Travel Agent’s 11th Annual 30Under30
MEET THE FUTURE LEADERS OF THE AGENCY INDUSTRY: We present — as we have done every year since 2008 — the next generation of travel agents who will discover new places to go and new ways to connect with travelers. They exist in a 24/7 world of nonstop information, and communicate with each other, with other industry professionals and with clients through multiple platforms. They tweet. They share. They snap pictures and chat about their experiences. And they sell travel in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
Over the past several years, this feature has created a buzz in the industry and also helped fuel a community of young professionals who enjoy being a part of a special, growing niche in the travel business. This year’s list of young agents, all of whom were under 30 when the year began, is a testament to our combined success.
Candidates for 30Under30 nominate themselves for the program. Nominees must be currently employed at any level as a travel consultant, should have completed a significant project for his or her travel agency, and be recognized by heads of his or her own organization as an emerging leader.
Here they are — Travel Agent’s top 30Under30 for 2018.
Ryan Barks, 27
Travel Haus of St. Louis
Approaching the act of being a travel agent as a craft has helped Ryan Barks of Travel Haus of St. Louis, an Ensemble member agency, excel. After beginning his career working in the flight-only industry and assisting clients with their air travel plans, he sought out a position at Travel Haus looking for a new challenge.
“I do my best to give my clients that feeling just as they would have hiring a wedding coordinator, a realtor, or any other specialist designed to do the ‘leg work’ for them,” Barks says. “My belief is that if I’ve done my job right, my clients will exclusively use me for every type of travel, as well as recommend me to everyone they know.”
While referrals are key, having a great elevator pitch helps, too. Recently Barks says he has been working at as many bridal shows and events as he can to meet new clients and to keep top of mind for clients he has already spoken with.
One top tip? When picking a hotel, placement is one of the most important things.
“This can make or break an experience,” Barks says, “especially when [the client] has never been to the destination.” Some of his favorites include a hotel in Rome near the Piazza del Popolo that has a spiral staircase leading to a platform for the bed, and a hotel in Florence that overlooks the Arno River near the Ponte Vecchio.
“Rather than simply ask someone where they want to go, I much prefer to ask clients what they want to experience,” Barks says.
Leah Bilquist, 30
Point Pleasant, NJ
Leah Bilquist, a certified Signature Travel Agent, is a member of TravelSmiths’ groups department, where she works with groups of 50 to 200 people. So far this year, she has 20 groups, three to five of which can be traveling simultaneously at any given time.
She says planning group travel, such as for a destination wedding, can be challenging, especially when not every-one in the group is an avid traveler. “It is important to me to make these clients feel comfortable about [traveling and] excited about going,” she tells us. With all of the global uncertainty, Bilquist makes it a priority to gain her clients’ trust and to make them feel as comfortable as possible throughout the entire process.
Joy Rons, TravelSmiths’ director of group operations, says, “Leah has been nothing but professional and passionate about her job. She handles clients with class and confidence, which [results in] an important level of respect from the client to the agent.”
Her tip for increasing her bottom line? Upselling. “If someone wants the most beautiful view, I am honest and tell them what room category they need to reserve for that,” Bilquist says. “At the end of the day, people will go over their budget if it means getting what their vacation goals are.”
Brand and destination certifications held by Bilquist include Adventures by Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Jumeirah Resorts, Club Med, St. Lucia, the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Fiji and Taiwan.
While Bilquist tells us she loves her job, she says it isn’t for everyone. Being a travel agent “is the hardest job I have ever had, and I put all of my pride into it every day — 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.”
Deanna Bonanni, 28
E. Clarke Travel
As something of a prelude to making our 30Under30 list, Deanna Bonanni of E. Clarke Travel earned a 2018 Pacesetter Award from American Express earlier this year. The award is presented to the sellers in the top five percent in the American Express Consumer Travel Network.
Bonanni got her start in the industry with Island Destinations, where she fell in love with the Caribbean and Mexico. For her honeymoon — her specialty — Bonanni will be traveling to Anguilla; she tells us she wants “to give back to these magical islands,” after the destruction caused by 2017’s hurricanes. She says many of her clients were wary of the region; however, she has been able to book weddings, honeymoons, family trips, bachelor / bachelorette parties and more in the islands. “I am determined to bring life back to the Caribbean,” Bonanni says.
Karen Essafi, owner of E. Clarke Travel, backs her up. “Deanna is a fabulous agent,” she says. “She really cares about her clients and getting them the best experience possible. She is a Caribbean ‘guru’ and has significantly increased our sales to the Caribbean — particularly to Turks and Caicos.”
Essafi adds: “Deanna is always eager to take on new destinations and learn the ins and outs to best advise her clients. Her positive attitude and willingness to go the extra mile are her best attributes and is the reason her repeat clientele business is so strong.”
Bonanni tells us that many of her clients are also under 30. “I am always encouraging people to go out and see what this world has to offer,” she says, adding that she also sees a need for the industry to get younger.
Kristiana Choquet, 29
Artisanal Experiences by Ovation Vacations
New York City
Kristiana Choquet has been nominated for the shortlist of Virtuoso’s Rising Star this year. Now in her third year in the industry, Choquet, a member of Artisanal Experiences by Ovation Vacations, plans trips for solo travelers, couples, multigenerational families and even royal families with the assistance of a full-time concierge that she employs.
