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ASTA’s Young Professionals Society (YPS) member Mary Jo Salas is a leisure travel consultant for The Alamo Travel Group, the largest privately held travel agency in San Antonio, Texas. Salas got her start as the executive assistant to the CEO. In less than two years, she became a leisure travel consultant and the marketer of The Alamo’s leisure department, and was recently appointed vice president of the Southwest Chapter of ASTA. As a member of ASTA’s YPS, Salas traveled to Hawaii with the group in 2012 and completed the Oahu Masters Specialist Program. Salas recently attended ASTA-NTA’s first meeting of the Hispanics in Travel Caucus and hopes to contribute to the Hispanic Business Development Task Force.
What are some misconceptions you think that young people have when they hear the words ‘travel agent?"There are many. The first response I get when I tell people what I do is, ‘You still exist?’ Many are surprised to see a young travel agent actively booking trips. Also, in my experience, clients have been surprised that they can still visit a storefront and plan a trip with someone face to face. Some believe that all agents are a lot older than they are and wouldn’t know the “cool” things to do and see in a destination.
Why is the travel agent profession a good career choice for young people? There is a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurs and those who want to have their own businesses. Other reasons why the travel agent profession is good for young people are the benefits of being able to travel to great destinations at a young age and networking with so many people in the travel industry.
What made you want to join ASTA’s Young Professionals Society? In this industry, we all know how rare it is to find a place to network with young professionals, help each other with resources and just meet people who can relate.
What are your biggest challenges in selling travel?Having potential clients understand the value of booking with a travel agent. Also, I’m limited on the destinations I have traveled to.
What tips do you have for attracting a younger clientele?Definitely networking within your peer group or where young professionals network. Having sleek and contemporary websites, business cards, social media profiles where you share your travel experiences and visiting the trendy spots in destinations.
Tell us about a successful booking you’ve made. Why was it significant to you and/or your client?I have been lucky to have booked some great trips for clients. My most memorable is a honeymooner going to Machu Picchu. The bride was in another state and found me through a wedding vendor that I work with. She was working with an agent in her local area and was not happy with her experience, so she contacted me and was amazed by my fast response and excitement to be planning her honeymoon. She was almost going to give up on her dream honeymoon of Machu Picchu because she thought it was impossible at one point. In the end, she was so happy to be standing where she had envisioned herself with her husband — and I really felt that my expertise had made a difference in someone’s life and created memories of a lifetime. The personal rewards of making a difference like that are amazing.
In terms of the future of selling travel, what predictions do you have?I like seeing people revert back to using a travel agent. Nothing can replace the expertise of an actual person — especially one who has been to the destination. I think technology will help make travel less of a hassle, but people will still want to work with an agent who knows them, knows their trip and is there when needed.
What’s your dream destination?Seeing the sunset on Santorini.
What do you love about travel?The whole experience! Planning it, looking at my calendar and having something to look forward to. Visiting a new destination, feeling so free and not knowing anyone there, really makes you feel like a different person. Meeting new people, seeing different cultures and experiencing other ways of life. Lastly, having those memories and experiences to share with others. I never run out of conversation starters.