Travel agents have vacations as vocation
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Jan Nance owns and manages Carefree Travel Associates Inc. Nance has been in the travel industry for about 32 years and purchased Carefree Travel in 1989 after moving to Colorado from Florida.
Robin Paschall is the owner of Adventures Within Reach Inc. The travel agency specializes in adventure travel and cultural tours in places such as Africa, Nepal, Costa Rica and Antarctica.
Collectively, The Cain Travel Group of Boulder Inc., Tomato Travel Inc., Carefree Travel Associates Inc., Savvy Travel Inc. and Adventures Within Reach Inc. brought in revenue topping $116 million.
It’s an especially impressive feat considering the state of the travel agency industry just a few years ago. Travel agents were hit hard during the recession, with fewer people traveling because of unemployment and less disposable income. In fact, the industry endured a 13.5 percent decline in 2009, according to IBISWorld Market Research. Additionally, brick-and-mortar travel agencies began losing sales to online travel-booking sites. However, experts predict that the industry will return to growth during the next five years.
Cain Travel, owned by Linda Cain, has been around since 1985 and occupies the No. 1 spot on the BCBR’s list of Women-Owned Businesses. It generated more than $110 million in revenue in 2011. The full-service travel agency offers complete corporate travel management. It also has a prominent online presence through its website, www.caintravel.com. The company bounced back in 2011, improving on revenue it recorded in 2010.
Jan Carter, owner of Tomato Travel, said the economic slump had a significant impact on her business. Carter entered the travel industry in 1990 and began working as an agent at Tomato Travel in 2001. She purchased the company when the previous owner decided to retire in 2007, just as the recession was hitting.
“My first year as an owner, my sales actually went down because of the economy,” Carter said. “It was terrible timing.”
But Carter said business seems to be bouncing back. The company made $2.2 million in revenue in 2011, although she added that “election years are always a little slow.”
Robin Paschall is the owner of Adventures Within Reach, which specializes in adventure travel and cultural tours in places such as Africa, Nepal, Costa Rica, Antarctica and more. She said the recession actually opened some opportunities for her company, which was founded in 2000 and saw its revenue grow 26 percent in 2011, to $1.47 million.
“We actually had more people doing our luxury trips,” Paschall said. “Even in a recession, people do not stop traveling. Everyone is looking for the best value for their money, and we are able to offer the same luxury trips as bigger companies but without all the expensive overhead.”
Economic ups and downs aside, a more permanent change in the travel industry has been the rise of online travel-booking sites.
“To begin with, the internet was kind of scary,” said Jan Nance, owner and manager of Carefree Travel Associates. Nance has been in the travel industry for about 32 years and purchased Carefree Travel in 1989 after moving to Colorado from Florida. For Nance, travel runs in the family: 12 years ago, she was joined at Carefree Travel by her daughter, Michelle Burnham. Last year, the company made $2 million in revenue.
Although both Nance and Carter said the internet continues to impact the sale of airline tickets (especially round-trip tickets), they have seen customers returning to agents for other travel needs, such as booking cruises, vacation packages and international travel planning.
One reason is that when things go wrong, the internet can’t get you out of a jam.
“Travel can be a hassle,” Nance said. “When you run into a problem, like your flight getting canceled, we can take care of you immediately. A website can’t.”
Carter agreed. In fact, Tomato Travel has an agent on call 24 hours a day to assist travelers during emergencies.
Travel agents can also save clients money or provide more value for the price than they would get simply booking through an online travel site.
“People usually think it’s less expensive to buy tickets online, but that’s not necessarily the case,” Nance said.
As members of Virtuoso, an upscale leisure travel consortium, both Tomato Travel and Carefree Travel can often offer clients extra amenities such as free internet, added meals, room upgrades, free resort credits and more, all for the same price.
Finally, the women noted that one of the main reasons customers have started seeking agents again is because of the personalized recommendations and itineraries they can offer.
“Michelle and I both love to travel,” Nance said, “and the more you travel, the more you know and can help your customers, whether it’s a great restaurant recommendation or advice on how to get from one place to another.”
Nance said she specializes in the United Kingdom, Australia and the South Pacific, while her daughter is skilled at planning trips to the Caribbean and Mexico, as well as destination weddings and honeymoons. Both have extensive knowledge of Europe and Florida.
Paschall agreed that it’s all about becoming an expert on the destinations you offer. “To provide a successful trip, you have to be familiar with every little detail about accommodations,” she said. “Airport pick-ups, tipping, packing, visas, local customs, you name it.”
For instance, Paschall, who has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, helped two clients accomplish the feat last year. One was a local woman who did the climb barefoot, and the other was Richard Byerley, 84, who now holds the Guinness world record for being the oldest person to summit the peak. Paschall realized Byerley was eligible for the record, and arranged to have the trip documented to meet the record book’s strict requirements.
In the end, it’s these sorts of personal stories and connections that make travel so important — not just to the travelers themselves, but to the agents as well.
“Once you get into this industry, it’s hard to leave it,” said Carter. “It’s something that gets in you.”
Added Nance, “It’s a really happy industry.”
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