One of the more challenging trips that Choquet planned was for a royal family in Europe. They visited two ski destinations in different countries with their own staff and security. Due to the size of the traveling party, multiple hotels had to be booked. “It was an exhausting and tasking trip to plan but, in the end, the logistics went perfectly, and the client was extremely pleased with the result,” she says. To note: The family rebooked the same destination after the successful coordination of the first trip.
“In such a short time, [Choquet] has accelerated through the ranks and single-handedly manages some of our top clients, which include royal families, A-list celebrities and some of the world’s top CEOs,” says Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations. “Her extensive knowledge of the world, critical thinking skills and endless dedication to her clients make her a standout in the luxury travel industry.”
To help bring in more money, Choquet tells us that her agency has forged closer relationships with hoteliers to increase commission percentages due to their volume of business. It has also begun promoting its Ambassador Program, in which current clients can reach “Ambassador” status by referring the agency to other clients.
Recently, Choquet visited Iceland, which she called “an absolutely magical experience.” She stayed at The Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland, “the epitome of luxury.”
Samantha Collum, 26
West University Travel
In just her third year in the industry, West University Travel’s Samantha Collum totaled $1.5 million in sales. She’s a Virtuoso Certified Travel Advisor, a member of the network’s Adventure and Wellness Community and has several impressive itineraries to her name.
In March, clients came to her asking to plan a trip to India’s “Golden Triangle” — New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. The hook? The couple was leaving in just two days and already had their airfare booked. Collum says she spent the next two nights staying up, communicating with her partners in India. She was able to navigate the couple through six cities over two weeks, visiting an elephant sanctuary, Ranthambore National Park and other “must-sees,” several of which with private guides.
“While I enjoyed the challenge, I did recommend they give me a little more warning for their next trip,” says Collum, who adds that she charges travel planning fees. “This service makes sure I’m compensated for my time, even if my clients decide not to book or need to cancel their travels.” She likens an agent’s job to that of an interior designer or business consultant — both of whom charge for their services.
To keep her clients — and potential clients — in the loop, Collum is sure to post photos daily to social media during her travels; she also writes blog posts upon return, highlighting her experiences.
Collum tells us she’s confident in the future of the industry: “The old-school brand of travel agents has evolved — where once we were viewed as just a selling commodity, we now help cut through information overload and create custom travels,” she says. “As long as there is a desire to travel, there will be a need for travel advisors.”
Taryn Deschaine, 28
Camelback Odyssey Travel
Taryn Deschaine wears many different hats at Camelback Odyssey Travel, a member of Virtuoso. In addition to working directly with her own clients, she also supports the agency’s employee team and manages its VIP desk. She has also attended a leadership conference and is making sure to learn from the knowledgeable advisors around her.
“Taryn understands how to take a great travel itinerary and make it outstanding, with no detail too small for an opportunity to wow a client,” says Shelby Donley, Cambelback’s owner.
That attention to detail came in handy when planning a recent multigenerational trip to the Bahamas over New Years. With 18 family members traveling from different cities and arriving on different days, keeping track of everything was a challenge. In addition to trip calendars and floor plans, Deschaine even built herself a family tree to keep the details straight.
Deschaine also values the personal side of the business. “I enjoy creating those ‘wow’ moments, even if it’s some-thing as simple as surprising an avid jogger with a running map in their room when they check in,” she says. “Making those connections and getting to know your client’s preferences can truly elevate their experience.”
Those experiences and connections help show an agent’s true value, which Deschaine says is the best way to grow a business. “Referrals are the lifeblood of our business and keep us growing every day through our client’s social networks,” she says.
“Having her on our team is not only invaluable to our discerning clients, but she is also an incredible asset to Camelback Travel, with an attitude that brings sunshine to our workplace and inspires us all to do our best,” Donley says.
Candace Dupps, 25
Having graduated college with two bachelor’s degrees at 19 years of age, Candace Dupps, a Travel Institute Certified Travel Advisor, has always been ahead of the curve. In her third year as an agent, she has already been recognized by Classic Vacations for having the top Mexico sales for Platinum Travel as a new advisor, among other accolades.
Dupps tells us that her top accomplishment, however, is the feedback she receives from her clients after their trips. “My favorite was a family who walked in the day after returning from their trip to book their next,” she says.
The positive responses are certainly earned. Dupps says that one of her more challenging trips was sending two couples to Europe, where they visited Ireland, Munich (for Oktoberfest), Florence, Rome, Santorini, Athens and more. “Although this trip had a lot of moving parts and we made a lot of revisions, I think it turned out perfectly for these two couples,” she says.
“Candace continuously excels in our Service Excellence program, with integrity and highly professional service,” Platinum Travel Vice President Emily Baldwin says. “She has managed several travel supplier engagement projects and continued her professional development by obtaining her CTA through The Travel Institute and becoming an Adventure Travel Specialist. Candace’s creative itinerary planning has significantly raised her success rate of client retention and referrals over time.”
Dupps also sailed on the inaugural Norwegian Bliss cruise. She says it’s perfect for families (opt for the secluded Haven section) and singles (who can stay in studio staterooms). Onboard amenities, including the shows, kids’ clubs, racetracks, laser tag and overwater slide, guarantee a “wow.” The food and views were also “incredible,” she says.
Andrea Espinosa, 28
Andrea Espinosa’s former roommate suggested she’d be a perfect travel agent because of her passion for traveling and other cultures. She was right.
