Two years, 11 months, 26 days, 7 hours, and 18 minutes – that’s how long I’ve been in the travel industry. 19 minutes now.
I’m staring at page 20 in TravelAge West’s July 17th edition. I just received the hard copy in the mail today. The image is starting to blur and I blink back the grateful moisture welling in my eyes. I look more closely at the picture ruing that I didn’t paint my nails in the car as planned (my usual method of manicuring) but glad that the editorial team graciously removed the brackets and wires that have adorned my teeth these last seven months. (Per my humble request.)
For some reason the thought makes me laugh a little to myself. Headstrong amongst other things, I can be doggedly determined once an idea takes hold. Braces at 29 seems the least significant in a recent series, but it makes me think back to how I came to be here.
I’ve loved travel since forever. My mother first instilled an appreciation for adventure when I was a child. Camping trips in the woods of East Texas and the constant companionship of books made fertile ground for a burgeoning imagination. I’ve always been compelled by curiosity and what’s more curious than people just like you and I, but somewhere we’ve never been, eating food we’ve never tasted, singing songs we’ve never heard, but loving and learning just the same?
Fast forward to my college days at The University of Texas at Austin where I was studying Rhetoric & Writing. I took an internship at an event company at 19 and within the year was running operations as one of the youngest directors in North America. During my 5 year tenure we produced events in 7 countries and a few years in I moved to Los Angeles. I had been flying back and forth to work with my editor on a travel show that I was writing, producing, and hosting at the time and fell madly in love with the City of Angels.
I continued to work in events as I took on more projects as a television host. I was the Director of Special Events at a high fashion venue in Hollywood when I realized I’d grown tired of the ebb and flow nature of the entertainment industry and was ready to sink my teeth into something I could grow with assurance. I’d just launched my own event production and marketing firm, but wanted to expand beyond that. The “idea” impulse was back. This time it wanted me in travel somehow, some way.
I knew nothing about the travel industry. In fact, I didn’t even know that travel agents still existed. It was a lucky Google search that brought me to an old article on the “Top 10 Agencies in LA.” Picturing a Sunday cartoon version of someone in a Hawaiian shirt with a poster of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I allowed myself a mental shrug and sent my resume anyway.
The next day my phone rang and there’s someone on the line named Mickey. He may have a position open he says. He wants me to come in for an interview he says. We set a date and time and somewhere unseen and unheard, the Universe cheers.
I join Protravel International in the Beverly Hills office on August 1, 2014. I bring homemade banana nut muffins that day as I’ve done every year since. My first 12 months had just concluded when I was asked by SoCal ASTA to Co-Chair their Millennials & Mentors program. I respectfully serve them for another 12 and during that time develop our signature “Creative Education” campaign. In the same period, I joined the leadership team for Millennials in Travel LA as Officer of Membership. I now head the chapter as Development.
Shortly following year two, I was recognized as one of the top 30 Under 30 travel advisors in the country by Travel Agent Central and was lucky enough to travel to Grand Cayman for an advisory board meeting with their department of tourism and Questex Media. A month later I received a Travel Weekly Magellan Award for my community outreach programs, participated in the Forbes Under 30 Summit, and then spoke at Travel Industry Exchange on a luxury travel panel.
I’m days away now from my fourth batch of baked goods and can also count the honors of just being named 'Millennial of the Year' by SoCal ASTA and, published only last week, TravelAge West’s Trendsetter Awardee for ‘Upward Bound, Rockstar Under 40.’ To say that I have much to be grateful for in the – less than – three years I’ve been a part of this incredibly diverse and dynamic industry is a woeful understatement. These awards… The metal and glass sitting on top of my desk and the words printed in ink and on the internet... I name them not to boast, but to show how much can be achieved with the love and support of a strong network and to share my thanks with everyone who has helped make them happen.
I did not win these awards – at least not by myself. It’s my company’s belief in me, my mentor (the aforementioned Mickey’s) patience, my MIT friendships, all of these things plus so much more that has contributed to the earning of those titles. As quoted in the recent cover story for TravelAge West, what I am most proud of, and what will always excite me the most, is igniting a corresponding fire in my peers to push our industry forward in a positive way and facilitate its reinvention and continued evolution.
I am so fired up and passionate about our crazy world of tourism & hospitality that sometimes I feel like one of those TV evangelists. Imagine a living where the world is your subject and your mission is to craft experiences that change people’s lives. It’s an extraordinary feeling. Oddly enough though, our industry as a whole has not been proactively promoting this career path to today’s youth, and misguided or not, I feel like a piece of my purpose is to change that and correct the perception that’s out there.
In part, I was right to think that travel agents no longer exist. They don’t. At least not the traditional, ticket punchers who worked really as an extension of the airlines. Now, we have a beautiful new breed of travel advisor and consultant. Smart people who value expertise see adding one to their team of resources the same as an attorney for legal matters or an accountant for financial (but generally a lot more fun)!
The advent of the internet proved a wonderful cleansing fire and out of the ashes was born the modern travel professional…tech savvy, knowledgeable, and significantly more discriminating. Of course speaking in such broad terms I have to also acknowledge that there are those who may still uphold a more classic approach, but overall, especially in my circle of leisure travel, my colleagues are sharp, cultured, and inventive.
We know what to eat in Delhi, who to charter from in Split, and where the “off” is in “off the beaten path.” Chances are we’ve already been there and done that, and if we haven’t, it’s likely we know someone who has. The beauty of our value lies in relationships. The old adage, “It’s who you know” is never more applicable than when you need a miracle pulled off on the other side of the world. It’s incredible to me to think that I have a friend just about anywhere I’d want to go on the planet, and I am so thankful for those partnerships.
The outstanding hoteliers, DMCs, and tour operators (to name a few) who help us make dreams come true are often the real heroes in the scenario. If you’re one of them reading this now, and I haven’t thanked you yet today- Thank You!! I acknowledge and appreciate all that you do for the advisor community.
For all of the other advisors who may be reading this, I salute you! You’ve most likely either been resilient, strategic, and intelligent enough to adapt to changing times, or you’re one of the next gen like me who took a leap of faith into this industry, armed namely with your courage and conviction. In the off chance that you’re not a part of the travel industry, please allow me to illuminate you.
We are your champions, your greatest asset, and often your saving grace. We give you something most precious…piece of mind, time, not to mention the best in arrangements, rates, and bonus amenities like upgrades, gourmet breakfasts, spa treatments, even complimentary cooking classes, boat tours, and more. If you’re wondering how it works… Commission! Of course, every advisor’s business model varies by degree, but for the most part we are paid through the product or property so often there’s no additional cost to you.
If you’re booking through an advisor at Protravel say, who is a part of Virtuoso, then you’re getting the best published rate or better. Plus, the success of our business is based on the quality of your experience so you can rest assured anything we recommend is only to serve that purpose. I genuinely can’t think of a reason not to use a travel advisor unless it’s for something either very simple or ultra-low budget where contacts wouldn’t matter. (Sorry- I can’t get you at upgrade at Best Western!)
For every other opportunity, I encourage you to try it. Entrust your special trip with someone who is committed to securing the very best for you on your budget, and if this sounds like a living you might want make please email me! I’d love to connect you with what could be the next chapter in your career. As Vogue writes in their July 19th article, “…there’s a fresh new crop of travel experts—more aptly described as travel designers—who offer resources far beyond the basics of organizing flights, lodging, and tours. These designers create trips that you can’t just book online, trips for travelers, not tourists. And discerning travelers, at that.” Vogue knows – and so should you!
To a lifetime of elegance and adventure,