An Alabama brick-and-mortar travel agency’s new approach: Travel Weekly

The spirit of collaboration drove two travel advisors to create a new space, open to all independent contractors, to work, lean on peers for ideas and support — and even buy a suitcase.

The Travel Studio officially opened earlier this month in Mountain Brook, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham. The storefront, which houses workspaces for travel advisors and a store with luxury, travel-related items, was the brainchild of Anne Liles, of Anne Liles Travel, and Ragan Stone, of Ragan Stone Travel.

“We wanted a place that we could all come and be able to talk and collaborate together and bounce ideas off each other,” Liles said. “It’s just good in this industry to have that.”

Liles and Stone are both affiliates of Departure Lounge, the Austin, Texas-based host agency. Its founder and director, Keith Waldon, was key in the creation of the Travel Studio.

Initially, Stone said, she and Liles had planned on finding office space they could rent together. Waldon encouraged them to make sure they had a storefront with visibility to get their money’s worth with exposure to their community.

“We were only focused on office space,” Stone said. “He really pushed us to consider what else we could do.”

When they found the bigger space they are in, the advisors started considering retail and realized “this could be a spot for more than just the two of us and really create a little bit more of a community among the other ICs here in town.”

The Travel Studio is located in a 1,200-square-foot former restaurant nestled among other businesses. There’s a bar next door and a coffee shop and bakery up the street, all of which are locally owned, Stone said.

The front of the space is dedicated to retail, with luxury travel products including luggage, handmade sunglasses, handbags and hats. The Travel Studio also stocks some more practical items, like sunscreen.

The back of the store is where the collaboration happens. It has open-layout workspaces for travel advisors who pay to lease the space, as with other workspace models, and a conference room for meetings. Stone and Liles manage the retail end of the operation.

All are welcome

Although Stone and Liles are both Departure Lounge ICs, any travel advisor can lease space at the Travel Studio, regardless of affiliation. For instance, Stone said, the workspace right now is home to an affiliate of SmartFlyer and an advisor with Internova Travel Group.

“I don’t think pre-pandemic that ever would have been an option, really,” Stone said. “I mean, maybe so, but I just feel like so much has obviously changed in the travel community. Everything is so different now — in a good way.”

Most of the ICs working at the Travel Studio already have an established book of business. Potential clients who walk into the space can choose to work with any of the advisors there.

Key to Liles and Stone’s plans for the Travel Studio are events. Some of the brands behind the products they carry have expressed interest in holding in-person events in the space, as have travel suppliers like hotels.

For instance, Liles said, a DMC from Africa wants to visit in the fall. The advisors would pair that with a designer who creates hats and scarves.

“It’s allowing people to have a little bit more of an approachable way to interact with travel,” Stone said.

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