After being hired on the spot at Harmon Travel (Bob and Barbara Harmon found her to be a quick learner, passionate and able to exude an enthusiasm that is “incredibly contagious”), Espinosa was enrolled into the agency’s mentorship program and within months was a full-fledged Private Travel Designer. She’d already booked a family of 20 in to a private villa with a house chef and round-the-clock private security. More complex trips to Bora Bora, South America and Europe followed and three years later, Espinosa accepts new business by referral only.
Her sales are up 120 percent since last year and she’s deeply involved with Signature Travel Network’s offerings, attending their annual Sales Meeting and taking part in many of their immersion programs. Espinosa calls what she does “tailor-made travel experiences where luxury meets authentic.”
Thailand was her most recent personal trip, during which she posted on social media to drive sales.
“I get e-mails from clients saying, ‘I saw your pictures on Instagram and I want to do exactly that!’ It creates a sense of trust for my clients without my having to sound like I’m trying to sell them the destination,” she says.
Before each journey, Espinosa makes a list of potentially interested clients based on their “travel blueprints” and sends each one a postcard along the way. “I often get calls saying, ‘Thank you for thinking of us, Thailand has been on our bucket list; what do you recommend?’”
A believer in certified credentials, she’s finishing her CTA with the Travel Institute. Courses thus far have helped her implement a Custom Planning Fee Agreement for new bookings and a referral program for valued clients.
Nolan Flynn, 21
Nolan Flynn believes in reaching clients the way they want to be reached; that philosophy helped him develop an engagement tactic for the agency to close sales.
“It’s not your typical ‘pitch, quote, sell’ routine,” he says. “At LaMacchia Travel, we embrace a very personalized service environment. We make every step as convenient as possible for our clients, whether that’s texting or direct-messaging them or meeting them for coffee or a cocktail.” That engagement continues after the client has completed their trip, he says.
Flynn started at the agency when he was 15, answering the phone, managing social media pages, labeling brochures and fixing technical issues in the office. He kept his hand in during high school and college and was hooked. In 2014, the agency owners, Tom and Monica Karnes, started a romance travel agency brand for destination weddings and honeymoons called “LovinAway,” and Flynn was tasked with maintaining relationships with hotel suppliers and clients. Today, LovinAway is a self-sustaining romance travel agency that serves couples across the country.
“We opened LovinAway a year ago and Nolan has been the driving force behind the marketing; website, blogs and social media,” says Tom Karnes, the agency’s owner. “Nolan works the leads and closes the sales. He has the ability to be extremely successful in the travel industry.”
Flynn recently traveled to Iceland with a group of 45; putting the trip together was especially challenging as he hadn’t been there before.
“I would recommend Iceland to anyone who wants to immerse themselves with nature, but in Iceland, that nature appears like magic. Exploring ice caves, diamond beaches and countless waterfalls is only the tip of the iceberg (pun intended), when traveling there,” he says.
Jonathan Garcia, 30
First in Service Travel
New York City
One of the most challenging trips that Jonathan Garcia planned was his first leisure booking — a two-week honeymoon for his friends. He booked them into suites at both the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, where the couple was greeted with a bottle of wine and a personal note from him. He also booked their flights, transportation and all activities during the two-week trip.
Garcia was able to book seats on a flight that was completely sold out when fashion clients of his needed to catch a flight for a photo shoot the following morning. He also found three rooms for other clients during Milan Fashion Week despite the website showing the entire hotel as full.
Before getting into the family business, Garcia planned to become a psychologist (“I was fascinated by moods, feelings and reactions,” he tells us). In college, he studied business management with plans to open his own business — “a clothing store or a restaurant,” he tells us. During his time at St. John’s, he began working at First in Service as a part-time accounting assistant. After five years in accounting, he became a house agent, where he worked with entertainment bands and tours for two years. Finally, he opted to become an independent contractor, and has been primarily working with fashion / corporate / entertainment accounts.
To build his business this year, Garcia has made an effort to meet many of his clients face-to-face, after “e-mailing all day for many years.” He’s taken them to brunch, for after-work drinks and has even sent catered breakfasts. He tells us it has helped their personal relationships and has also led to more personal leisure requests.
Jordan Glanda, 29
Touraid Travel Inc.
“Jordan joined us in 2012 and has been a top-producing agent right out of the gate,” says Andrew Bonichi, vice president of Touraid Travel, Inc., which is a member of Signature. “Jordan is fun, energetic and very knowledgeable. And of course her clients love her!”
Since joining Touraid, Glanda has been promoted to supervising and assisting a team of travel agents, in addition to managing her own workload. As a call center-based agency, Touraid poses unique challenges, she says, but she’s been able to leverage her previous experience as a training supervisor for a direct marketing facility to excel. Glanda says she found that role enjoyable, and that it solidified that customer service was a calling for her. However, there had always been a part of her that needed to travel and share that experience with others, which led her to become a travel agent.
“[Clients] don’t get to see us face to face, yet they continuously book with us because of our ability to build a personal rapport by simply using our voice,” she says. “We work hard to keep up communications via e-mail and handwritten notes to keep the personal touch alive.”
That personal touch has helped Glanda grow her business this year when she has been focusing on her existing clientele with referrals by reaching out with handwritten notes.
“Keeping in touch when you are call center based is imperative to continuing a loyalty with [clients],” Glanda says. “This added level of personal touch has made an exponential difference with my level of service and return clients.”
