|Sunny Naples, FL is the perfect location for Boyd’s multimillion-dollar business, home to ex-chairmen and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.|
For Wilma Boyd, president of Preferred Travel in Naples, FL, building a travel empire is all about keeping up with the times in order to maintain the highest level of service.
Education and staying ahead of the curve have always been paramount to Boyd, who has been in the travel business for 40 years. She began her career in Pittsburgh, working for TWA as the East Coast flight attendant supervisor.
“I realized that so many of the young women that came in to interview [for flight attendant positions] were unprepared,” Boyd tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “They just weren’t sure how to be the interviewee and that concerned me.” Being the proactive leader that she is, Boyd decided to open a school dedicated to teaching students how to prepare themselves for the career world. The Wilma Boyd Travel School in Pittsburgh, which is still operational today, trains students for jobs in hotels, car rentals and airline reservations. Over 1,600 students graduate each year with an 80 percent placement rate.
“I was proud to leave that legacy behind when I moved to Naples,” Boyd says. Although she is not directly involved with the school anymore, it still bears her name and she continues to receive a bouquet of flowers from the school every year on her birthday.
Following her relocation to Florida, she opened Preferred Travel in 1984 with just three staff members. She continued to purchase smaller agencies throughout Naples. Today Preferred Travel has both physical and virtual offices and operates with a staff of 60. The company focuses primarily on luxury leisure, which takes up 80 percent of the business. The leisure segment, along with Preferred’s corporate division, makes it a multimillion dollar operation. Boyd tells us that 2011 was the best year for the company, as it pulled in $25 million in sales.
The Right Tool Box
But it takes more than a knack for business to remain competitive. Boyd believes in staying on the cutting edge of all aspects of the industry. For her company, this means aligning herself with the right consortium. Boyd has been a member of the Signature Travel Network for four years, and she believes in the assistance that it provides to agencies. “Signature has lived up to all of my expectations, just as we want to live up to the expectations of our clients,” she says. “I am so pleased with the help they give us with advertising, marketing and technology.”
Technology is a key component in running a successful business model, especially in today’s travel world where everything is up-to-the-minute. To make sure her staff remains up to speed, Boyd used part of 2011’s revenue to purchase iPads for her entire staff. “My staff has embraced technology,” she says. “[With the iPad] they can book on the go, and they do.”
“As a recipient of an iPad, I think it was the best idea we’ve had. We even have agents who are proficient with it even though they didn’t even have a computer at home,” says Karen Pickrum, director of marketing for Preferred Travel. “Being able to connect to Signature’s information, our company Internet and e-mail make work so much easier. It is a pocket consultant. Agents can use their iPads to help clients with destination information.”
The iPad added just another facet to Boyd’s already top-notch staff. “I feel that with the help of my staff I have built the agency to be the largest in Southwest Florida in terms of staff and revenue,” says Boyd. Part of being a cut above is being readily accessible 24/7. “If someone calls at midnight, they will get a real live voice,” she says. “Clients will get someone who will pull up their records and access where they are and what we can do for them.”
At Preferred Travel, it is all about service, service, service, especially when dealing with a high-end clientele. Preferred services travelers who have been all over the world. Most of them are ex-chairmen and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies living in Naples, who have traveled not only for their careers but for leisure as well. “Our clients are sophisticated, world-traveled and expect something different. They want to work with someone who has been there,” says Boyd. If a client wants to travel to Egypt, he or she will work with someone who has been there. “Our clients expect knowledge, service and expertise in the business.”
The Right Partners
Relationship with vendors is a major part of Preferred Travel’s strategy. “We have developed close-knit vendor relationships that we are always able to tap if we need additional services to make sure our client is happy,” says Pickrum. “Many presidents or vice presidents of vendor companies will come in for our events.” Having a face-to-face relationship with vendor partners allows Preferred Travel to offer that extra level of service to its elite travelers.
|Wilma Boyd pictured with Preferred Travel’s CFO and Manager Olga Placeres. The two work as a team to provide both staff and clients with the best they can give.|
But above all, Preferred Travel’s success can be attributed to Boyd and the way she manages the integral parts of the business. “I am motivated by making things happen,” she says. “I don’t like to watch. I like to make it happen. I try to do good deeds for others. It helps business because people trust us and know that we have integrity. They know we are going to go the extra mile,” Boyd says.
In terms of doing “good deeds,” for the past six years Preferred Travel has hosted a client event and sponsors a charity that benefits from the proceeds. The event is held at The Club Pelican Bay in Naples, where over 500 people—including 46 travel partners and presidents from vendor companies—come to celebrate. This year’s proceeds, over $22,000, will go to the Shelter for Abused Women. “It is a wonderful evening for us, our clients, vendors and our charity,” says Boyd.
Boyd is also a very present part of the empire that she has built. She is first and foremost a travel agent, and will come in to the office every day. “There is no status here,” she says. “My door is always open to the staff. We have no egos. As long as a job is done and done well, we are able to give our agents the tools they need.”
|Boyd is a travel agent first and foremost. She is a constant presence at the office and her door is always open to her staff.|
The icing on the cake is her personal relationship with her staff. There is no “armchair mentality” when it comes to running her business. Each day she makes it a point to say hello to her employees, greeting everyone by name and asking how they are. “It is so refreshing and it really cements that relationship and encourages the staff to strive harder and always put their best foot forward,” says Pickrum.
“We base everything on service,” says Boyd. “Our staff gives it exceptionally, our technology is right up-to-the-minute, and I learned early on that you have to go out and be in the public in order to do the best that you can and go the extra mile. That’s what we do here.”