Starting a travel business during a pandemic that has grounded most travel is not easy. But it’s not impossible, as several advisors Travel Market Report spoke to learned after setting up their own agencies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lessons they have learned are truths that some established travel consultants may recognize but have forgotten. When there are a lot of customers, like before the pandemic, it’s easy to forget the basics.
Here are a few key lessons these new travel agency owners learned that helped them succeed in what many would call a crazy time to own a travel business.
do you remember why
Starting a travel business at a time when few people travel can be frustrating. But when the going gets tough, it’s critical to remember why you started the business and find ways to stay positive to get through the tough times.
“It was time for me to start my own business and I had such a great passion for travel,” said Dawn Nowlan, a former retail executive and owner of a Dream Vacations franchise in Charlotte, Michigan. Nowlan opened in February 2020, as news of COVID-19 was just beginning to spread.
“When the floor fell a little under us, I still felt it was the right decision. It was just terribly scary timing,” she told Travel Market Report.
Despite the uphill battle, Nowlan said that whenever she felt discouraged, she kept returning to her. As a reminder, she keeps a post-it on her desk with a quote she heard from Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean, “Every red light eventually turns green” with the words “remember why” underneath.
“It’s important for me to stay focused and not fall victim to the situation. I think mindset is everything,” she said.
Focus on the positive
When it comes to mindset, new travel advisor JoAnne Michaud agreed that a positive attitude is key. Michaud bought her Phoenix-based Dream Vacations franchise in November 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic.
Like Nowlan, Michaud has focused on staying positive rather than dwelling on the difficulties.
“I believe we all have a choice in life. We can choose to focus on the positive or the negative,” she said. “Instead of focusing on those cases [cancellations], I focus on the positive of the new bookings coming in. And those who cancel, I know they will be back when the situation stabilizes.”
Michaud added that it helped to have realistic expectations when she first opened up. “I told myself that if I sold something in the early years, it would just be a bonus.”
Sam Yaffe, co-owner of Long Island, NY-based Crafty Getaways, a TRAVELSAVERS agency that he and his partners launched in November 2020 (their physical location opened in April 2021), calls it believing in yourself.
“If you want to build a business, don’t be afraid to take risks, as long as you believe in yourself.”
Sharing is the best marketing
With the exception of Yaffe and his partners, who had all previously worked for other travel agencies, the consultants TMR spoke to started their agencies with no client base. They had to find customers, gain their trust and convince them to travel, all in a setting where travel was considered dangerous.
Many took advantage of social media as a way to connect with potential customers. More importantly, they used social media to share their own travel experiences.
“I think sharing information and my experiences put them at ease,” Michaud told TMR. She has traveled every month since July 2021 and has documented each trip on social media.
“When people see you do that, some people think it’s risky. While others, there is a lot of curiosity. ‘How are you?’ ‘Is it safe?’ It inspires confidence. It shows that I know how to navigate the entry requirements and what to do to travel successfully in different countries.”
Nowlan did much the same. “I went on a few FAM trips and recorded everything. I showed how safe it was at the airports. What are the sanitary protocols in the resorts to keep everyone safe. The testing… I felt like that helped a lot of people to see, ‘oh, she’s out there. Maybe we can do this.’ And from there, my business really started to grow.”
For Nowlan, social media has become one of her main drivers of business and she doesn’t expect it to end anytime soon. She has created several weekly “events” on social media, including a Travel Reel Sunday, where she posts a 15-second video of somewhere in the world people want to go to, and Travel Talk Thursday, where she talks about what happened during the trip. universe in the past week.
“Things like that keep them engaged and informed, and build an environment of knowing, liking and trusting,” she said.
Michaud also credits social media for helping build her business, but says most of it comes from others who recommend her on social media. Others she got to know through networking.
“I joined every networking group I could. I literally do one networking theme group a day. It’s a lot of work, but it’s been huge,” she says.
At every networking event she attends, she gets the chance to talk about her latest journey. Not as an official presentation, but simply because her network members know that she always comes from somewhere.
“They love being able to follow that path… They ask questions. It is not the case that information is forced on people. It just sparks curiosity,” she says. And it keeps her in mind when people in the groups – or their friends and family – start thinking about travel.
“People in my networking groups don’t just ask about themselves, but they refer friends and acquaintances with the words ‘oh my god, contact her, she knows how to travel internationally. She always does.’”
For Yaffe and its partners, who already have a customer base, networking with travel partners has been key to their success.
“For me, it’s all about building relationships, whether it’s a customer or a supplier. Those relationships go a long way… Building a relationship can last a lifetime. When we decided to open our own company, I started reaching out to all my contacts to say: this is what we do, can you help us. And everyone pretty much gave us the highest level of commission because of my relationships with them. ”