Samantha Hartman, 26
Someplace New, LLC / Protravel International
At only two and a half years into her career, Samantha Hartman has already been selected for top-level programs and events. An independent contractor with Protravel, she has been picked for that organization’s highly selective NEXT intensive training program — one of only eight out of hundreds of applicants to be so honored. She has also attended ILTM in Cannes, France, one of a handful of Protravel agents to do so.
Hartman jumped into the travel industry early, shortly after graduating college. During post-graduation she spent a year abroad teaching English in Spain and taking the opportunity to travel the continent. While on a trip through Tuscany, she decided she wanted to work in travel, and wound up with a head start on a position with Protravel before she even returned.
“As travel advisors, we can work with all parts of the world and we are not confined to the way one property or hotel operates,” Hartman says of what drew her to the life of an agent. “Basically, we can get as creative as we want to offer our clients incredible experiences, worldwide.”
In addition to her training, Hartman has been taking the opportunity to grow by connecting with other agents. This year she established a partnership with Curtis Parris, a well established agent in Protravel’s New Jersey office who specializes in high-end corporate and entertainment travel, as he had been getting frequent requests for leisure trips, which he now refers to Hartman.
“Together we have marketed my leisure-focused experience to his already established book of business,” Hartman says. “This has helped grow my clientele and has added a new component to his business.”
Stacey Hoehne, 28
Stacey Hoehne of Brentwood Travel (an Ensemble member) knows how to save a dream vacation. When Hurricane Matthew shut down Fort Lauderdale’s airport, it threatened to derail a massive, multigenerational Caribbean cruise she had booked for a family. After trying everything — flying into any airport in Florida, or even driving to Missouri — it became clear the family wasn’t going to make their cruise. Rather than admit defeat, however, Hoehne convinced the family to try something different and work out the cruise cancellation and insurance details later. With some quick thinking she was able to book a charter from STL to Jamaica and got them into a family resort, and worked with the cruise line to secure a future cruise credit as a refund. The family loved their trip, and she’s just arranged a new Alaska cruise for them this summer.
At Brentwood, Hoehne has been responsible for training new staff and helping the current staff grow in her new role as leisure travel supervisor. She has also incorporated supplier training, technical training and office procedures into the agency’s training program, and she’s continuing to work to train current staff.
Hoehne’s next big thing? This year, she’s been growing her mini-group business, focusing on groups of friends traveling together or multigenerational trips.
“Creating a ‘mini-group’ with one of our suppliers allows me to save them additional money on the trip,” Hoehne explains. “The benefit of a smaller group over a corporate group is that I was able to make personal connections with each of the travelers, which has led to a quick new client base.”
Elizabeth Hoover, 27
After graduating from the hospitality
and tourism program at Purdue University, Elizabeth Hoover went to work at Travelink Incorporated, part of American Express, as a research assistant at its luxury leisure travel division. She earned her CTA right away from the Travel Institute, which has also designated her as a luxury and adventure travel specialist.
Hoover has gone straight up the ladder over the past four years; she’s now a full-fledged advisor with Travelink, which awarded her the “Best of the Best” designation. Last year, her agency’s owners nominated her as a “Rep Excellence” advisor for American Express Travel; Amex has also given her the title of “Travel Insider” for Alaska.
“Elizabeth Hoover is curious, highly organized, goal oriented and technically very savvy,” says Linda Raymer, president of the vacation division of Travelink. “She has been proactive in her own education with suppliers and our technology tools. Elizabeth exceeded her sales and revenue goals in her first year as a travel advisor and is comfortable selling all types of cruises, as well as complex land vacations and managing the details of incentive groups.”
Hoover makes it a point to experience every type of travel: escorted tours, FIT, cruising, river cruising, safari and all-inclusive resorts. Adding to her bottom line is also a priority.
“I’ve taken it upon myself to register with every hotel group that I do business with to make an incentive off my commissions and to receive bonuses and perks from the hotels and the management companies directly,” she says. “This provides a value-add for my clients, because those suppliers will typically provide an extra amenity or something special when my clients arrive on site.”
Kate Johnson, 27
Kate Johnson has fully immersed herself in the travel industry; she’s completed TravelStore’s mentorship program and belongs to several agent groups, such as Millennials in Travel, Young Travel Advisors and Signature Embark, part of the Signature Travel Network. Most recently she won SoCal ASTA’s Millennial of the Year at this year’s Diamond Awards.
Not bad for someone who’s been in the business for just three years, but Johnson has been keen on travel ever since trekking through Europe and the Caribbean as a teenager. She studied hospitality and tourism management, and after graduating from the University of New Hampshire, she moved to Los Angeles and studied under a top-producing agent for a year. She also did extensive sales and geography training and learned the GDS systems.
Thinking out of the box led to a recent success; Johnson sent personal video footage of her time at Laucala Resort in Fiji to a colleague at Business Insider; her social media information was posted in the article and she got a flood of leads from potential clients.
“I also treat every person I meet as a potential future client — my hairdresser, the nurse at the doctor’s office, the couple sitting next to me on the plane, a group of girlfriends at a restaurant,” says Johnson. “I treat every interaction as an opportunity to grow my business and build awareness among friends, family and acquaintances.”
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Katie Cadar, director of leisure sales for TravelStore, says that after completing TravelStore’s mentorship program, the agency entrusted Johnson with challenging projects and clients, which she handled with skill and dedication. “Kate’s customer service is impressive, along with her ability to handle clients, always with a warm smile and caring attitude,” says Cadar.
