journeys, these advisors’ stories began during a tough time — the same time, actually. Their paths changed in March, when the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic dawned on them and the rest of the world.
Theresa Chu-Bermudez, owner and travel designer of Get Out! Custom Travels, was visiting her family in Orlando, Fla., when news of border closures broke.
Immediately, she scrambled to find more information so she could advise her clients who were in the air, en route to Dublin, about what to do when they arrived.
“I felt frustrated and panicked because there were no details accompanying the announcement, and there really was no precedent for me to reference,” she said.
A year and a lifetime later, we have a thicker skin when it comes to accepting new restrictions and announcements. And the vaccination rollout — as spotty and slow as it has been — is providing hope of an imminent recovery.
That’s not to say that 2021 has not been without its challenges, though. Advisors are still dealing with border closures, new testing requirements and more. But their tone has changed. Many have stepped into their power as authorities in travel and have taken it upon themselves to make the industry a better place post-pandemic.
How connected we have become as a travel industry during this time has been the overlying silver lining of it all.
Chu-Bermudez, for one, says she is a lot better at reacting to new announcements. And this is easy enough to verify — she launched not one, but two advisor-facing projects during the pandemic. Each had her pulling all-nighters to learn new skills to which she credits her passion — and the help of fellow travel professionals — for getting her through.
This innovation and renewed sense of community among advisors and the industry are some of the few positives that came from the pandemic, says Chelsea Martin, founder of Passport to Friday travel agency and Passport to Social, the social media business she launched last year.
“How connected we have become as a travel industry during this time has been the overlying silver lining of it all,” she said. “It has also been incredible to see some of the innovations that have come out of the pandemic. I definitely would not have envisioned Passport to Social a year ago.”
Following are the advisors who took lemons during a relentless and extraordinary pandemic and made lemonade. These are their projects, which will help the industry build back better.
Compass Collective, Courtnie NicholsCourtnie Nichols had just launched Trvlb, a luxury travel design boutique with a focus on annual travel planning, when the pandemic hit. It was an extension of her first company, TravelBash, a destination wedding concierge that provides travel management services to brides in the U.S. At the time, launching a third brand was far from her mind.
But after reading a Travel + Leisure article titled “Why the Travel Industry Needs to See in Color” — which focused on the lack of authentic diversity in travel marketing — she had ideas on how to solve one the industry’s biggest blind spots.
Her new consultancy, Compass Collective, aims to work with companies that are serious about providing exposure to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) travelers and diversifying their service offerings by partnering with tour operators and companies that provide them with the services they need.
“I hope Compass Collective is a bridge that creates a safe place for those looking to attract a more diverse clientele, but also acts as a sounding board that provides marketing strategies that anyone can implement in their day to day,” Nichols said. “I want to create a world where BIPOC travelers feel heard and are accurately represented in this space.”
Underrepresented travelers want to see themselves in your brand.
And while Nichols initially envisioned working mainly with hoteliers, destination management organizations and tourism boards, she has realized that agencies and individual advisors play an important role in creating a more inclusive travel industry.
“Underrepresented travelers want to see themselves in your brand,” she said. “Start the work inside of your own agency first. What does your culture look like? Do all the advisors at your agency look like you? Can you expand your network? How are you marketing — and where? What type of travel and/or content are you putting out? What do all your pictures have in common? Create a culture of inclusion.”
CuratedCoast Air, Sam Dorfman and Rachel GrossoWhen some advisors began fleeing the industry, Sam Dorfman and Rachel Grosso stepped it up. They left their jobs at another travel agency and started their own agency, CuratedCoast, a SmartFlyer affiliate, in May 2020. But they did not stop there. The co-founders also decided they wanted to offer their aviation expertise — which includes a love of Sabre, close relationships with airlines and access to private fares and commissions — to advisors drowning in air cancellations and rebookings.
“With travel starting to pick back up, we wanted to give time back to travel advisors to regrow their business, and not feel overwhelmed with booking and monitoring flights, hassling with the airlines and dealing with cancellations and changes, especially when it is something we enjoy doing,” Dorfman said. “Being advisors ourselves, we see firsthand how time-consuming handling air can be. The pandemic added even more complexities to the process, with frequent re-routes and cancellations; new travel restrictions and requirements; and extremely long wait times.”
And Grosso and Dorfman understand that booking flights is not just a pain during a pandemic — it’s always been an unsavory part of the job, with many advisors not offering air to their clients at all.
With travel starting to pick back up, we wanted to give time back to travel advisors to regrow their business, and not feel overwhelmed with booking and monitoring flights, hassling with the airlines and dealing with cancellations and changes, especially when it is something we enjoy doing.
Calling this a lost opportunity for advisors, the duo launched CuratedCoast Air in July, and offer flight research, flight monitoring and monthly updates to advisors. And most importantly, when things go wrong, they offer solutions and handle the rebookings.
“We were inspired by the hassle of it all and wanted to focus our efforts on taking this burden off the travel advisor’s plate,” Dorfman said.
Fam With Intention and The TIN Lounge, Theresa Chu-BermudezWhile attending CruiseWorld in November 2019, Theresa Chu-Bermudez was helping agency owners brainstorm podcast ideas and felt the pull to start a program of her own. But her agency, Get Out! Custom Travels, was booming, and she could not imagine starting a new venture. Little did she know that the pandemic would offer her the space to launch not one, but two projects.
Since May, Chu-Bermudez co-hosts The TIN Lounge podcast with Korrine Johnson, owner of Journeys Travel Company and consulting firm Travel Biz Boss, where the two advisors analyze top news stories in a way that is insightful, efficient and — thanks to their on-air chemistry — light and empathetic.
