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ASTA’s Young Professionals Society member Whitney Norman is a destination wedding, honeymoon and vacation specialist for SunLover Travel. Norman’s love for the travel industry started at a young age, and she now has eight years of experience under her belt. She got her start in the travel industry in an industrious way — by contacting the travel agent who booked her honeymoon and asking for an outside sales position. Norman is now the owner of SunLover Travel.
What are some misconceptions you think that young people have when they hear the words ‘travel agent?’
When I tell people that I own a travel agency, they reply ‘Oh, I didn't know those still existed,’ or ‘I thought people just used the Internet to book travel? How do you make money?’
Why is the travel agent profession a good career choice for young people?
It enables young people to have a job that involves selling something exciting — something that people are generally happy to purchase. This career also affords agents the opportunity to travel and see the world at a very inexpensive cost. Also, being a travel agent does not limit someone to live in a specific city or town, and it offers overall flexibility.
What are your biggest challenges in selling travel?
The Internet — and not just competing with its pricing, but also with customers who ‘research’ resorts on their own and who take travel reviews, such as Trip Advisor, into account and form opinions before I can even give them options. Also, when living in Texas, Mexico is by far the cheapest and easiest place to travel. Personally, I travel to Mexico’s resort areas two to three times a year, so I know the facts about safety. But many Texans are scared of the destination, and they generalize the entire country.
What tips do you have for attracting a younger clientele?
Because I specialize in destination weddings and honeymoons, I tend to work with a younger clientele and, therefore, I keep current with marketing myself. I use Facebook and Twitter a lot to share my own personal vacation photos and experiences. I think using current marketing tools such as e-brochures, something that Funjet provides for a large majority of the resorts it offers, is a great way to cater to younger clients too.
Tell us about a successful booking you’ve made. Why was it significant to you and your client?
I had a destination wedding group last April traveling to the Dominican Republic with 40 clients flying on the same plane. On the evening before the flight, a tornado hit the airport from which they were all traveling. I had a call from the bride at 7 p.m. that night and, sure enough, their particular aircraft was damaged and the flight was canceled, along with hundreds of others. I spent eight hours on the phone with American Airlines getting every single person in their group rebooked on other various airlines, flight schedules, etc. By 6 a.m., everything was fixed, and the bride and groom got to fly out and make it to the Dominican Republic that same day so that they could be there in time to get legally married in the country on their wedding date. The bride and groom are now loyal customers, as are a large number of the 40 people I had to re-accommodate.
In terms of the future of selling travel, what predictions do you have?
I predict that a resurgence of people using travel agents is definitely in store. Just by being in the industry eight years, I have seen an increase in awareness that travel agencies still exist, and the Internet is not always cheaper. I think people are tired of a lack of customer service in so many industries and find it refreshing to have a service provider such as a travel agent.
What are some business goals that you have?
My goals are to continue to grow my annual sales and continue to move toward a niche of selling more luxury travel. I’ve noticed that, where I live, the economy has really improved and people are definitely spending more money. So I would like to continue to sell higher-end travel packages and resorts.
What’s your dream destination?
I already got to go to my dream destination, Bora Bora. It was truly the most beautiful place on earth. So my goal is to go back! Also, I am intrigued by the Indian Ocean and would love to visit the Maldives and the Seychelles as well as the WhitSunday Islands in Australia.