Marielle Kabin, 28
Fort Washington, MD
Shortly after Marielle Kabin graduated from the University of Maryland, her mother, founder of Travelwise International (a Travel Leaders member), expressed a desire to give up the company and retire. Kabin knew she had a decision to make.
“I could be like my colleagues at glamorous Fortune 500 companies at an entry-level job, or I could be part of an enterprise that I could call my own,” she tells us. “I knew this path wasn’t for everyone and would demand a lot of endurance, self-motivation and accountability, but if there was anyone who would continue my mom’s legacy while keeping my own travel benefits, then the decision became very clear.”
Kabin is now in charge of the second-generation, family-owned agency which specializes in international trips outside of North America. She was the recipient of the GTT Million Dollar Sales Award (airfare consolidator) for both 2016 and 2017, and has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both clients and other professionals within the industry.
The most challenging itinerary Kabin recently organized was an 11-night Japanese explorer cruise for 40 passengers headed to Japan and Busan, South Korea — destinations which she had not previously visited.
“The demographic of the group was dynamic and composed of mixed races, multiple generations, 12 first-time cruisers, 28 seasoned travelers, 20 VIP passengers and the biggest obstacle of all, traveling with the founder of Travelwise, my mother,” she says. In the end, Kabin was not only able to make the trip a success, but she also gained her mother’s trust in guiding the family business in a new and positive direction.
Allison Kobasky, 29
Over the Moon Vacations
Allison Kobasky worked 14-hour days at the inception of her business to ensure that Over The Moon Vacations’ clients had perfect itineraries, filled with as much detail as possible.
“My husband called me ‘obsessed,’ but admittedly, I was,” she recalls. It paid off; by the end of 2017, Kobasky had booked more than 300 trips for the year, solo, and generated $1 million-plus in revenue.
She’s also proud to have earned 75 five-star reviews on her Facebook page. “Our business runs on word-of-mouth marketing and organic referrals,” says Kobasky, whose husband has since joined the business.
These efforts earned her the “2017 Top Agent Travel Expert” award from her host agency, Cruises and Tours Unlimited (part of Travel Leaders), as well as media placement in Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides magazine, Travel + Leisure and PopSugar.
Prior to getting into the agency business, Kobasky was a tour leader for various teen tour companies; those gigs led her from Western Europe to living in small villages in Western Africa. “I learned firsthand that traveling makes you a better person. It forces you out of your comfort zone, thrusts you into new cultures and allows you to become a more understanding, appreciative and compassionate person. After having these experiences, I knew I wanted to influence others to do the same and started travel planning as an independent travel agent,” she says.
Kobasky hasn’t slowed down; proud accomplishments include planning a “mega-honeymoon” for a couple who wanted to do five countries in 35 days and, more recently, she returned from a research trip to South Africa, Dubai and the Maldives.
Kobasky recommends the career of travel advisor, but has this caveat: “You have to be incredibly self-motivated and driven, because this business gives you only as much as you put in.”
Amber Koll, 28
The Travel Advantage
Sioux Center, IA
“Amber [Koll] has been a blessing since the day she was hired,” says Amy Eben, manager and leisure specialist at The Travel Advantage. “She serves our largest corporate accounts with passion and seamlessly changes her mind set to serve her leisure clientele.”
Since joining the Travel Leaders affiliate as a consultant in 2011, Koll’s ability to transition from working on corporate accounts to selling leisure travel has proven valuable for both the agency and herself.
“We have a lot of clients that want to take a long vacation to Europe and visit several countries. Quite often, rather than doing a guided tour they like to be able to do things on their own,” she tells us. “In situations like this, qualifying our clients and really learning about their likes and personalities becomes so important.” Putting these types of trips together, she adds, also “helps you build relationships with vendors in the countries your clients are visiting.”
In the past few years, Koll has visited Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, just to name a few of the destinations she’s been pitching. She says the smartest thing she’s done this year to make more money is to constantly keep in touch with her clientele.
“Last year, I had a couple that wanted to take a multigenerational family trip over Christmas — but we were a little late in the game, so the prices were incredibly high,” she says. “I reached out to them again this year when I saw some decent rates over Christmas 2018, and within a couple weeks we had their family confirmed for a fun getaway. We always keep an eye out on travel deals and make sure to get in touch with clients when we see something they might be interested in.”
Kaitlyn Kubitskey, 29
My World Travel LLC
As the owner and operator of My World Travel, Kaitlyn Kubitskey gauges her personal success through reviews from clients and says she’s proud of the overwhelmingly positive feedback.
Kubitskey has a Master’s Degree in Religion & Politics with an emphasis on conflict resolution. “To me, travel is the perfect form of conflict resolution and my company is my personal outlet for helping this mission,” she says. Her knack for solving problems in creative ways proved very helpful in 2016, when she found herself in the unique position of designing a 16-person trip to Turkey that was interrupted by an act of terrorism.
“I was assisting in organizing a wedding group’s travel from the U.S. to a small village in Turkey. Sixteen people were scheduled to arrive on July 1, 2016, when, two days before, a bomb went off at the Istanbul Airport,” she recalls. “I am very much of the ‘keep traveling but be very alert’ breed, but with this giant group of travelers leaving in two days and using that same airport, the proximity of it all even shook me.”