“Because the news was consistently depressing, we felt that we should deliver it in a way that was informative but also showed travel professionals that they were not alone,” she said.
As the podcast began to fill one hole in the market, Chu-Bermudez began cooking up her next way to positively impact advisors’ lives: by improving the relationship between advisors and suppliers through a social media marketing course dedicated to maximizing fam trip content. She launched her course, Fam With Intention, at the end of November 2020.
“Most advisors have a difficult time knowing what to post on social media while on a fam, and the experience might feel like a wasted marketing opportunity,” she said, “But fams are an investment not just for the advisor, but also for the supplier. By improving how they market their fam experiences — to gain more inquiries and hopefully more bookings — travel advisors can continue to build trust with their suppliers.”
The course instructs advisors on what to do before, during and after a fam trip so they can maximize their reach, increase credibility and inspire new and existing clients to inquire and book.
By showing our clients what it’s like on the ground with COVID-19 protocols, we have been able to better advise them on the current experience as well as what they can expect.
Chu-Bermudez says that the course has enjoyed great demand because advisors are using this downtime to work on their businesses and prepare for when travel returns. Plus, advisors who have been traveling on fams during the pandemic have a unique opportunity to show more than just the destination.
“Surprisingly, many advisors have been going on fams since last fall to places such as Mexico and the Caribbean,” she said. “By showing our clients what it’s like on the ground with COVID-19 protocols, we have been able to better advise them on the current experience as well as what they can expect. When clients see us traveling, they will feel more comfortable traveling, as well.”
Passport to Social, Chelsea MartinChelsea Martin, the founder of agency Passport to Friday, has always had a uniquely impressive Instagram presence. But during the pandemic, social media became an increasingly hard place to navigate.
“There’s travel shaming and constantly evolving travel restrictions, yet there’s also the desire to fuel one’s wanderlust — even if it is just through a screen for the time being,” she said. “Social media is not for everyone these days, and you need to gauge who your clients and followers are before posting about travel right now.
I have asked my followers every few months throughout the pandemic how they are feeling about seeing travel being promoted on their social media channels. Each time, more than 90% said to keep posting. So I did, and it paid off.”
Martin’s posts and stories on Instagram — ranging from nostalgic glimpses at past trips to concrete information on where clients could still go — were not just a hit with her clients, but they also resulted in new customers. Fellow advisors took notice, as well.
“I had advisors contacting me asking for tips and asking to buy my templates,” she said. “Before I knew it, the idea of Passport to Social was born.”
While Martin has long dreamt about launching a social media business, the pandemic pause actually gave her the time to conceptualize an effective, customizable membership offering.
I have 110% faith that this industry will come back, and I want to set up other advisors for success in rebuilding their business.
Passport to Social provides members with a suggested monthly content calendar that includes posts, captions and corresponding Facebook and Instagram stories. Advisors can use content as is or customize through templates from graphic design company Canva. By April, all the content will be available in a comprehensive library that members can access at any time.
“I have 110% faith that this industry will come back, and I want to set up other advisors for success in rebuilding their business,” she said.
‘Tique, Jennifer Jacob and Robin BrownJennifer Jacob had just onboarded seven new advisors to her growing agency, Explorateur Travel, when COVID-19 began to spread. Not ones to wait and see, Jacob and ‘Tique co-founder and CEO, Robin Brown, realized that the lockdown was going to last for a while — and knew it was time to shift focus. In addition to educating clients on ongoing changes, they began to work on improving internal processes, as well as refreshing their website.
“Many other agents seemed to be following a similar pattern, and we began to consider what this meant for the industry as a whole,” Jacob said about herself and Brown, who had worked as an advisor and marketing representative for Explorateur.
The two combined their expertise — Brown’s in website creation, marketing and brand building, and Jacob’s in travel agencies and human resources — and came up with ‘Tique, a branding, website and systems design studio that aims to help advisors launch or relaunch with a more modernized look and a more efficient approach.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and we needed our own service.
‘Tique’s most popular offering is a tie between its custom branding services and its workflow implementation, which involves 31 templated emails, nine forms, two task lists and custom header graphics.
“They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and we needed our own service,” Jacob said. “We wish that we had had someone spell out a recipe for working smarter, not harder, all while still providing an exceptional experience for our clients. We learned the hard way at every turn, and we wanted to help others.”
Travel Genius Websites, Christy CamrenNo stranger to disaster situations, industry veteran Christy Camren started her career soon after 9/11 and continued to sell travel after launching her podcast, Travel Geniuses, in 2018. While she does not do much selling anymore, it’s only because she realized she could do even more to help travel advisors.
“Most business and marketing advice tends to assume that you’re selling digital products online (such as courses) and that you have all day to focus on marketing and growing your business,” Camren said. “I used to get so frustrated that no one was helping advisors use this information to grow their businesses. And one day I decided I could either keep whining about it, or I could do it myself. And that’s why I launched the podcast. The websites started in the same way.”
Camren, who has been building websites since 2003, was similarly frustrated that there were not better website options for advisors who didn’t know how to build sites the way she did.
“Your website is the first — and possibly only — place a prospect will go to learn more about you, so it’s important that it’s a reflection of who you are and what you do,” she said. “It’s hard to balance that with the cost involved in creating a custom site, but I have worked hard to find a solution that gives advisors the best of both worlds without requiring them to spend time trying to be a website developer on top of all the other hats they wear.”
Camren’s website design is affordable, made for advisors and customizable. And despite the trials of the past year, she says advisors have invested time and money into the foundations of their agencies so they can come out of the pandemic stronger than before.
“New agents are joining the industry, too, right in the middle of this whole situation,” she said. “And they’re also setting themselves up for success by getting their foundational pieces in place so that when business comes back, they’ll be ready to take care of new clients.”