She spent the next 12 hours calling each individual to gauge their feelings about the trip and to ensure the receptive group in Turkey was caught up with all the details as well. “Flights were rearranged, trip insurance was called, A / B / C plans were developed,” she says. Because of her efforts, 14 of the 16 travelers kept their plans and arrived home safely.
Kubitskey is IATA certified and says the smartest step she’s taken this year to make money is taking time to log in and register for all of the commission opportunities with each travel supplying company.
Jordan Lapetz, 27
AAA Travel Michigan
Although Jordan Lapetz has only been working as a travel agent with AAA Travel Michigan for four years, she isn’t shy about offering advice to anyone her age who might be interested in entering the industry. “Besides an obvious interest in travel, global cultures and understanding the world of sales, a young travel agent needs to be hungry for knowledge … hard working [and] people oriented,” she says.
You can also add eagerness to take on a challenge to that list. For example, Lapetz was in charge of putting together a three-week self-drive tour through Great Britain and Republic of Ireland.
“The clients wanted to trace their family ancestry and combine it with several locations from the ever popular TV series ‘The Outlander,’” she recalls. “This took several weeks of researching and organizing from family records to scenic landscapes tucked inside national parks, but the finished trip was truly a personalized dream come true.”
Ryan Johnson, AAA Travel agency manager, says Lapetz continues to grow and is a tremendous asset to both the agency and clients. “Taking the time to research destinations, itineraries, properties, and excursions that best match her client’s needs is what separates her from many others,” he adds. “That attention to detail is what allows her clients to simply enjoy their dream vacation.”
In her own travels, Lapetz recently sailed in Europe on the Rhine River with AmaWaterways, her first-ever river cruise experience, and says the trip exceeded her expectations. Since returning, she reports receiving an overwhelming increase in river cruise bookings, especially with AmaWaterways. “My next familiarization trip will hopefully be to Kenya where I can experience firsthand the wonders of an African safari.”
Allison Law, 28
New York City
“Allison Law’s laser-cut focus and thirst for adventure are the things that make her an extraordinary travel consultant,” says Erina Pindar Chamberlain, managing director at SmartFlyer. “Not only is she a self-taught Sabre agent who has a deep understanding of the ‘ins and outs’ of airline configurations and routings, she’s also constantly in search of the greatest adventure destination the world has to offer.”
Before joining SmartFlyer three years ago, she was bitten by the travel bug during a six-month internship at the London Olympic Games, later becoming an event manager at a non-profit sports organization. After researching the travel industry, she made the decision to learn Sabre in order to gain an advantage on industry competition. Law became the fastest agent to finish the initial training program, completing the six-month course in only three.
Law now injects her adventurous attitude into the itineraries she designs for clients. In January, she spent two weeks in Africa, traveling through Uganda and Kenya. “This trip gave me an opportunity to vet different and exciting add-ons that I can suggest to clients, such as gorilla trekking in the Bwindi National Forest or a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls,” she says. “I’m also planning a new trip to visit the Azores, which we’re seeing more requests for due to the new direct Delta flights from New York.”
Last year, Law was chosen as one of three in-house agents to attend and represent Smartflyer at Virtuoso Travel Week and will be one of only two agents this year. Law was also selected by upper management to represent SmartFlyer at the Rising Stars luncheon hosted by Taj Hotels this past March.
Stephanie LeGrow, 29
Lovely Lotus Travel
“I am a solopreneur,” says Stephanie LeGrow, owner of Lovely Lotus Travel. “I own, operate, and book all of my clients’ travel. I get to enjoy the client-facing consulting portion of the business, as well as all the creative back-end work.”
The balance of logistics and creativity has always been a strong point for LeGrow, who notes that her previous careers and education give her a unique perspective as a newcomer to the travel industry. “I had a vision to refresh the booking process, bringing together New Age access with time tested personalized customer service excellence,” she tells us.
The most intricate trip LeGrow ever planned was a destination wedding for 60 guests traveling to Mexico. While she describes putting together the itinerary as a fun experience, the logistics and documentation for so many people traveling in a 24-hour period proved challenging.
“My entire office floor, desks, and couch were covered in paperwork to keep everyone organized and separated,” she says. However, LeGrow notes that it was also the most rewarding trip she’s ever planned. “Every single guest went out of their way when they got home to tell me about how flawless their travel days were and how beautiful the wedding was. The mothers of the bride and groom were especially happy that they didn’t have to worry about any of the family members getting lost or stuck somewhere.”
Among her numerous accolades, LeGrow was named a “Best of Weddings” winner by The Knot this year — the only such recipient in Las Vegas and all of Nevada. This recognition has extra meaning to LeGrow as it is the first kudos she’s earned during her first full year operating without a host agency.
Trevarus Martin, 28
Book and Bag Travel, LLC
“Every day there is a new challenge and opportunity to share travel experiences,” says Trevarus Martin, owner of Book and Bag Travel. “I often ask myself why I didn’t start this career much sooner.”
When Martin started his business, he was met with plenty of challenges, including some negative feedback from family and friends who felt leaving his full-time job in the insurance industry wasn’t a good idea. Martin decided to join under a host agency, Jus Adventures Travel Services, and since then has been met with success.
Samantha Hammond, owner of Jus Adventures, calls him her top agent. “Trevarus has worked diligently to attain many difficult certifications and has consistently exceeded sales goals each month,” she says. “He’s extremely hardworking, personable and provides excellent service to his clients.”
Interestingly, Martin says the most challenging trip he’s ever worked on was designing his own destination wedding, at El Dorado Royale and Casitas in Riviera Maya, Mexico. He had originally hired someone to handle the travel planning, but ended up having to consult family and friends himself. “That also taught me a valuable lesson about this business — relationships matter,” he says.
So, which destinations is he currently pitching to his own clients?
“Most recently I went to Antigua. It’s definitely the most amazing place I’ve visited in the Caribbean. The people were so friendly, the food was amazing, and the beaches were beautiful,” he says. “When I talk to my clients about it, they say they’ve never heard of Antigua, and then they start looking for it on the map. I get excited when talking to people about it, so they have to see it for themselves.”
Kayla Mason, 28
As a full service leisure agent specializing in luxury cruises, family vacations and honeymoons, Kayla Mason has not only been able to make her clients’ dreams come true, but has also realized her own.
“My passion for travel started at a young age when I took my first trip to Walt Disney World,” she says. “I knew that I wanted to be a part of the ‘Magic’ and be in the hospitality industry.”
When a position at Frosch opened two years ago, she jumped on it. Mason recently completed the company’s eight week program designed to recruit young professionals into the industry and is now well-versed in selling travel for Sliversea Cruises, Disney Destinations, Europe and the Caribbean.
“Because of the great training that I received in the academy, I have become a trainer in the Houston office,” Mason says. “Additionally, I was nominated for ‘Delivering the Unexpected,’ a program Frosch has that encourages us to be better employees and a better agent for our clients.”
This year, Mason was also asked to attend a Disney Travel Agent Training, which she considers an honor as only 30 agents specializing in Disney Destinations are selected. Mason’s other accomplishments include an invitation to take a part in the FT2 Advisory Board, which recently met in Costa Rica.
A recent challenge for Mason was planning a honeymoon to Africa, a destination she was unfamiliar with. It required great attention to detail. “I had to find the perfect lodges, game drives and also inter-country flights,” she explains.
Mason is also currently pitching Queensland, Australia, to clients after experiencing the destination firsthand. “It has city life, beaches, reefs and jungles,” she says. “Holding a koala and feeding kangaroos in their own natural habitat can only happen in Australia.”
Kristen Munch, 27
Karen Schueller, director of Private Client Services at Frosch, a Signature agency, lauds how Kristen Munch “not only [works] from an exceptional knowledge base, but continually travels and researches to ensure growth,” adding that Munch is “not afraid to take on any task, no matter the size, scope, or potential for recognition.”
An example of one such task? “I was selected by Frosch to participate in creating a training program for agents new to the industry,” Munch tells us.
She recently had two weeks to put together a trip to the South of France and Italy for a client whose son is a huge car enthusiast. “On the first day they will have a Ferrari delivered to their hotel where they spend the next few days fully immersed in cars. They will visit the Ferrari Museum & Factory, Lamborghini Museum and even experience driving on a Formula 1 Race Track in Milan.” For the France portion she arranged for a helicopter to take them to St. Tropez and also from there to Le Castellet, “for a truly VIP experience.”
“The most challenging part of planning this trip was all the logistics involved,” Munch says. “Figuring out the best driving route, delivery of rental cars … and how to create the ultimate VIP Grand Prix experience.”
Such dedication is reason enough why, Munch says, “I recommend all agents charge fees and not be afraid to do so. The amount of research, time and knowledge agents put into the planning, execution and follow up of these trips warrants fees. We are not only applying our expertise to the trip we are planning, we are investing in learning about the client to successfully craft the perfect trip, while taking note for future travel.”
Christabela Pierre, 28
Atlas Cruises & Tours
Palm Beach Gardens, FL
“In her short tenure as a travel consultant, [Christabela Pierre] not only fills her position in sustaining the arduous demands of our growing group department, but exceeds it by providing the best service for groups of up to 1,200 guests,” says Burt Brage, general manager at Atlas Cruises and Tours. He adds that Pierre’s personality, creativity, attention to detail and critical thinking have allowed her to make her mark in the travel industry.
As Atlas’s group department and event manager, Pierre is responsible for planning travel for multiple guests, securing venues and acting as a liaison while onboard cruises. Pierre is a Freestyle Certified Agent with Norwegian Cruise Line, an Expert-Plus level agent with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and is a Celebrity Cruises Five Star Agent. Additionally, Pierre has been the top group seller at Atlas for Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line for the past two years.
The most formidable trip Pierre has ever had to organize was a cruise for approximately 600 guests alongside a smaller group of 20 passengers attending a wedding at sea, both aboard the Norwegian Sky.
“It was challenging, because the wedding packages available on the Sky were limited and [the bride] waited quite close to the sailing date to decide if she wanted to do it,” recalls Pierre. “I helped her order all of the decorations, rose petals, cake topper and aisle runner, then had it delivered to the office so I could bring everything to the ship for her. Directing one group and coordinating a wedding all in one trip was exhilarating.”
Callie Mae Ritsema
Callie Mae Ritsema, 28
Ritz World Travel
Grand Rapids, MI
Callie Mae Ritsema is off to a strong start as a travel agent, nabbing the highest honor from her host agency, KHM Travel Group, in her first full year as a travel agent.
“As a member of KHM Travel Group’s Pinnacle Elite Agent Program, Callie is among our host agency’s top-producing agents,” says Geoff Cox, KHM’ vice president of sales. “Since she joined KHM Travel Group in 2016, we have witnessed her sales increase as she works hard to grow her business. Her dedication to serving her clients is evident in not only her impressive sales figures, but also in the great reputation of her business.”
Ritsema became a travel agent after five years working in human resources, and she says that she was drawn to the career path because it allowed her to combine her love of travel with her longtime dream of being a small business owner. She is the owner of Ritz World Travel, a member of Travel Leaders, and since becoming a travel agent she’s continued to encourage others to follow in her footsteps.
“I often get calls from aspiring travel advisors who find me on Instagram or Google to ask me questions about my career choice,” Ritsema tells us. “I always take the time to answer their questions, and encourage them to continue down that path if they’re passionate about travel and are looking for a rewarding career.”
Most recently Ritsema has been focusing on expanding her group sales. “I have proven to myself that groups take much less of my time, and I receive a greater return investment,” she says.
Jacquelyn Santo, 28
Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative
After working for five years as a real estate broker, Jacquelyn Santo “took a leap of faith to follow my love for travel” and invested in a Cruise Planners franchise in 2016. “It has been the best decision I have ever made,” she says. She was met with success quickly, becoming one of the top producing franchisees in her training class for Cruise Planners in 2017, which led to her being named a “rising star” last year.
“Networking has been a big part of my success, so I am continuing to put in the time and effort to make connections and win new business,” Santo says. She has also invested in local ads and attends “high-profile events where I can promote my business.”
A few months ago, she traveled to Japan, where she fell in love with the Japanese culture and food. “There is so much to see and something for every-
one,” Santo says. “I tell my clients to include both Tokyo and Kyoto in their travel plans to Japan. Tokyo for a more fast paced, city experience and Kyoto for a more ‘zen’ vibe, visiting all of the beautiful temples, shrines and gardens.” Santo is based in Chicago, from which there are nonstop flights to Tokyo, “which is a huge sell for my clients,” she adds.
“As a Millennial, it’s no surprise that technology and social media are key aspects as to how Jacquelyn grows her travel business,” Cruise Planners’ CEO and Founder Michelle Fee tells us, adding that, “More importantly, she understands the power of the human connection and has built a solid business foundation on being responsive to leads and engaging with clients.”
Frances Sarrett, 26
McCabe World Travel
Frances Sarrett began her travel career working in Italy for IC Bellagio, arranging touring and transportation services. “I have a degree in Italian Studies from the University of Virginia and speak the language fluently. When I decided to move back to the U.S., I felt that becoming a travel advisor was my next step to advance from selling a destination to offering the world.”
So three years ago she joined Virtuoso member McCabe World Travel, where, says President Anne Scully, “Frances has been a real asset to our team. Her enthusiasm for her work, attention to detail, and innate southern kindness, as well as her listening skills with her clients, make her an outstanding travel advisor.”
Sarrett returned to Italy a few months ago to attend the DUCO Travel Summit in Florence, after which she traveled to Rome. “I returned home with a better understanding of the best hotels in Florence and Rome and the right clients for each,” she says, adding that, “I want my clients to feel like locals when visiting a destination. Even with clients with other upcoming vacations, I’ve mentioned my trip to plant the seed for a future Italian getaway.”
Earlier this year, she visited South Africa for a stay in Cape Town followed by two safari experiences. “Africa is a destination that is important to experience in order to understand it and be able to promote it to clients. This was my first trip to Africa [and] I have been selling it more and more since I returned.”
She finds that “it’s important to think outside the box, such as suggesting a cruise when a client wants to visit a destination like the Greek Isles. They’d lose a day each time they moved destinations, whereas a ship moves at night and allows clients to wake up and be in their next stop. This raises my yield … but more importantly, improves the client’s experience.”
Sarah Ann Van Elsen
Sarah Ann Van Elsen, 29
After two years of handling mostly administrative duties for Adelman Discoveries (the groups division of Signature member Adelman Vacations), Sarah Ann Van Elsen was promoted to group travel advisor in July 2017. Her outstanding work over the past year has not gone unrewarded.
“I was [recently] recognized by my company as a Service Hero and received a trophy that currently sits on my desk,” she says. “Out of the entire company of over 300 employees, I am one of a very select few that have been chosen. It is awarded to individuals that have demonstrated exemplary customer service both within the company and with all of our clients.”
Cam Thieme, Adelman’s director of groups, lauds Van Elsen’s industry savvy and social media skills. “Sarah played a significant role in securing a large cruise group for 2019 through her contacts with the Branson entertainers that host the cruise,” Thieme says. “She is also tasked with building and maintaining our social media and private group pages, which she handles with efficiency, humor and professionalism.”
One of her biggest challenges has been educating clients who are afraid of traveling to Europe or Mexico because they fear for their safety. “When they hear from someone that has recently been there and understand that the media has exaggerated things, they begin to realize that it isn’t as bad as it seems,” she says. (In the past nine months alone, Van Elsen has visited Amsterdam, Bruges and Prague on one trip; and Iceland and Zurich on another.)
That said, she also offers alternative options closer to home, “We have trips going to the Southwest Canyonlands, Alaska, and the Canadian Rockies this year and next,” she says. “We’ve found that these destinations have become increasingly popular, so we’ve learned to highlight those a bit more with people that are concerned about safety.”